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New gallery and studio in Berkeley Springs shows off local artists

November 20, 2007|By TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - Local artists have another place to display their work in town at the Usha Art Gallery and Stained Glass Studio that opened this fall.

Stained-glass artist Ralph Gonzales owns and operates the gallery. He said he named the gallery Usha (Ooo-sha) after the Hindu Goddess of the Dawn.

"I'm a morning person, because that's when the light is best," Gonzales said.

The Usha Art Gallery is in a small building in front of the Berkeley Springs High School grounds on U.S. 522 South, about a mile from the center of town.

"I opened this gallery so that local and new artists have a place to display their art," Gonzales said.

The gallery has a wide variety of art, including works in metal, glass, wood, paintings and quilts. The work of more than 30 artists is on display, he said.

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Gonzales gives all the credit to artist Joan Fleming Smith. "She has been the guiding light for establishing the gallery's presence in the way the work is displayed," he said.

Gonzales has been a stained-glass artist for 18 years, beginning after an automobile accident.

He and his family moved to Morgan County from the Washington, D.C., area in the late 1970s, he said, and he had regular jobs, including house painting.

"To me it was functional art. When my mother came for a visit, we would drive around to the houses to show her what I did, because she always thought I would be an artist - that's what she always said," Gonzales said.

After the accident, Berkeley Springs artist Ragtime and Henry and Edward Palczewski, artists/owners of Amingo Glass in Hedgesville, W.Va., helped him learn the art of making stained glass.

"Ragtime inspired me and taught me the fundamentals of glass making, and then Henry and Edward honed my skills and helped me become the craftsman I am today," Gonzales said.

He said he started drawing as a child, and after a few years at Amingo Glass, he became comfortable with designing his own art and making his own stained-glass pieces.

"The colors in glass are what drew me to wanting to work in stained glass," he said.

Gonzales said he wants to do eight shows a year featuring different mediums and different artists.

The gallery's first show, which ended last week, went well, he said, and many pieces were sold and gave Hedgesville artist Marlene Azoulai the exposure she needs. It was her first art show.

Azoulai said her art was originally called visionary or raw art, which is "uncooked by the art world through technique."

"Now it is called 'outsider' art, and this is the medium I use for my paintings, and I'm self-taught," she said.

Azoulai said she has been an artist for about 12 years. "This all began when I was introduced to art therapy when I was hospitalized in a psychiatric institution; this saved my life," she said.

"I'm a big advocate of art being used as a tool for healing by telling the truth. If I can connect with people, I can bridge the distance between them," Azoulai said.

Berkeley Springs artist Kit Patten also has art displayed in the Usha Gallery. He has been painting local visionary landscapes for 30 years, he said. "I see the gallery as having potential for a great place for the meeting of artistic minds," he said.

Gonzales said he wanted to use the gallery for poetry writing groups, and Patten and Azoulai said they also would participate.

Gonzales' stained-glass studio is in the basement, where he teaches adult students how to make stained-glass pieces.

Usha Art Gallery and Stained Glass Studio, 758 S. Washington St., is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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