Published: May 26, 2020
Review by Greg Smith, Photographs Courtesy Garvey Rita Art & Antiques
ORLEANS, MASS. – Kevin Rita signed the lease for his new gallery space in November 2019 in the picturesque Cape Cod town of Orleans, Mass. He planned to open Garvey Rita Art & Antiques in May as the season got into swing, but because of the pandemic, that opening has yet to happen. He does not know when it will.
Rita moved up to Orleans from Connecticut with his wife. The two settled on a home and took note of the open retail location, only a short walk from their doorstep, not long after. Rita visits it often, even though the door remains closed to traditional business.
No more than 50 yards from his new gallery is another storefront that Rita knows well, his father and stepmother operated an antiques store there for 25 years. Rita said they would import containers of English and Chinese furniture and sell it to folks looking to furnish and decorate. His father’s shop closed about ten years ago.
About two years ago, Rita closed his bookstore/art gallery Brick Walk Books in Hartford, Conn. He described it as “a gallery in the front where we put on changing art exhibitions and then the rest of it was packed with beautiful old cabinets with interesting books – some rare books, but a lot of nice out-of-print titles.” It had art and decorative arts books, food, gardening and more.
In Hartford, Rita exhibited artists that had a profound connection to the city in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries – artists who were born in Hartford or lived and worked there for a period.
“Hartford had an amazing amount of activity, everyone from Frederic Church to Sol LeWitt, it was incredibly fertile,” he said. “And all kinds of talented artists who had sort of been forgotten. So, for many years, much of what I did was champion those people.”
Rita took a strong interest in the works of self-taught artist Howard Rackliffe (1917-1987), who sporadically lived in New Britain, Conn., for decades throughout his life and who received a retrospective at the New Britain Museum of Art in 2017.
“My gallery was really like a salon, people would drop in, everyone was welcome, there was an exchange of ideas,” he said. “After six months of not having it, I started to miss it. I underestimated what it meant to me. After I closed it and I moved up here, I thought I might be a show dealer and sell online. That is what I did for the first year, and then I made the decision to open the shop.”
Rita said that the mission of his new gallery will be similar to what he was doing in the past, but transplanted into a new environment, and thus, a new genre of art.
“I’m very interested in place, I like to immerse myself in places where I live,” he said. “It matters to me that I can go down to the Great Beach, and I want work that reflects my experience there as opposed to someplace else.”
His first exhibition, titled “First Light,” would have opened May 1, and it includes an overview of historic Cape Cod paintings in his inventory. Among them is work by Orleans’ own Vernon Smith (1894-1969), an important Cape Cod artist and a central figure in its art scene during his lifetime. Also included was a work by Harold Dunbar (1882-1957), who studied with Edmund Tarbell and worked in Chatham, Mass. Another was Harwich artist C.D. Cahoon (1861-1951), who Rita called one of the most beautiful Cape Cod Impressionist painters. “In the best of his paintings, there’s a quiet and stillness that’s breathtaking,” Rita said. Other artists include Bruce McCain, Paul Zimmerman (1921-2007), Robert Douglas Hunter (1928-2014), Tony Vevers (1926-2008) and contemporary artist Rick Fleury. Expanding the scope is a Walker Evans photograph featuring a Wellfleet house.
Following that exhibition, Rita planned on opening a show of Cape Cod related works from American contemporary landscape artist Eric Aho.
With a long tradition of artists on Cape Cod, Rita feels there are some that never received a proper amount of elevated attention. He said he is actively pursuing works by potter and artist Harry Holl (1922-2014), who he features prominently in the gallery. Holl was another artist who played a central role in the Cape Cod artist scene during his life and was a founder of the Cape Cod Museum of Art. “People would come in the summer to see his pottery and he would perform at the wheel – flowing, talking, and there would be crowds to witness him,” Rita said.
Other ceramic artists through time are represented, as are Rita’s other pursuits: folk art and modernism. “But not your grandma’s antiques,” he said. Rita’s collection finds a buoyant level between quality and affordability.
Though you cannot see it just yet.
“So there I was mid-March, I got it all ready,” he said. “I had labels on the wall for the paintings, I was going to have a reception May 1 for this exhibition of historic Cape Cod paintings. And then it all came down. I haven’t been able to open.
“You can’t feel sorry about it,” he continued. “It’s not just a town or a city, its everybody. We’re all at the same point. The world’s a little upside down, there’s no question about that.”
Rita said he’ll open when he can, so long as it’s safe. Anyone interested in visiting the store should first visit the website and call ahead.
One thing is certain: Hartford’s loss is Orleans’ gain. A reputable curator just hung a shingle on Main and the town is destined to be impressed with his knowledge and eye – when the doors open.
Garvey Rita Art & Antiques is at 213 Main Street in Orleans, Mass. For more information, www.garveyrita.com or 860-983-6563.
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