A new art gallery opens in Princeton this Friday, May 22, with an exhibition of oil paintings by Heather Sturt Haaga. Ms. Haaga is well-known in Princeton as both a painter and a philanthropist.
The aptly named Gallery 353 is located in the McCarthy building at 353 Nassau Street, just north of the intersection with Harrison Street and next door to the Cloak and Dagger Mystery Bookstore. The grand opening and reception will take place from 5:30-8:30 p.m.
The gallery is the brainchild of Patrick Ryan, who was born and raised in the Princeton area and formerly directed the largest art gallery in Charleston, South Carolina, for five years until 2005 when it relocated to Chicago.
Gallery 353’s inaugural exhibition of Ms. Haaga’s work, “California Colors: Plein Air and Still Life Paintings,” will include 23 pieces from the artist and one that is on loan from Princeton’s municipal Judge Jack McCarthy, who owns the building in which the gallery is housed. “I’ve known Jack since since the 1960s and so when I returned to Princeton and wanted to set-up my own gallery, the basement space in the McCarthy building presented itself,” said Mr. Ryan during a pause in his preparations for the opening.
Although partially below ground, the gallery has a light, airy feel that belies its location, with a deep window along one exterior wall so that it benefits from daylight. Lots of interior lighting ensures a bright space. The main entrance to the gallery is in the rear of the building where there is some parking.
The work in the opening exhibition is all relatively recent and ranges in price from the 8 by 10 inch Barn Country at $500 to the 24 by 36 inch California Spring at $3,000, the show’s piece de resistance and also its largest.
Ms. Haaga’s titles yield a flavor of what is on view: Adirondack Afternoon, Hollyhock Cottage, Lily Pond, Pears on a Sideboard, The Turkish Vase, with a touch of humor thrown in, Time to Brush Your Teeth, and Mailbox Line Up. There are several Normandy scenes, including a landscape diptych, and still lifes.
For these paintings, the artist worked in oil, either out-of-doors or in her studio in La Cañada Flintridge, California. “Perhaps it is because of the light, the warmth, the character of the place, but colors in California seem to be heightened, more intense. The palette of the paintings adds to their story, enhances the viewer’s response to the object or landscape, and helps convey the spirit of the piece,” said Ms. Haaga, who hopes that viewers will engage with the exhibition not only through subject matter but through color as well.
Here is an artist who explores and ponders the ways in which light and color are observed. “There is a theory that anyone can draw; it is simply a matter of learning how to observe the world more carefully. And, whenever you do observe more specifically, you find the world is full of interesting spaces and colors — colors that may or may not be obvious,” she explained. “Some people see color in a different way, literally. Apparently, we do not see the same way — one more miracle of nature.”
“Heather is a gifted painter,” said Mr. Ryan, “as well as a philanthropist and worker for good causes. In addition to being a trustee of the seminary and of Vassar College, she chairs the board of the Salzburg Global Seminar, whose mission is to challenge current and future leaders to solve issues of global concern.”
With her husband, Paul Haaga, a trustee of Princeton University as well as of several other educational and cultural organizations (he was formerly acting CEO of NPR and chair of the board of the Huntington Library, said Mr. Ryan), Ms. Haaga divides her time between Princeton, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.
“Heather is a passionate painter and her use of color is very compelling; this show is bound to be a success,” said the gallery director, who is looking to build up a stable of Gallery 353 artists. So far, he’s working with Ms. Haaga, the art photographer Richard Trenner, and painter Nancy Merrill who lives in Pennington. It is Mr. Ryan’s intention to have regular exhibitions of the work of Gallery 353 artists. Work by Mr. Trenner will be exhibited from mid-September through early October and new work by Ms. Merrill will be on display after that. “I’m interested in contemporary and local artists and there are many fine creative talents in this area,” said Mr. Ryan, adding that he’s looking to include work in three dimensions. “I have enormous admiration for creative artists who put their work out there before the public; that can be a scary thing.”
According to the new gallery’s director, its relatively small size suits him after running a much bigger operation in South Carolina, where he inherited some 50 artists and an inventory of over 1,000 pieces. “That was challenging; Gallery 353 will be a pleasure; it will allow me to give each artist their due and to really get to know their work.”
In addition to contemporary art, Gallery 353 will showcase estate antiques on consignment as well as unusual pieces that catch Mr. Ryan’s eye. Right now, he is taken by the work of the late Czech artist Antonin Marek Machourek (1913–1991), a pupil of Mark Chagall. He has an inventory of his paintings for sale.
The gallery will take 50 percent of all sales, which Mr. Ryan said is pretty typical, although really prominent artists whose work commands prices in the hundreds of thousand would receive a higher percentage.
Although he is not an artist himself, Mr. Ryan, who lives on Cherry Valley Road, discovered a love of art when he was an undergraduate at Princeton University. Having grown up on a family dairy farm in Pennington, he said, he had little exposure to art. He did, however, develop a feeling for history. The family home, the historic Benjamin Temple house dating to 1750, incidentally, was once threatened by the construction of I-95 and in 1973 was moved from the old Hopewell-Trenton Road (Route 31) to Federal City Road, where it is now the headquarters of the Ewing Township Historic Preservation Society.
Mr. Ryan graduated with a degree in medieval history in 1968. Since then, he’s traveled extensively. “I’m a bit of a gypsy at heart,” he said, “I’ve lived all over, in Hawaii, in La Jolla, in Sante Fe …” And he’s tried his hand at a variety of things along the way, most recently as a pecan farmer in South Carolina.
Following the launch of Gallery 353 on Friday, May 22, gallery hours will be Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, from noon to 6 p.m. In addition, there will be special gallery hours during Princeton University Reunions Weekend on Friday, May 29, from 2 to 6:30 p.m.; Saturday, May 30, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.; and Sunday, May 31, from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.