Sarah Gormley brokers joy via 'Zanesville in the Short North'

Joel Oliphint
Sarah Gormley in her namesake Short North gallery, seated next to the Alan Cottrill sculpture "Free"

Sarah Gormley grew up in Zanesville, eventually leaving the Muskingum County city for college and graduate school before embarking on a corporate marketing career that took her to New York, Chicago and San Francisco. “I had one of those big, important jobs, and I was flying all over the world,” she said.

But over time, the world of corporate marketing was burning her out, and Zanesville began calling her home. Gormley’s parents were born and raised there, and when her mother got sick at the end of 2017, which came on the heels of her father's 2016 death, Gormley decided to take a year off while caring for her mother in Zanesville. But her mom passed away in February of 2018, so Gormley found herself alone at the family farm just a few months into her year off.

Eventually, Gormley moved to the Short North and started an LLC to do marketing consulting, but she also had a nagging desire in the back of her mind. Ever since her grandmother bought her an abstract oil painting by Gormley’s classmate Matt Wenc as a college graduation present, Gormley had wanted to own an art gallery. After casually mentioning the idea of a pop-up gallery at a cocktail party, Gormley received an email from the Wood Companies, the developer that owns most of the old buildings that house galleries in the Short North. “[The email] said, ‘We have a space we'd love for you to use,’” Gormley said. “I walked down here, and I’m just like, ‘Oh, now I have to do this.’”

Sarah Gormley Gallery held its first exhibition in April of last year, and Gormley is downright giddy about the whole experience. “I feel like a joy broker,” she said, speaking in the cozy gallery space next to Lindsay Gallery on High Street. “I get to meet these phenomenal artists and then see people connect with their work and take it home. … You see them get attached to something, and they may not know why, but it's magic. It's really quite amazing.”

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Gormley’s current exhibit, “Zanesville in the Short North,” is particularly personal given her family history and her commitment to her hometown. “I started thinking, ‘What can I do? How can I help showcase some of the talent [in Zanesville]?’” she said. “Then I thought of all the reasons it would be hard and complicated [to do a group show], and I thought, ‘We'll just figure it out.’ And really the hardest thing was choosing artists, because there were so many.”

In the end, nine artists who live or have lived in Zanesville are featured in the show, and about six of them will be on hand for a reception at the gallery on Saturday, Jan. 11, from noon to 4 p.m.

Aside from two sculptures by Alan Cottrill in the front window (a large bronze sheep and a smaller, whimsical girl titled “Free”), the piece that will undoubtedly hit visitors first is artist Nora Daniel’s wall-size painting of Nipsey Hussle, whose striking visage floats above a bucolic farm scene. Gormley fell in love with the piece while visiting Daniel in Zanesville.

“I said, ‘I know the answer, but I have to ask you: While you were painting an 8-foot-by-8-foot painting of Nipsey Hussle in Appalachia, did you ever think about who might buy it or when or where?’ And she was like, ‘No, I just had to paint it,’” Gormley said. “Maybe she doesn't know why, but she was so moved by him and felt compelled to express that. Here she is looking at her little farm, and this man in LA changed her.”

Some of the pieces are quieter, like Linda Gall’s paintings of fence posts and an iconic barn ("Kearns Barn, Interior"). “It’s a barn that anyone from Zanesville will know exactly where it was. It's no longer there, because it was torn down to put in a big intersection,” Gormley said.

Other Zanesville artists in the show use nontraditional materials, such as John Taylor-Lehman, who created the piece “My Miniature Chair” using a colorful mosaic of flattened bottle caps. Mike Seiler’s two abstract pieces, “Oppositional Forces #11” and “Oppositional Forces #7,” were made using asphalt and alkyd.

“[Seiler] is interested in human relationships. These pieces are about two human beings, and how you're together but conflicted,” Gormley said. “The black is all asphalt. He loves it because it reflects light out.”

Because her gallery is so new, Gormley is making sure not to narrow her focus early on. But whatever she shows, she wants the space and the art in it to be accessible and fun. “I want the gallery, and people's interactions in the gallery, to have some levity,” she said. “I want to create an environment that encourages joyful experiences.”

Sarah Gormley Gallery

Reception noon-4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11

988 N. High St., Short North

“Zanesville in the Short North”