Sometimes, I need to relax and rejuvenate—take a “micro-vacation.” Certain places—like the beach or art galleries—give me these micro-vacations. When I sat down to write this post, I realized why, and that water somehow plays a role. At the beach, watching the breaking waves and wading wildlife reaffirms life’s rhythms, and the dynamic, colorful scenes provide endless beauty. Likewise, at art galleries, I also find color and rhythm, even in the abstract. For me, art is like water for the soul, and I feel fortunate to live in a place with both physical water and metaphorical water.
Quick Travels To Pensacola
One oasis for the soul can be found at Quayside Art Gallery, located at 17 E. Zarragossa Street in Pensacola (https://www.quaysidegallery.com/). Recently voted by VIP Magazine the “Best Art Gallery” in Pensacola, Quayside is not the typical commercial art gallery because it’s owned and operated by around 100 local artists. This community of artists has been evolving for more than forty years. These people give it a heart and soul not found in a single-owner gallery. I know because I’ve worked there for a few years and know the artists.
The gallery began in 1973 on South Palafox Street and moved to its current location, the old Germania Firehouse, in 1983. Not only do the artists give the gallery character, but so does the building. Built in 1873, it housed one of Pensacola’s first fire brigades during an era when fire was a serious problem. It even has a history of being haunted, as documented in an article, entitled “Haunted Truck House,” in the Pensacola Daily News, December 2, 1892. The story reports the encounter of two firemen with a spirit or ghost. And strange things continue to happen to this day. Ask any of the long-time members. But for those of you who aren’t interested in ghost tales, the gallery has plenty to offer as the largest cooperative art gallery in the Southeast.
Three floors of art are waiting for the art enthusiast, the casual tourist, or school children. The art is both 2D and 3D in many media and materials: paintings (acrylic, oil, watercolor, pastel, mixed media), drawings, photography, jewelry, stained glass, dyed textiles, wooden items, and ceramic ware. The gallery even has a Historic Quayside Art Gallery Cookbook and aprons. Expect the east end of the first floor to have a special show featuring one or more artists. And the west end contains samples of art from many artists. All of these can be found on the first floor, but that’s not all.
A short second floor has bins of affordable, unframed art. On the third floor are bays of art where each artist has wall space or a pedestal display area. Unfortunately, the building does not have an elevator, so stairs may be a barrier to exploring the second and third floors for those who have mobility constraints. On all floors, one can browse in a calm, air-conditioned, quiet atmosphere—usually.
Special events can turn this quiet gallery into a livelier oasis. Gallery Nights (the third Friday of each month) can draw a couple of hundred visitors. One or more artists may do demos, like turning wood on a lathe or drawing portraits. Non-alcoholic drinks and light snacks are usually available. Other busy evenings are whenever the east gallery show changes, and the exhibiting artists hold a reception. These events are well-attended, possibly helped by the free wine and hors-d’oeuvres. Crowds can ebb and flow with the seasons. In the cooler months when darkness arrives early, the gallery lights and warmth attract people like moths to a flame, especially around the holidays.
Starting in mid-November, the artists adorn Christmas trees with affordable, hand-made ornaments, and many artists choose to display more items, like smaller works of art or creative pieces, which make unique gifts—ones you won’t find at the mall or in a department store. When I work at the desk, I frequently see customers leave feeling that they found a “treasure” for a friend, or for themselves.
Ironically, as I was drafting this blog, a piece appeared in the Pensacola News Journal on Friday, July 27, 2018, about construction workers finding evidence of old wells along Jefferson Street, which runs along the east side of Quayside Art Gallery. Construction by Gulf Power has been underway to bury new power lines and upgrade the downtown power grid. The PNJ article quotes Elizabeth Benchley, director of the University of West Florida Archeology Institute. She says, “The heart of the colonial town was like an island with wetlands all the way around it … we filled all those wetlands with trash and building debris and everybody thinks that this is dry ground.” The article went on to explain how the wells were dug and how barrels were placed in the bottoms to define the well shafts. After the wells fell into disuse, the town residents filled them with trash. This story sounded familiar.
Several years ago, I attended a workshop for writers, artists, and musicians. One evening, Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, delivered a homily in which he said that creative artists are like Isaac digging out Abraham’s wells. And I thought, “Wait… What?” He explained that in the twenty-sixth chapter of Genesis, Isaac cleaned out the wells that his father, Abraham, had originally dug. The Philistines had filled them with dirt and garbage so that they no longer held water, a necessity for life. Eugene’s point was that our modern lifestyle can fill our spirits with garbage, and the creative arts help to remove that “garbage” so that “water” can flow in.
For me, Eugene’s metaphor is so true because, coincidentally, Pensacola’s “Best Art Gallery” is located along a street that used to contain wells that were then abandoned and filled with trash. But now in modern times, the wells are being excavated while the artists at Quayside are attempting to push aside our social garbage and supply Pensacola with that much-needed “water for the soul.” If you have any interest in art, it’s a place that can give you a micro-vacation. Its hours of operation are Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays 1–5:00 p.m., phone (850) 438-2363.
N. J. Schrock
Instagram and Twitter: @NJSchrock1