PAWTUCKET — The city of artists now has a welcoming, downtown gallery space to showcase and sell handmade creations.
Galeria United, an international art and design center, opened recently at 200 Main Street. Owner Tina Melo-Kufner, a Pawtucket native who lived and worked as a fashion designer in Europe for several decades, has fulfilled a longtime vision of running a place that would be part gallery, part haven and part teaching facility for artists and those who aspire to be.
With its large windows and high-visibility location, the bright and spacious gallery contains the works of a wide range of artists and craftspeople from the local area as well as other parts of the United States and Europe. Melo-Kufner takes the work on consignment, and because the gallery is located in Pawtucket's arts district, there is no sales tax on any of the items sold.
“There are so many artists in the local area, but they don't really have a place to sell their work except at fairs that happen once or twice a year. Artists need a brick and mortar place to sell their work,” said Melo-Kufner. “And this location is perfect because everything is tax free.”
The product mix includes paintings, photographs, furniture, pottery, jewelery, sculpture, clothing, and accessories for both fashion and home. All of the items are one-of-a-kind, stresses Melo-Kufner, who also has her own clothing line for children, teens and adults on display.
A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design in apparel design, Melo-Kufner worked for many years as a knitwear designer for some well-known companies, including Liz Claiborne and Chaus. She later became a fashion analyst in Europe, writing “trend reports” for some major names such as Ralph Lauren, Victoria's Secret, the Gap and Converse.
From spending so much of her career in Europe, Melo-Kufner brings an international flair to her gallery. The pieces are artfully arranged in a colorful, boutique-like setting. In her displays, she sometimes incorporates the works of multiple artists that happen to complement each other in color, texture or style.
More importantly, Melo-Kufner wants the artists to have a say in how their pieces are displayed, and to feel welcome spending time at the gallery. To that end, she has created a cozy sitting area with vintage couches and handcrafted furniture set in front of a rustic faux fireplace that she built herself. “I want artists to drop by, have a cup of tea and meet with other artists. I think it's important to brainstorm and to be able to work off one another for ideas,” she stated.
Among the vast display of handcrafted items are mesh metal jewelery by Anthony Ferrara, wood and marble sculptures by Ruth Emers, large oil on linen paintings by Mark Goodkin, watercolors by Lynn Atwood, and handbags from Judy Spratt and Sarah Thornton-Frey.
Unique furniture items include a bed that is a collaborative effort between copper artist Theresa Mowery and wood craftsman Tom Denton of Furniture ¾ Time, chairs and wine racks built from vintage waterskis by Brian Amaral, and natural wood tables and chairs from Flat River Furniture.
Melo-Kufner also sells locally produced soaps and other natural beauty and health products, honey from Annie B's Farm, and free-trade organic coffee and herbal teas.
A believer in the value of homeopathic medicine and practices such as Reiki, Melo-Kufner has created a room in her galley that is devoted to the promotion of health and wellness, healing and beauty. There will be Reiki and spa treatments and guidance on nutrition and other healthy lifestyle regimens, she said.
Melo-Kufner said she also wants to give back and encourage creativity in others by offering classes in art, music, fashion and design for children, teens and adults. She has classroom space in the gallery and is offering lessons to children and teens interested in fashion and apparel design. She is also looking for experienced teachers in various other arts disciplines to join her. She hopes this will eventually turn into a non-profit educational venture that she calls the Melo Project.
The Galeria International is currently open Monday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. To 9 p.m., and on Sunday from noon to 6 p.m.