BELFAST — The red neon sign that says “Artfellows” on display in the Main Street window of the Belfast Framer and Betts Gallery harkens back to the year 1980.
That’s when the Artfellows Cooperative Gallery, believed to be the city’s first art gallery, was founded by a group of people that rented space in the second floor of the Odd Fellows building for $25 a month. A new show at Betts Gallery called “Artfellows Revisited” is intended to honor the artists who belonged to the cooperative gallery between 1980 and 1987.
“This was always something that I wanted to do,” said Vicki McDaniel, proprietor of the Belfast Framer, located in the ground floor of the Odd Fellows building. “Many of these artists I’ve known for years, and I have followed their careers after they left Artfellows. It just seemed natural to one day celebrate them here, where they had their formative years.”
Mike Hurley, one of the founding members of the gallery, said rent was cheap enough and space downtown plentiful enough for the young artists who had met each other at the Belfast Cafe. At that time, the city was at the beginning of its transition from a blue-collar, factory town to a place where artists gravitated ,and the Artfellows group rented gallery space for just $25 per month.
“I think it unleashed a lot of people locally that were quite talented,” he said. “Many of them have gone on to terrific careers in art.”
Among the early members who will have work on display are Lois Anne, Dan Clarke, Alan Crichton, Lorna Crichton, Squidge Liljeblad Davis, Randy Fein, Richard Norton and Dennis Pinette.
Denise Remy, another early member, said Artfellows was “really instrumental.” Her late husband, Richard Norton, served as president of the cooperative for seven years.
“He was the guy who swept out the gallery and changed the light bulbs,” she recalled.
According to Remy, Norton loved having a place for artists to show and share their art.
“He was just a champion of everybody doing what they loved,” she said.
Hurley said he thinks the exhibit is “wonderful. It was a great time back then.”
“Artfellows Revisited” runs through June 25 at 96 Main St. For more information, call 338-6465 or visit www.thebelfastframer.com.