Married 43 years, Helen and Ben Harrison have been steadfast and true in their love for each other and their gallery. The result is one of the most successful and long-standing galleries in Key West, Harrison Gallery, often referred to as “the little gallery on White Street.” In the 1980s, after 11 years on a sailboat, the Harrison’s docked in Key West and, like most, never left. Their boat had made them lovers of woodworking so Helen and Ben charted a course into the world of art and remained true to their mariner hearts, as craftsmen and free spirits. The goal was to sell their art year round, prompting them to buy the property on White street, house included, and open Harrison Gallery and Music 30 years ago.
Their beginnings were simple. Ben was playing music around town so they sold guitar strings and drumsticks from the shop. Helen imported furniture and textiles from Costa Rica and Nicaragua and started her art studio in the back. Eventually, Helen and Ben’s love of sculpture and art won, and the gallery offered fewer commercial goods and involved more artists.
“I have a good eye and aesthetics. I know what I like. The thrill of it is to see everyone’s art,” she said. They dropped “Music “ from the name and began showing other artists. For example, local favorite, Rick Worth launched his illustrious painting career with Helen more than 25 years ago.
The 30th anniversary show will focus solely on Helen’s work. Her iconic palm sculptures and crafted gourds always take center stage. But Helen will display some newer works on paper and paintings that reflect her dedication to craft and the environment. Fittingly, she is dressing works in white gold and silver leaf. The works feel regal and quiet, the years of experience both as an artist and a gallery owner shining through and exuding the knowledge that only comes with age.
Helen claims she is just trying to “stay in the groove” … but she is the groove. She has mentored 10 “gallery girls” who have gone on to either make or sell art in her footsteps. Helen has been open for almost all the “Night On White” events for the past decade. She has hosted shows for jewelry makers, dress designers, painters, sculptors — all kinds of artists who may have never gotten a chance without her love for art. Like the life Helen and Ben have crafted in Key West, the gallery was never just about them, but about the community they cherish.
And don’t wonder if the Harrison’s or their gallery will quit anytime soon. Like a true artist, Helen mused, “I still have so much to do.”
“We had a choice to do something profitable or have an art gallery.” — Ben Harrison, joking with his wife, Helen.
Helen and Ben Harrison are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Harrison Gallery on Thursday, Feb. 18 from 6 to 9 p.m. The gallery is located at 825 White St., Key West. The public is invited.