BRATTLEBORO — A new art gallery and gift shop shares its name with its “ambassador,” Leopard Frog.
“The character is always kind of changing over time,” said Larisa Volkavichyute, business owner.
When looking for the name of the shop, Volkavichyute wanted it to be connected to Vermont somehow. She considered something with mountains, woods, hermit thrushes or clovers but felt those names had already been taken. She looked into symbols or animals or plants associated with the state and found the leopard frog is the state’s amphibian.
No one wants to name something after an amphibian, she said.
“But if you make the character really cute, and frogs are really cute, it brings a whole other perspective to the name Leopard Frog,” she said.
Her mentor Julia Timashova, who lives in Russia, helped design the character after they talked about how she wanted to represent the shop.
They decided the character should be “participatory,” so people are free to use GIF images of the frog in their own pictures or as an emoji.
Leopard Frog also appears on pins, pillows, stickers, earrings and planners sold at the shop. Volkavichyute sees the character as a way to represent moods or experiences.
“Art is a way of telling a story of what you see around yourself,” she said. “I thought the frog could be the ambassador of the shop or the character who lives in the shop.”
Leopard Frog can pose questions and her voice will be used on the business’s Instagram, where updates and information about different artwork will be posted.
The shop at 257 Marlboro Road in West Brattleboro will open Feb. 16. Hours are noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
Volkavichyute said she doesn’t want her business to be as “serious as an art gallery or as kitschy as a gift shop.” She’ll be selling her own work, which include products with Leopard Frog and other art, and items made by about 12 artists.
Through the art, Volkavichyute wants to tell the story of the local area or tap into the experience or emotions of people. She likes the idea of having art on walls as well as on usable items.
Her experience includes organizing a winter craft market at The Stone Church, a music venue in downtown Brattleboro run by her husband Robin Johnson, and participating in many other craft markets. She also is part of Harmony Collective, which has a gallery downtown.
“I could see things from both sides, of the artists or the person who goes to these things and the point of view of an organizer,” she said.
Customers can put together their own jewelry using parts created or made available by Volkavichyute. She said Leopard Frog products are available at the shop, Harmony Collective and online, and could possibly be sold at other businesses.
The idea for the new project came about in January 2021 after her father-in-law Bob Johnson offered her space in the building, which is shared with Vermont Hempicurean. Volkavichyute said she found it difficult to develop a plan due to the shifting landscape with COVID-19.
When Scott Sparks, owner of Vermont Hempicurean, signed on to take over space in the building, it became clear to Volkavichyute that people would have multiple reasons to stop there. The established business sells CBD, hemp and grow products, with plans to branch out into retail cannabis sales once it is allowed in Vermont in October.
The Stone Church also is anticipated to host outdoor shows in a field on the property in the warmer months, Volkavichyute said.
“We hope it becomes an interesting cluster of activities,” she said.
Volkavichyute wanted the name of her business to encompass different possibilities based on being indoors, outdoors or a pop-up market. She sought something that personifies Vermont in a “cool and funky” way. Timashova, who consulted on the project, also helped develop The Stone Church logo.
For the most part, Volkavichyute paints with soft pastels. She likes to create what she calls “cute, mystical representations of the world.” She also makes jewelry, the medium she began with.
Originally from Karelia, Russia, which borders Finland, Volkavichyute attended SIT Graduate Institute in 2005 and met Robin Johnson. She noted her home region is a sister state with Vermont and Minnesota, which coincidentally share the leopard frog as their state amphibians.
Volkavichyute has been making art since 2006. Previously, she had been working at an investment bank in Russia.
“That was a great job and gave me a lot of skills but wasn’t necessarily matching my character or persona,” she said. “So in order to keep alive this curiosity, this trickster or artistic part of me, I started to do the artwork.”
When Volkavichyute moved to America about six years ago, she decided she wanted to make art her full-time job. She sold art in local markets and other places while raising her children.
With the new business, Volkavichyute said she’s “excited and scared at the same time.”
“I hope that the frog will pick up and keep up her active voice of recommendations,” she said. “It’s like a navigator, idea or guide.”
Being on the road connecting Route 9 and Interstate 91, Volkavichyute said the shop’s location will make it a good place to share knowledge about the area. She hopes it will become a popular destination and envisions creating an underground guide to Brattleboro one day with different experiences or places off the beaten path.
Other artists selling their work at Leopard Frog include Ruth Shafer, Alexis Doshas, Sinnisha, Jennifer Dieringer, Elspeth Bourne, Adrienne Ginter, Joanna Alix, Katherine Weston, Kay Curtis, Neige Torrey Christenson and Django Hulphers. Their art includes ceramic sculptures, printed cards, herbs, tinctures, bottle stoppers, business cardholders and watercolor paintings.
“I feel like it’s really funny that now I live here and now I’m going to tell Vermont’s stories through the art of Vermonters,” Volkavichyute said. “But I don’t feel it’s limited to that. It could be Vermont or it could based on what I see or my own heritage.”