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Urban Outing

Arts and Eats on West Main Street

The owner of one of the most sophisticated art galleries in Richmond wants you to be a part of the city’s vibrant art scene. In fact, Page Bond says you should visit the Fan sometime soon – and, she adds, “Bring your kids!”

Bond welcomes middle and high school students, and encourages parents to bring even the very young to the Page Bond Gallery. “By coming to see original fine art,” she says, “children increase their visual vocabulary.”

A stroll on a spring weekday, Saturday, or the first Friday night of each month can become a rich experience. Anchored by VCU School of the Arts, one of the top public art schools in the nation, Richmond’s offerings in art vary from avant-garde non-objectivism to photorealism.The private galleries along West Main Street, or Uptown as it is commonly called, offer significant rewards in all of the above.

Begin at the eastern end of this series of galleries. Uptown Gallery fills its main floor, mezzanine, and brick loft with jewelry, prints, collages, pottery, paintings, and photography. The main floor is home to the work of members of this gallery co-op, and most of the selections are priced affordably. You won’t see member artists working in-studio, but you will see the Emma Lou Martin Loft transformed into a classroom for monthly summer art camps.Here, student work is displayed in the gallery when the camps end.

Head west and climb Main Art’s spiral staircase. It opens into the gallery, usually filled with inventive work – sometimes from one artist, often from a coterie, as was the case for the recent Mary Washington University student show.

For downright audacious objets d’art and unrepentant slashes of humor, Artemis tops the list. Like Main Art, this gallery favors the young at heart, mind, and attitude, and leans toward pop culture.The craftsmanship is evident, though, and all items in the eclectic outlay rate as legitimate aesthetic works. On Friday Nights, weather permitting, guitarists and dancers perform on the sidewalk in front.

When you see a bright red door on the south side of the street, open it and feast your eyes on Red Door Gallery’s innovative artwork. Margaret Cogar, gallery manager, welcomes families and children.

“Seeing professional work encourages their interest in art,” Cogar says.

Next, it’s on to the Page Bond Gallery, where you’ll encounter meticulously selected contemporary paintings from well-known artists. The gallery’s high ceiling and glass front give it the atmosphere of a smooth, sophisticated city gallery – which it is.

Throughout April, the Page Bond Gallery will display the work of Ryan McGuinness, a native Virginian now widely recognized for his drawings layered with acrylic paint. McGuinness’ drawings are based on images from the McGlothlin contemporary collection at VMFA, and have a special appeal for youngsters attuned to the new and the bold.

Just across the street, families can survey more artwork in the Glave Kocen Gallery, another grand space, transformed from one of the street’s nearbasilica units of long ago into its light and modern incarnation. The gallery might have an exhibition of regional paintings, farmlands, rural Virginians, or a show of impressionistic work. It might have both. According to gallery owner and Richmond native BJ Kocen, all visitors are “advised to take special note of the big Blue dogs” in hand-built ceramic. “They’re not dangerous,” says Kocen, as he offers more details about one of his favorites.“Mark Chatterley, the artist, describes his work as dreamlike – with an ancient feel, but completely contemporary, as if ‘dug up from a civilization yet to exist.’”

Kocen likes to keep a bowl of candy out for young art connoisseurs. “There are children in the gallery often,” he says, and even with the fragile work on the stands, the gallery has never had a piece broken by visitors.

Brazier Studio, two doors east of Kocen’s space, displays realistic and impressionistic paintings from American and international artists. Original city scenes, landscapes, and still life compositions will stimulate the imaginative power of young viewers. Loryn Brazier is a portrait painter, and has had many children as subjects.Her triplet grandchildren “practically grew up in the gallery,” so her interest in having children around is natural.

Reynolds Gallery brings in “significant and challenging contemporary art by local, regional, and nationally known artists,”According to owner Bev Reynolds, who relishes the idea of children coming to the gallery. “They make lifelong connections with art if they come often,” she says.“Visiting an art gallery is far different from many other activities in which young people participate – sports, technology… It’s quiet, and they think about what they’re seeing.”

Reynolds Gallery does not open every first Friday night of the month, as many of the galleries on West Main do, but day visits are extraordinarily satisfying Anyway. Two old row houses join, with easy passage between, to create charming spaces for exhibitions and whole room installations.

Now, to the Visual Arts Center, which hums all day every day, with exhibitions ranging from its recent human hair weavings – beautifully crafted fiber art – to its fine faculty shows. Maggi Tinsley, marketing coordinator with VisArts, stresses the importance of giving children access to art, both in appreciation And in production.

To that end, on the first Friday night of each month, VisArts patrons can create their own work of art using the center’s facilities and materials for a fee. Tinsley, who is the mother of two school-aged girls, recommends West Main Street for families in search of an art experience in the city.

“Travel between the galleries is a pleasant walk, with traffic only going one way, ample parking on the street, and a big lot behind VisArts,” she says. “There are also many family-friendly places to grab a bite.”

With kids in tow, you might decide to stop for refreshments or a meal as Tinsley suggests. New restaurants pop up as the Main Street art scene develops. Most offer kids’ meals, and are open weekdays and Saturdays from late morning until far into the evening.

At Baja Bean you can “build your own quesadilla,” and enjoy the artistry of the old building’s interior brick arches and sturdy pillars. Both Home Team Grill and Mulligan’s Sports Grill feature dining inside and out. Olio serves full meals, salads, and sandwiches influenced by European cuisine, and Realitea, a new restaurant, serves meals and sandwiches along with its specialty teas. City Dogs lists a whole page of intriguing hot dogs, and goes from there up to beef platters. Sticky Rice features every Asian craving imaginable, plus a kid-favorite you probably wouldn’t think of: Tater Tots.Here, children under twelve eat free every Thursday.

When you do find a spot for refreshments, instill the gallery experience by discussing favorites and runners-up among the works of art. Of course parents know best, but depending on the ages of your kids, don’t try to visit all of the galleries in one outing. Art, after all, is timeless.

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