PUTNEY -- In the mid-1980s, glassblower and Rhode Island School of Design alumnus Craig Stockwell quit making art altogether.
Bowing to the demands of family life, Stockwell stopped making glass sculptures and installations, but five years later, the art world beckoned him back. He just couldn't live without it.
"I think it's a great question to ask: ‘How integral to my life is art?'" explained Stockwell.
In a sense, Landmark College faced the same question and came up with a way to demonstrate that the answer is: "Very."
Wednesday marked the grand opening of Landmark College's Fine Arts Gallery. The inaugural exhibit features Stockwell's paintings and the sculpture of Tim Segar. An opening reception will be held today from 4 to 6 p.m., and the public is welcome to stop by, see the art and take a first glimpse at the new gallery located in the Fine Arts Building in what used to be the lobby of Greenhoe Theatre.
The gallery is the brainchild of Humberto Ramirez, chairman of the art department at Landmark, who wanted to convert the space into a gallery almost from the moment he arrived on campus to teach seven years ago.
"When I first came in, it seemed to me there was a huge potential," said Ramirez. "I think it's a fantastic resource, not only for the school but for the community."
Plans to convert the space into a gallery really gained traction a year and a half ago, when Dr. Peter Eden became president of Landmark College. He embraced Ramirez's idea.
"It's a fundamental element of education and life -- arts and expression and creativity -- and there's so much of it on campus," said Eden as he surveyed the new gallery last Friday. "We just had to roll up our sleeves and do it."
With financial help from the Olitski Foundation, Landmark rebuilt a wall on the upper level of the gallery to make it more suitable to hang art and also installed more art-friendly lighting. During the summer, a second phase of the project will include work on the gallery's lower level.
But in the meantime, the gallery is open, and the folks at the college are touting it as a win all-around -- for artists, students, Landmark in general and the community.
"It's another great way to prove to the public and the community that our doors are open," said Eden. "It's not in our best interest to be an insular place."
The initial plan is to have an exhibit go up every semester and also to use the space to show student art, as well. Next year, Ramirez hopes to accompany the exhibits with publications.
For students, the gallery will be a place to view art, to pitch in and learn the work of hanging and presenting art, to gain a glimpse into the lives of professional artists and benefit from the times when the artists are on campus.
Landmark has recently won accreditation to offer its first four-year degrees, and Eden eventually sees a time when the college may be able to offer a bachelor of fine arts degree.
"The potential to use this is really astronomical," said Art Department faculty member Jen Morris.
Segar and Stockwell, who were classmates at RISD will be on hand during Wednesday's opening reception to talk about their work.
Segar, who teaches at Marlboro College, began his career making ceramic sculpture focused on theatrical groupings of forms called "Box Theaters." After a period of working in steel and bronze also displayed in staged groupings, he has been involved with finding intersections between sculpture and drawing. The work on display at Landmark College, made of steam-bent arcs of oak and ash, becomes at once a drawing and a sculpture.
Stockwell's work has been widely reviewed, including by The New York Times, The Village Voice, Newsday and The Soho News. He has shown his drawings and paintings extensively in New England and nationally, including the Nielsen Gallery in Boston, the Mills Gallery at Boston Center for the Arts, Marlboro College, New England College, the Fitchburg Art Museum, The Painting Center in New York and the Spheris Gallery. His work is in many permanent private and public collections, including the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Stockwell lives in Keene, N.H., where he teaches at Keene State College.
The exhibit runs through April 20. The Landmark College Fine Arts Gallery is open to the public daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
For more information about Landmark College and the new Fine Arts Gallery, visit www.landmark.edu.