Gallery Walk goes digital

Fred Noyes films as Lauren Watrous interviews Ross Smart at the Harmony Collaborative, in Brattleboro, for the virtual Gallery Walk that took place in 2020. Gallery Walk is rebooting as an in-person event tonight.

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BRATTLEBORO — With Gallery Walk set to reboot today, current and former organizers are reminiscing about the event's rich past — and hope to clear up some confusion about its founding.

The downtown arts event started to take shape in the 1990s, but the specifics around its origins are uncertain. Organizers of early forms of the event remember its founding as an organic process.

Greg Worden, of Vermont Artisan Designs in town, recalls connecting with fellow gallery owners and creative minds in town shortly after opening his business. The town's gallery owners were in the habit of holding monthly openings, and thought it might be fun to coordinate an event with other activities, Worden remembers. Around a half-dozen businesses took part in this early iteration of the event.

Gallery Walk was started as a larger event similar to its current form by Sally Fegley in 1996. Fegley then owned Tom & Sally's Handmade Chocolates on Elliot Street, and hosted a folk art show once a month, recalled Chris Triebert, a South Newfane photographer who collected the information and designed the fliers for the event in the late '90s. Fegley had the idea to coordinate the shows at her shop with the openings at Windham Art Gallery.

"That idea lead to bringing all the other downtown art venues to join the effort, which developed into what became known as Gallery Walk," Triebert wrote in an email.

Triebert noted that while many people have come to think of Joy Wallens-Penford as creator of Gallery Walk, Wallens-Penford was not the event's founder. A story in Thursday's Ovation section incorrectly named Wallens-Penford as Gallery Walk's founder.

Wallens-Penford joined Gallery Walk as coordinator around five years in, and is largely credited with keeping Gallery Walk going until her death from cancer in March 2020.

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"She was just a good person," Worden told the Reformer shortly after Wallens-Penford's death. "She usually had a good smile and did an awful lot of organizational work behind the scenes. She was really good with the details."

After Wallens-Penford's death and the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which put all public events on hold, Gallery Walk took a hiatus until later in 2020, when the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance rebooted the event in the form of a locally filmed video series. Organizers soon added an option for in-person, socially distanced art viewing in keeping with COVID-19 protocols. Events were held the first Friday of each month through December 2020.

Gallery Walk will once again be held the first Friday of each month, starting today, with galleries open for viewing, plus live music, community art-making stations and a specialty bazaar from 5 to 8 p.m. Local restaurants will also be selling food.

Recalling the event's origins in a phone call with the Reformer Thursday, Worden said, "It's an arts community in a lot of ways, and so if everybody wants to take credit, that's great. It just happened. I'm glad that it has happened and I'm glad that it's re-happening.

"Things evolve, and we'll see how it unfolds. There's new excitement and there's new enthusiasm, and that's wonderful."

Triebert said in a phone call Thursday that she is thrilled to see Gallery Walk being continued, and said the live music and art stations are great ways to expand the event.

"People are ready to come back downtown," she said.