by Joseph Montebello
The renaissance that people keep hoping will occur in Torrington may have finally gotten a jumpstart with Five Points Gallery. At the corner of Water Street and Main Street—where there is a five-point traffic circle—director Judith McElhone is making great strides with her coterie of artists.
McElhone, herself an artist since the age of ten, understands artists and their needs. “My mother felt I was too young for oils and that watercolors would be better and safer,” she says. “My father, however, agreed with me, and so I got my first set of oil paints.”
McElhone now has a studio above the gallery. “I started out in a building on Main Street that was eventually sold. I moved to a new space on Litchfield Street, but when my landlady died, I had to move again. By that time, Downtown Torrington Partners had bought nine buildings that border Main and Water Streets, and I took a studio space upstairs in the corner building,” she says.
Shortly after McElhone moved into her space, she received a request to consult with the Arts and Culture Commission of Torrington. At the time, the gallery she lived above was called Art Space, where artists could exhibit for the summer. McElhone felt the call for artists was not effective, so she rewrote the prospectus. “I wanted to get the best possible people, and to do that you need to show what you can offer the artist.”
Although the gallery has only been open a few months, the buzz around it is stretching beyond the borders of Litchfield County. While there are many fine galleries in the Northwest Corner, Five Points is unique in that it not only exhibits art, but also offers lectures, book signings, and receptions to introduce the artists to their fans.
“We want to reach out to the whole community and outlying areas so people can learn more about contemporary art,” says McElhone. “Contemporary art is about challenging assumptions about the world and ourselves.”
As part of its lecture series, the gallery recently hosted Ann Temkin, chief curator of painting and sculpture for the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Temkin, a Torrington native, delivered a talk on “The 21st Century Artist” to over 200 guests.
Supported in part by the Torrington Downtown Partners and the Arts and Culture Commission of Torrington, the nonprofit gallery is, according to its mission, “committed to the exhibition of high-caliber contemporary art of emerging and established local and national artists.” The first few shows were difficult since the idea of quality art and Torrington seemed incongruous. “I now have a waiting list a mile long of artists wanting to show,” says McElhone.
“While I don’t do many studio visits, we have a website where people can submit their art. I always look at the art first, then the résumé, and then the statement. Some artists may not have the greatest résumés, but the art speaks volumes.”
The gallery space affords floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides. While major repairs include new furnaces, roofing, and new plumbing, the original subway-tile floor remains. “The building is still a work in progress, but we’ve now broken through to the adjacent building, which doubles our gallery space,” McElhone says.
With plans underway for a group show at the end of the year, McElhone is also working with UConn Torrington to partner with the gallery and incorporate the school’s art program by offering internships and exhibition space.
“Everyone is excited about what’s happening,” says McElhone. “We are getting some great press and people beyond our community are hearing about us. It’s just a question of time before we have not only a renowned and respected gallery but new businesses that will bring new people to this great town.”