By Aaron Retherford
The T.W. Wood Gallery & Arts Center has been an important part of the Montpelier community since 1895.
It houses one of the largest permanent collections in Vermont, and it is also the Vermont repository for the Federal Works Progress Administration collection. That hasn’t changed over the years.
But the gallery has gone through some major changes in the last year, finding itself a new permanent home last November and naming a new executive director, Ginny Callan, last month.
Callan visited the gallery over the years, but is excited to usher in a new era for the gallery at its new home at 46 Barre St. in Montpelier – the former Central Vermont Catholic School that was bought by several non-profits in order to create the Center for Arts and Learning.
“One good thing about this location is we’re now much more walkable,” Callan said. “People can be downtown and we’re just around the corner. We want all our local folks to rediscover us, see where our new home is, and it’s something they can even stop by on their lunch hour.”
It took some work convincing longtime gallery visitors, who had grown accustomed to enjoying the Wood at the Vermont College of Fine Arts over the course of 25 years, that an elementary school would be a deserving home for the gallery.
Former Director and now Education Director Bill Pelton said he replaced the harsh fluorescent lighting in the main hallway, where the contemporary art exhibits are displayed. Board member John Landy created the Wood Room, giving it more of an art gallery look. Landy will also create a space for the WPA collection, which includes about 100 pieces.
Callan said there has been talk that once the WPA exhibit is open, the Wood Gallery hopes it can exchange WPA pieces with other states, so visitors can experience a broader range of the collection, dating back to the days of the New Deal.
Currently, the Wood Gallery is hosting the Art Resource Association’s members show. The Wood Gallery’s next special event will be Friday, Sept. 4 as part of Art Walk in Montpelier. Author Christine Hadsel will be part of the Art Walk show, discussing her latest book, Suspended Worlds. Every 6-8 weeks, the Wood Gallery will host a new contemporary art exhibit.
The Wood is also home to Billy Brauer’s weekly art class every Thursday. The Wood holds a two-week summer art camp each year, and Pelton said many kids participate in the program until they age out. Some even return as counselors in training for a year, which sets them up to become counselors. Pelton hopes to add an after-school program or a program during school vacations for young artists. This fall, there will be an art class for kids in grade 4-6 as well as a class for adults.
“We want to see the Wood become more vital and provide more education, which Bill will expand, getting people to be more hands-on. It’s not just for looking,” Callan said.
While both Callan and Pelton are happy knowing the Wood has a home, there’s already talk of making it bigger and better. Pelton said they’re looking into the possibility of knocking down walls, so the gallery can cater to larger concerts and chamber theater productions, adding to its diversity as a member of the Center for Arts and Learning.
Callan is just excited about what the future potentially holds for the Wood.
“We’re really only about six months into the possibilities of what can be done,” she said. “There’s a lot more that can be done with the space. There’s a lot more the Wood can take on as far as exhibits, activities, events, and classes. It’s great, and we’re getting a lot of enthusiasm from local folks.”