Musician Creates Harmony With New Hill Art Gallery

Musician Creates Harmony With New Hill Art Gallery

October 6, 2005 - Reprinted with permission from the Chestnut Hill Local

By Pat Stokes

It’s exciting these days to observe what appears to be a continually expanding mix of shops on the Hill, especially in the 8100 block. Here we go again, with Joe Borrelli’s attractive and welcoming new art gallery at 8117 Germantown Avenue, across from a bakery (Bredenbeck’s), a theater (Stagecrafters), a restaurant and a travel agency. I like the gallery’s red sign, the elegant gray trim and the polished brass door handle, all of which assure you that the works inside will be tastefully presented and compelling in themselves.

At the current show, featuring four artists from the region, let’s start with Gary Kresge’s attention-getting “Deep Woods Rhododendron.” Done mostly in variegated greens, the white blossoms, which seem small, stand out against the dark leaves and look especially delicate in contrast to large whitish rock shapes in the foreground. This and his orange-yellow “Fields in Autumn” are beautifully painted in oil on linen.

Nearby are the always-amazing watercolors of Chestnut Hill’s John Lear. How does he do it? The watercolors have such a unique character: they look like oils, and they are always so perfectly defined down to the last tiny detail that they seem to exude the seem kind of precious quality that ancient artifacts do. The paintings are comparatively small. One, a landscape with early stone farm buildings seen in the strange light of dusk under darkening skies, has a mysterious quality. In another, a snow scene, a building is glimpsed through wintry bare trees. People are drawn to the magical feeling in Lear’s work. Joe says, “At the opening (on the 15th) everyone wanted to talk to John.”

In a complete switch of style, on the opposite wall is Mary Kane’s “Pairs.” This painting of pears (the fruit) is done in contemporary style as flat masses of pale color, their weightiness expressed by heavy dark outlines. Most of them are seen from their bottoms, reminding one of the nude models posing in life classes. Another, different example of her work is “Rising Tide,” a kind of triptych showing an encroaching sea. All of her work is well executed.

John Stinger, a New Jersey and New Hope artist, feels that painting puts him in touch with the beauty of the land, and his purpose is to capture “the color and elegance of special places.” His oil of tall grasses bending in the wind is classical, traditional in feeling, a bit reminiscent of Millet or maybe even Van Gogh.

Making an interesting focal point in the room are Paul Rigby’s alabaster sculptures of cats and cat heads and a separate piece in Italian alabaster that he calls “Glacial.” They’d look great in a room of contemporary design.

Carrying forward the Hahns’ interest in glass art are some beautiful wine glasses in purple and browns by Zach Puchowitz. Their curving, twisting bases are intriguing, and probably seem more so after you’ve quaffed their contents a couple of times. Zach, just in his 20’s, seems to have made a good start in the design world.

Joe Borrelli, sole proprietor of this promising new gallery, has been working in the art and framing field for 20 years. He says he discovered art through music. He’s a rock-and-roll musician, even has a record out. He used to play clubs, where he met and became friends with artists, started collecting their work and made frames for their paintings. At the time, he was Director of Sales at York Framing Supply Company, a job that took him to galleries in Washington, D.C., Delaware and the Northeast. Along with this, he somehow phased in working with Ros and Maury Hahn at the Chestnut Hill Gallery for about 10 years.

When he learned that they were moving to Center City, he made the decision he had been considering for a year: opening his own gallery. He figured out a serious business plan about a year and a half ago, compared rents in Manayunk, Mt. Airy and Plymouth Meeting, and chose Chestnut Hill when the Hahns announced they were leaving. “Everyone at Bowman Properties,” he says, “was so helpful, and made it possible for me to be successful in opening this place.”

So here it is, a friendly room showing mostly regional artists, while at the same time offering full-service, custom museum-quality framing. He demonstrated for me “what a difference a frame makes.” He also does fine restoration on older paintings. He tells me there will be another group show during November and December, appropriately Philadelphia scenes of winter and fall. When the current show closes and until the next one opens, he will hang general works of individual artists. Joe has terrific taste and loves doing what he’s doing, along with the help of his wife, Suzanne Sheeder, and his sister-in-law, Kathleen Sheeder. Hours at the Chestnut Hill Gallery are Tuesday-Friday, 10 to 6; Saturday, 10 to 4; Sunday and Monday by appointment. Phone 215-248-2549. See you on the Avenue.