John and Jennifer Churchman, owners of a local farm and authors of the best-selling children’s books series, “Sweet Pea & Friends,” recently announced plans for their next chapter: a new art gallery in the Essex Experience Center, formerly known as the Essex Outlets.
The ArtHound Gallery, named with the couple’s seven dogs in mind, will spread out across 7,400-square feet of retail space, making it one of the state’s largest art galleries, according to John Churchman, who said the goal is to create a community arts center drawing on the works of “so many good artists in this area.”
“We really wanted to feel like we could create a place … where artists could gather and we could really promote the arts,” John Churchman said. “I’ve always been very passionate about them. I feel like art gives spice to life.”
“We don’t necessarily have to want to go down to Burlington or Stowe to go see art,” he added.
One artist who plans to display art at the gallery is Jess Polanshek, a Fairfax illustrator who stopped by ArtHound last week to chat with John Churchman. She shared excitement over Churchman’s hope to create a community space where artists can gather and work together.
“It’s definitely needed in the Essex area,” Polanshek said. “I don’t know any other spaces like that.”
The Churchmans are now remodeling the former Phoenix Books shop and plan to expand into a space next-door now occupied by Carter’s, which sought a buyout of its lease following the company’s move into Williston, according to Peter Edelmann, owner of the center.
The gallery plans to open its initial space in early June, with work to remodel the Carter’s shop to follow.
John Churchman’s idea for the ArtHound Gallery follows 25 years of involvement in the local arts scene through the nonprofit Frog Hollow, which supports the fine arts in Vermont. Standing last week in the midst of the remodeling project, he laid out his vision for the gallery, including how it plans to sustain itself financially.
In addition to showcasing art from Vermont artists both well-established and up-and-coming, employing a 60-40 split on commissions, the ArtHound plans to offer framing, printmaking and copying services, plus art tours and classes for both local residents and tourists coming through the Essex Resort and Spa. He said they also hope to install some sort of garden area out in front of the shop.
“Our approach is to go for both the high end and the medium range, right down to inexpensive art,” John Churchman said. “I’d like to have the best collection of coffee mugs, and local products like honey, maple – things people buy throughout the season.”
“The idea is to engage both the people that come to the Essex Spa and Resort, and the local community,” he continued. “There’s a lot of people out here.”
The Churchmans’ vision meshes well with that of Edelmann, who over the last year has unveiled a rebranding effort in hopes of revitalizing his shopping center. His goal is to get away from a traditional retail outlet center and instead focus on what he calls “experiences,” which he believes will appeal to three different populations: residents, tourists and the Burlington college scene.
To that end, Edelmann rattled off a few other recent developments in addition to the art gallery: the opening of Double E Entertainment Center, the announcement of a soon-to-open brewery and the upcoming expansion of the center’s green space, which he hopes might encourage a farmers’ market.
John Churchman cited Edelmann’s vision as a major reason why he was so excited to get the gallery up and running. He said the gallery will fit in well with the increased focus on local businesses – the types of places that carry “stuff you can’t get on Amazon.”
“We really want to cater to people who want to come in and have a really great experience, see great art,” John Churchman said, adding that along with the other changes Edelmann noted, the center can finally become “a real place for people to come together.”