Duende at Silo City is one of my favorite places to go to unwind. There’s something about the environs that speaks to me. Maybe it’s the history? The proximity to the waterfront? Or the focus on sustainability. I’m a fan of the design, the amenities… the art. Yes, the art. Aside from having some fabulous UB-Rigidized Metals sculptures on the grounds, there’s a new second floor art gallery that is in the process of opening.
The Gallery at Duende is being curated and operated by artist/creator Julia Skop, who I first met via her handblown glass jewelry business – Antinomy Designs. I was always fascinated with her creations, which I ended up selling at my shop on Elmwood Avenue back in the day. That was many moons ago now.
A couple of weeks ago, one of my favorite jewelry/designers in the region – Michelle DaRin out of Syracuse – reached out to me to tell me that Julia was opening the gallery, and I had to come witness the fabulousness in person, which I readily agreed to do.
I always knew that Silo City visionary Rick Smith would have an exciting plan for the second floor of the Duende (formerly a small office building situated on the formerly industrial grounds) establishment. Hearing that he had hooked up with Julia, and consequently Michelle, I figured that whatever I was going to walk into was going to be great. And I was right.
In true Duende-style, the gallery is made from mostly upcycled and repurposed, utilitarian objects. Instead of throwing up drywall and painting the walls, the character of the space is still intact. In fact, it’s better than intact, because Julia has amplified the sustainable message by creating a backdrop for her art that cleverly plays off the make-shift components of the site. She’s also incorporated many family heirlooms, which was befitting of the project, as I soon learned (and so will you).
While this gallery is a source of inspiration for Julia, it is also a way to express her emotions as they pertain to a couple of significant losses in her life – her mother a year ago, and her sister two years ago. The premiere show and gallery unveiling is dedicated to these figureheads in her life, but mostly her sister Sarah who she spent a significant amount of time with at her home in New Orleans before her passing – a place that had captivated her in ways that Julia has now playfully captured in this series of works. Sarah, who was a professional ballet dancer, is mystically represented in a couple of the works, but her friends are mostly the focal points – Julia initially photographed them, and then recreated their likenesses by hand, using a number of mediums and techniques. It is through their own quirky characteristics that Julia tells the story of her sister.
The show itself is interactive. Julia has painted magical little “Easter eggs” in all of her works that can be seen with ultraviolet light. Guests to the gallery are invited to use “treasure hunting” flashlights to spy the colorfully concealed details, that bring the works to life.
“It’s all about the reveal,” pointed out Michelle, whose own jewelry-works are featured in a display case at the gallery.
As for the gallery itself, the works are ingeniously hung and displayed in ways that are as imaginative as the works themselves. They had to be, Julia told me. Because they had to reflect the space, and work with the space. “Rick didn’t want to change the SpeedTile walls, and I don’t blame him,” said Julia. “And you can’t anchor into SpeedTile walls. I had to come up with other ways to hang the art. I created a rail system with steel rod anchors – I did a lot of the installation myself.”
Looking around, I noticed that there was what appeared to be a very large studio space. Julia told me that that was where the gallery would one day expand into, once a second point of egress was built. At that point, The Gallery at Duende will be even that much more impressive – already it’s a cultural force to be reckoned with.
After walking through the show, discussing each of the works with Julia, I joined my two favorite whimsical WNY jewelry makers-designers-artists at the Duende bar for a drink. It was there that we discussed Julia’s intentions to curate shows with regional and international artists, both emerging and established. “I am going to build out a calendar of artists,” Julia told me. “I’m reaching out to the art community presently. I think that the gallery is the perfect fit for the building, with the food and drinks downstairs, the live music, the beer garden, and the residential developments taking place at Silo City. Pretty soon, people are going to be living down here, and this will be right on their doorstep.”
For Julia, this opening show has provided her a way to connect on another level with her family and with a new audience. Now, she invites the community to come see this impressive venue, with works that offer an emotional connection to the artist, as well as to a brave and bold, ever-unfolding Silo City.
Julia has some exciting ideas for the gallery that she is just starting to reveal. You might say that we’re on the ground floor of another Silo City project that will one day be larger than life (everything at Silo City is larger than life). And that’s what it’s all about, after all. It’s what we’ve become good at as Buffalonians – place making, and paying tribute to those who have come before us… the people that have shaped who we are and where we live… while preserving the memories for others to experience.
The Gallery at Duende
85 Silo City Row
Grand Opening – June 5th and 6th | 3pm-8pm
Currently open by appointment only