When WAG first visited Laura Straus for a story that ran in November 2012, she had just marked the one-year anniversary of Piermont Straus.
The art gallery-slash-bookstore in Piermont, the riverside village where the Purchase native settled in 2008, was an elegant — and ambitious — affair on Piermont Avenue.
The cozy storefront was showcasing artists, selling an array of new and used books and holding special events. All drew on Straus’ background in fine arts, photography in particular, and her desire to connect with her community.
As she told us back then, “There is a lot of room for us to grow.”
Fast forward to a recent afternoon when we can confirm this: Piermont Straus most certainly has grown. Though we’ve popped in over the years to attend an opening here or participate in a workshop there, today’s visit is all about looking at the bigger picture.
That starts with the gallery itself, with Straus settling into her bigger-and-brighter corner shop at 10 Roundhouse Road some four years ago — a move signaling a broadening in both the space for and scope of the business.
“I used to get asked all the time when it was books and art, ‘What is this place?’ I never get that anymore,” she says.
Some things are constant, from the striking graphic prints by Mark Herman to the books, though now featuring a more pointed selection. Today, some 25 artists are represented throughout by work, including paintings, prints, woodworking, ceramics, jewelry and scarves.
The gallery, she says, must remain approachable yet still thought-provoking, keeping in mind “all that goes into telling a story.” Pieces form a cohesive whole but the heart is ensuring elements “can retain their emotional value.”
Straus recalls a turning point, when she started “infusing the gallery.” She credits Nyack artist Kris Burns, a collaborator on the 2015 “Forests of the Night” series of “immersive multisensory events” inspired by William Blake’s poem “The Tyger.”
Burns, she says, “was really instrumental in helping me ‘re-see’ the gallery… as a jungle,” Straus says, breaking into a laugh as she points to an entire wall display of white ceramic vessels filled with plants. That the ceramics are of her own making, she adds, is the fulfillment of “a life dream.”
Beyond the gallery — though, in reality, all are integral elements to Straus’ life — are three distinct efforts.
She and her husband, banker John Alexander, created the Piermont Straus Foundation, which continues to thrive. Dedicated to contributing to the arts and culture of the Hudson Valley, the foundation assists other organizations involved in the environment, arts, culture and history.
Straus has also founded and serves as president of the Piermont Chamber of Commerce — “because nobody else wants to do it,” she says with another laugh.
Clearly, though, it’s a passion drawing on an appreciation for “the arts and my love of Piermont itself.” She has helped revitalize the shopping district, worked to create a map, brochure and signage, and, with the foundation, helped launch events such as the annual “Art in the Park” festival.
Latest to join Straus’ lineup is Rockland Culture, an initiative for which she is the founding director.
“I think that Rockland has had a hard time rolling out the red carpet,” Straus says. “We want to help.”
Designed to spark tourism by spotlighting Rockland’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, an inaugural Rockland Culture Weekend was held in May with plans for a mega event in September 2018.
“We’re actually an artists’ colony,” Straus says, noting Rockland’s generations of painters, writers, musicians, actors, filmmakers and more, a tradition that continues today. “It is a dynamic, ever-changing, fluid art scene.”
Through it all, Piermont Straus is an anchor, one that finds Straus interacting with artists at every turn. In just the past few months alone, she’s hosted art workshops; begun showcasing Nyack-based artist and illustrator Johanna Goodman’s “The Catalogue of Imaginary Beings,” a stunning series of digital collage work launched here in late May; and is currently hosting a group show, “Summer Treasures.”
“I think there’s something really exciting to be able to work with other artists,” Straus says.
It’s all about discovery and imagination, perhaps exemplified by what she calls the “wild world” of kaleidoscopes grouped near the entrance. The intricate creations are by Italian-born, New York-based artist Massimo Strino.
As Straus says, “I hope the kaleidoscope is a metaphor for what people feel when they come into the gallery.”
And that is? “Wonder.”
“Summer Treasures,” an exhibition featuring works by Fred Cohen, Margaret Grace, Kellyann Monaghan and Sue Barrasi, continues through Aug. 31 at Piermont Straus. For more, visit piermontstraus.com, psfdn.org or rocklandculture.org.