… and the rebirth of the Visceral Gallery
By Jud Yalkut
The Visceral Gallery has been one of the mainstays of area contemporary art over the last five years since its founding on East Fifth Street in the Oregon District. Boasting a “family” of accomplished Dayton-area artists, the gallery has, in its various manifestations, also spotlighted artists in one-to-three person, month-long exhibitions.
Painter Francine Riley, and her supportive husband Terry, have devoted their time, efforts and personal resources to maintaining this invaluable visual arts resource. Upon retiring as an art teacher, Francine started becoming friends with artists who were encamped at Front Street like Hamilton Dixon, Shon Walters and Mike Elsass, who gave her space within his space for a number of months.
“Pretty soon, Mike started talking about his friends and Dr. Mike Erwin,” she remembered, “and the idea for a kind of rebirth of the Oregon into a more formal arts district. ‘Why don’t you take a space and come down with me?’ he said to me.’” The only space available was a tiny triangular one, which nevertheless had great windows and light, and was in a historical building.
“It wasn’t about going in and playing store,” she continued. “It was about making artists visible, and the one thing the Oregon District has was an abundance of young artists who would stop by to talk and share their work. It was an extension of my teaching in a different way, a big stewpot of artists who became a kind of family to us, different artists and different flavors. The gallery became a giant artwork where I could compose within the space, bring this artwork in and just sit back and watch, being able to talk about an artist to the person interested in that work.”
The Visceral Gallery was located right by a bus stop. Many of the Oregon District regulars would come by and “people you would never expect were interacting with the art.” It was also next door to Shon Walter’s Goloka Gallery and the Link Gallery, who would cooperatively watch each other’s spaces. But when the Visceral’s year-long lease ran out, the Rileys considered whether they wanted to continue and whether they needed more space. “So we decided to head home, back to Centerville,” Francine said, “and thought all of the connections we had made there over the years would be a good way of extending this family, this excitement.”
For two-and-a-half years, the Visceral Gallery operated within two large rooms right on the main drag of Centerville using a form of salon exhibition which permitted focus exhibitions in the front room. The results were lovely but after all that time they were still the only gallery in the heart of Centerville. “It was lonely,” lamented Francine, and Terry added: “We moved there literally when the economy tanked, but we were determined to make a go of it anyway — and Francine especially worked diligently each month for a brand new show, being in the gallery five days a week, eight hours a day, and there were some days when nobody came in.”
Ergo, the move this past month to the cooperative Pendleton Center in Middletown, 20 miles away. “We had faithful followers,” noted Terry, “but some were really distressed that we were leaving- you’d think we were moving to Siberia. But moving to Middletown keeps us in the game for another year or so.” Presently, the Visceral Gallery space at Pendleton provides two rooms, not as large as Centerville, but with additional walk-about space around the gallery and a unique window within a window view from the front of the building. “Part of the appeal to us of Middletown,” added Terry, “was the Pendleton structure — it’s highly successful in Cincinnati as well as in Ashland, Kentucky and Rising Sun, Indiana — as a once-a-month event with heightened publicity.”
“Pendleton has lifted off our shoulders the marketing promotion angle,” adds Francine, “which was very stressful when we were doing it ourselves. It became a marketing nightmare which I needed to let go of, and go back to being part of a giant artwork, giving us more time to travel and look for artists to be a part of the community.” Eventually, they will consider the idea of more hours than just the first Friday and Saturday of each month, perhaps even on a weekly basis. But Terry added: “Right now we’re being told that we aren’t going to need to necessarily.”
Terry currently works three days a week as a consultant for the Montgomery County Educational Service Center.
“We’re kind of like art missionaries,” said Francine, “We go from one place to another and we try to agitate, encourage and make the art visible. Right now, our garage is full of art, and Middletown is full of art, and the Dayton artists are behind us 100 percent.”
Although the once-a-month Pendleton event coincides with Dayton’s First Friday, the facility is open and happening each following Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., creating a gestalt that may well serve as an energizing factor for the Miami Valley art scene.
The new Visceral Gallery is located in the Pendleton Art Center building at 1105 Central Avenue in Middletown, Ohio. The current hours are 5-9 p.m., Friday and 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Saturday on July 1-2, August 5-6, September 2-3, October 7-8, November 4-5 and December 2-3.Appointments can be made by calling (937) 409-0069.
Reach DCP visuals critic Jud Yalkut at