It’s not every day you get to see works of art keeping company with bushel baskets of winter squash and stacks of 10-pound bags of potatoes. But you can see that and more at Perimeter Gallery, located at Chase’s Daily in Belfast.
“It was symbiotic — the space — the walls — the 14-foot-high, pressed-tin ceilings,” said Frederick “Freddy” LaFage of the gallery he co-founded in 2001 with his longtime partner Meg Chase.
“Art gets a lot of exposure here,” he added, referring to the high volume of restaurant patrons who get to season gourmet cuisine and artisan breads with a dash of contemporary art.
“We have a unique situation here; we have an interesting place to show art,” LeFage said of the open-plan design and roomy casualness of the combined restaurant, coffee shop, farmers market, bakery and gallery, a family-owned business that he and Chase help run.
Indeed, the gallery deliciously co-exists with the highly popular eatery. A big part of its gustatory charm is the five-star, vegetarian menu enhanced with in-season, fresh produce grown at the Chase Farm in Freedom, an operation which Chase oversees with her father, Addison Chase.
A new exhibit, “Small Works 2009,” is on view at the gallery through January 2010. An annual event, this year the show features 36 small works created
by 22 artists from Maine, California, New York, New Jersey and London, England.
The works on display reflect a diverse array of materials, from gouache on paper to egg tempera and silver leaf on panel, from graphite on mylar to new olive oil on paper.
During the show’s Dec. 3 opening reception, a painting titled “Double House,” created by Ben Potter, associate professor of art at Unity College in Unity, sold for $300. The painting’s starkly simple design element, that suggests a greenhouse, was made by using an innovative mix of pollen and permanent marker, on white panel.
“It’s pollen from cattails, that I collected and sifted. I adhered it with glue. It’s a natural pigment,” Potter said of the unusual medium. He pointed out, with ironic humor, his use of a Sharpie marker along with the natural material.
In the nine or so years the gallery has been operating, it has enjoyed its share of commercial successes, LaFage said.
“We’ve had shows that sold a lot of pieces. It varies greatly,” he said.
The gallery takes a 30 percent commission on art sales, less than the usual 40 percent to 50 percent asked by most commercial galleries.
“We’re artist-friendly,” Chase said.
LaFage was quick to point out, however, that the gallery is not dependent on sales. This means that he and Chase, and gallery partner Karen MacDonald, of Stockton Springs, are free to choose whatever works appeal.
“Because the gallery has the luxury of having no rent to pay, we can show works that are less commercially viable — art that is lively, mysterious and different,” MacDonald said during the recent opening.
“And sometimes a little uncomfortable,” Chase added.
“We get to choose what we believe in. We look for works that challenge us in some ways, works that take a chance,” LaFage said.
Artists in their own right, LaFage, Chase and MacDonald, who cooks at the restaurant, display their own artwork in the gallery only every three to four years. The annual “Small Works” show is the only exception, Chase said.
To them, the gallery is something they run in their spare time, of which they seem to have little.
LaFage and Chase put in long hours at the restaurant and farm, particularly in summer, when tourist and farming season is at its height. And they are busy raising their young daughter, Romy LaFage.
He paints and works in mixed media; she is a painter. Finding time to work on their own art isn’t easy, they said.
“It’s too many hours in the summer. I paint in winter; I don’t paint in summer,” Chase said.
Recently, LaFage has been experimenting with incorporating silver and gold leaf in his works, as seen in “Telastar,” displayed in the current show.
Chase works primarily in oil on panel. Current examples are “Flowers” and “Nursery.”
MacDonald, 48, who works in mixed media, pointed out another distinct role of the gallery.
“We bring contemporary art to the public. Some people definitely come here to see the art. And we have an unsuspecting public,” she said.
Of the latter, Chase said that many customers act as impromptu art critics and give plenty of direct feedback.
“People will say it like it is, like, ‘This is bad; this doesn’t reach me,’” Chase said.
“We get honest reactions,” MacDonald added.
“Reactions are, by and large, positive. It is good we get frank responses,” LaFage said.
Attending the recent artists reception that night was Paul Jurutka, 60, a maker of rustic furniture who lives and works in downtown Belfast.
“If I come in for coffee, that’s when I usually check out the art,” he said. “It’s part of the community. I happened to be walking by and saw — oh, there’s an opening going on!” he said.
He and Chase’s Daily waitress Jamie Edwards, 27, also of Belfast, had been discussing the accessibility of small works of art, they said.
“All the art works I’ve bought over the years were always small,” Jurutka said.
LaFage, 42, and Chase, 34, met in the late 1990s while attending the New York Studio School in New York City. When plans to create Chase’s Daily came into focus about 10 years ago, they moved north to become an active part of the business. The gallery was a natural outgrowth of the restaurant.
“Once we got the restaurant up and running, we needed stuff on the walls,” LaFage said. “We started hanging art and brought a lot of our friends’ works here, artists we knew in New York. Then, we started actually having a gallery schedule.”
Perimeter Gallery stages about seven shows a year.
“There has been a transition. We’re better integrated into the community. We probably show more Maine artists, than not. … It’s great to show works from Maine; it’s also great to show works from afar,” he said.
Lynn Ascrizzi is a poet, gardener and freelance writer who lives in Freedom.