Felix the Cat and Mickey Mouse peacefully coexist here. You can find them nestled among other childhood memories of yore, from miniature cars and farm equipment to rocket guns used by Flash Gordon to keep intergalactic predators at bay.
These bits of nostalgia, though, aren’t lining the shelves of a local toy store. Instead, they’re on display at Gamut Art Gallery, a cache of diverse workmanship that showcases not only the wares of yesteryear, but also the creativity of fledgling painters and sculptors.
Tucked away on North Eighth Street in downtown Stroudsburg, Gamut is owned and operated by Jim and Mary Evanisko, art devotees whose long-held affinity for the Poconos led to the opening of their mini-museum last May. “This area was a once an aesthetic haven,” Jim recalls. “That’s what always drew me here during my younger days.” For Mary, taming the couple’s wanderlust came into play. “From Vermont to Georgia, we’ve been all over, and felt the time had come to breathe a bit by making a change from our fast-paced lives in New Jersey,” she says.
When the pair set eyes upon the building for their new venture, it was love at first sight – a place where, as Jim puts it, patrons can “experience the experience.” From casual admirers to die-hard aficionados, the Gallery nurtures all levels of enthusiasm. “We want people to embrace the beauty and emotional power of art,” notes Mary, who strives with her husband to ensure that display items complement each other. Whether it’s some finely cut glass ensconced in metal framework or a beaded giraffe greeting tourists with an outstretched neck, pieces have been imported from Italy, Poland, and Africa to enhance cultural representation. Indeed, what’s shown is entirely handpicked by its curators. “We do research on artifacts that we find, and love to dig into the backstory of our choices,” proclaims Jim.
A trove of inventive expression, Gamut highlights skills from numerous mediums, rather than a grand, exhibition-style oeuvre. Spanning the 1890s to present day, there’s an eclectic mix of antiques, crafts, sculptures, and contemporary art. “You truly have the things I’ve been looking for,” says one customer. Buyers, collectors, and supporters of all things imaginative will be as wide-eyed as kids in a candy store. “After visiting us, you can say you’ve seen a genuine Al Hirschfeld,” Mary observes.
Now while the etchings of a mid-century caricaturist may be lost on today’s crop of middle schoolers, Gamut is offering an opportunity to finesse some artistic know-how into students’ minds. The Gallery, normally a weekend destination, will host weekday field trips for Stroudsburg Junior High School. This initiative commences in September, and Jim views it as a vehicle to jump-start an exuberance for adroit technique. “If children are even slightly interested in art, and see a possible future in it, then this could be the place for them. Conversation is the whole point of education.”
And the experience promises to be a far cry from the staid gallery walks in metropolitan museums. Eyes will do more than float from one subject to the next; they’ll zigzag in every direction, absorbing subtle nuance while fending off sensory overload. When finished the initial tour, nubile apprentices can circle back and start again, noticing intricate details that were elusive the first time around. Arts programs may be vanishing from formal curricula, but they needn’t be erased from a child’s stream of consciousness. “Kids are in awe of our selections from a bygone era,” Mary says. “They want to learn everything they can about what they’re seeing.”
Here’s what you won’t see at Gamut: the pièce de résistance. Instead, the Evaniskos aim to harvest a cornucopia of homegrown talent by seeking out hidden gems and promoting their abilities. Visitors from all generations are imbued with a respect for this mastery of craft and dedication to originality. It’s a feeling that swirls inside you, long after leaving through the Gallery’s doors. •
By: Tom Eccleston
Gamut Art Gallery
109-111 North 8th Street, Stroudsburg, PA