One Lionheart-ed lady

Susan D. Grissom, director of the recently renovated Lionheart Gallery in Pound Ridge, savors her small-town life, with its regular forays into New York City and neighboring states to meet with artists and collectors.

Coffee with the locals at Lionheart (pssst: She’s got a Keurig), lunch at The Barn at the neighboring Bedford Post Inn (see related story) – it’s all just dandy with her.

But then, she’s lived the kind of life many people dream about, painting in the south of France or under the Tuscan sun.

“Done it. Loved it,” she says. “I go into the city once a week. But I just love being in a small town.”

These days, she travels mainly through the canvases of motorcars and boats she exhibits at the gallery, which is owned by a French art dealer. He prefers to let her do the talking, something that the Southern charmer is more than capable of.

Next up for the Lionheart is “The Eye of Klemantaski” (June 8-July 21), featuring works from one of the largest collections of motorsports and motor-racing photography. The black-and-white kineticism of images of sleek men driving sleeker cars contrasts with the hypnotic blue-and-white stasis of Celine McDonald’s boat paintings.

But this does not begin to describe the range of artists and works you’ll find at the 1,500-square-foot gallery. There’s the plummy sensuality of Betsy Podlach’s self-portraits; the acidic wit of Geoffrey Stein’s “Irrational Exuberance” collage series, in which Stein uses words written about and by the players in the recent economic crisis to create their portraits. Bernard Madoff’s, for instance, is made up of the legal complaints against him.

There’s Serge Strosberg’s Realist take on the seven deadly sins and society’s seedier side and Mihail’s moving bronze elephants, with one tusk broken off to underscore the vulnerability of these gentle giants. Mihail is the Bulgarian artist who went to Kenya to cast a wild (sleeping) bull elephant in plaster. The result, cast in bronze, became a gift for the United Nations from the countries of Kenya, Namibia and Nepal and is the subject of the book “Cast the Sleeping Elephant.” Add gritty black-and-white photos of bygone New York City by Vivian Cherry, who’s still clicking at 92, totemic figures by Soledad Leonicio and abstract painting by Pablo McClure – just to name a few – and you have quite an array of artwork.

Grissom does photographs, prints and abstract paintings, too, richly textured affairs that remind you that she used to be a decorative painter, giving kitchens different finishes. She worked for Smallbone of Devizes, the English company she calls “the Rolls-Royce of kitchens.”

She came by that trade naturally, growing up in Jackson, Tenn., near Memphis, in a family of architectural restorers. When she followed her brother to New York City in 1978 – “I just loved it,” she says of the city – she took up restoration arts. Among the projects she worked on was the Spannocchia Estate in Siena, Italy through the Etruscan Foundation. She went on to become a decorative painter for such British companies as the Clive Christian perfume collection and Mark Wilkinson Furniture, as well as Smallbone.

Ultimately, however, Grissom decided she wanted to be a fine-art painter and attended SUNY Empire State College. She’s also studied at the Silvermine Arts Center in New Canaan – see related story – and the Center for Contemporary Printmaking in Norwalk.

“It took me to some wonderful places,” she says of an early career that found her in Nice and Strasbourg, France and Vancouver, Canada. “It was at a certain point, though, that I’d wake up and I wasn’t sure what town I was in.”

Now with a new home right above the store, so to speak, Grissom always knows exactly where she is.

The Lionheart Gallery, 27 Westchester Ave. in Pound Ridge, is open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays and noon-4 p.m. Sundays. If you’re coming from a distance, call ahead to (914) 764-8689 in case the gallery is closed for an appointment with a collector. For more, visit thelionheartgallery.com.

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