Porthole to the Soul

Studio holds storm-delayed grand opening


Prior to living on their 34 foot sailboat the “Aundrea Lynn,” artist Valerie Perreault and her husband, Andy Downs, rented a home adjacent to what would become her new art studio – Portside Studio & Gallery. In those days, Valerie would gaze out of the window seeking inspiration, from a room that overlooked the gallery.

The gallery itself, with its natural wood floors and minimalist touch, is open, fresh and bright. The patio and inviting outdoor area feel like a whimsical garden. It’s the perfect place for an artist to ponder.

But with Irma’s sudden arrival, not only would the gallery’s grand opening be postponed to Nov. 17 at 6 p.m., Perreault’s vessel would face the wrath of turbulent seas.

The two decided to moor the vessel at the Treasure Harbor Marina and waited out the storm. After the worst had passed, Perreault’s first stop wasn’t the boat; it was her studio.

As bad as things could have been, the only damage to the property was the torn-down fence dividing the studio and former residence, something that Perreault says feels symbolic to her now.

The sailboat didn’t fare as well, though, almost sinking during the storm when water rushed into its portholes. Then it almost sank again after the fact, had it not been for a phone call from a neighbor and Andy’s quick thinking.

The two had bought the boat to honor Valerie’s mother’s valiant battle with cancer, and for more than a year leading up to the storm, the sailboat was a reliable home. The boat, she says, symbolizes a dream for the two. They are determined to repair it and christen it Grace, Valerie’s mother’s middle name.

Along with Sandra Attales (who famously graced the Upper Keys Weekly in August) and Suzanne Le Mehaute, Perreault says the trio is excited about the new opening. Leather mask artist Caroline Guyer, who was originally slated to help launch the gallery, will return next year.

Le Mehaute, who began creating fiber arts two years ago, is a former film photographer who came to love the diligent process of creating. From that same appreciation came her interest in macrame, and eventually other fiber arts.

“I started exploring with weaving. I love to design things, so I get these ideas in my head, and I have to get them out. But because I don’t make sense, this doesn’t make sense,” laughed Le Mehaute. “It’s stressful at times, but I like working with my hands and see it like making a story with yarn.”

Using PhotoShop to sketch her ideas, Le Mehaute then adds color and character to her concepts, before transferring those ideas into fiber. Her five tapestries on display, which vary in size and complexity, are inspired by water. In order of creation: “Turbulence,” her largest piece, followed by “Calm,” “Drifted,” “Renewal,” and finally “Impermanence.”

“The same stages of the series ended up being the stages people lived through and after the storm,” she said.

Perreault’s creative background is eclectic and includes printmaking, film, music, visual arts and screenplay writing, which she says became her favorite part of preparing for film festivals. Her itch to write would intensify, eventually leading her to a workshop by award-winning American poet Gregory Orr. Perreault credits Orr’s encouragement with opening doors for her. Including her year’s writing for the Texas Senate media, Perreault has had several of her poems published and has won awards. Her latest poem will be released by Swamp Ape Review this spring.

Portside Gallery is planning to rotate artists every three months, with each new rotation prompting a fun reception. The gallery also intends to organize poetry readings, book signings, film festivals and theatrical performances.

Classes will be held every other month and will showcase different art forms like printmaking, large canvas works, and typography. During opening night the gallery will allow 12 people to sign up for their first linocut class. Linocut is a form of wood cut art also known as block printing. Normal gallery hours will be from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturdays.

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