Checking things out

A pedestrian stops to look at the former Ingenuity Country Store space on Keene's Central Square recently. A city resident plans to open the League of N.H. Craftsmen's ninth gallery in the state there soon. 

After sitting vacant for nearly three years, a prominent commercial space on Keene’s Central Square will soon be home to a gallery.

The new tenant, Elm City resident Taryn Fisher, plans to open in June and launch the League of N.H. Craftsmen’s ninth gallery in the state.

Nestled between The Pour House and Creative Ink Tattoo on the square’s west side, the site formerly housed the Ingenuity Country Store, a gift shop with locally made products. The store closed in August 2016 after 16 years in business, six of which were on the square.

For weeks, Fisher has been working with local contractors to transform the space and breathe new life into it.

“I’ve been dreaming of opening an art gallery for a long time, and I’ve been working on a business plan for over two years,” she said.

The front two-thirds of the 3,000-square-foot space will be reserved for the League of N.H. Craftsmen gallery. For more than 85 years, the nonprofit organization has promoted, encouraged and preserved both contemporary and traditional art across the state, according to its website. Examples of work include baskets, pottery, woodworking, printmaking, quilts, photography, jewelry and folk art.

The league has more than 750 juried artisans who have undergone an extensive membership process that involves fees, a written application, an interview session with a panel of jurors in Concord, and follow-up quality inspections of their artwork.

Miriam Carter, the league’s executive director, said the organization has about 30 members in Cheshire County. A fiber artist for 32 years before taking the helm, Carter said she’s always found it interesting that more people recognize the league outside the state than inside its borders.

“We have a reputation for setting the standards for fine crafts throughout the country,” she said.

Having a gallery in Keene should increase exposure for the league and its activities, Carter said, particularly its Annual Craftsmen’s Fair in Sunapee, a weeklong event featuring more than 350 artisans.

Carter lives in Dublin and said she and other league leadership had been keeping an eye on the creative movement in Keene.

“We wanted to be a part of it — we just needed the right person to come along, and we found that in Taryn (Fisher),” she said.

Fisher said she’s gotten a warm reception from business owners and craftspeople she’s spoken to about her venture. On a map of the league’s eight current galleries, the southwest corner of New Hampshire is barren, and she hopes to represent the area in a strong way.

Galleries serve multiple purposes, from providing exposure for artists to adding culture to the surrounding area, but they are at their core a retail space where guests can buy the pieces on display.

“And I won’t be limited to Monadnock Region artists, but certainly out of the gate I’d like to make a shout-out and say, ‘We’ve arrived,’ ” she said.

Along with the League of N.H. Craftsmen gallery, Fisher later plans to roll out a second phase of the business: the Central Square Art Atelier, a separate gallery in the back half of the space reserved for local artists. And she has a specific goal in mind.

“I’m hoping to really focus on art with a purpose,” Fisher said, noting social justice and environmental stewardship as prime examples. She hopes to host gatherings “and use the art to really sort of amplify the conversation.”

This latter phase of the business, which doesn’t have a specific launch date yet, will also include an educational component with events such as on-site workshops, documentary screenings and lectures, she said.

For Fisher, the gallery is a labor of love and a passion project reflecting her own personal and professional journey.

After a 20-year career as a supply chain professional on Wall Street — part of which was spent as a corporate plastics buyer — Fisher saw her impact on plastic consumption and felt compelled to instead use her business know-how to teach young entrepreneurs to do better. So she earned her doctorate and took a position at Antioch University New England in 2013 as the director of the master’s program in sustainability. Fisher moved to Keene three years later.

The program has since been put on hold, but Fisher had fallen in love with the region and didn’t want to uproot her life. Though she thought academia would be her “encore career,” Fisher said she realized she would need to reinvent herself again.

“As my academic chapter came to a close, and I really did some deep soul-searching, and I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to put a stake in the ground, I want to insert myself in the center of our community, and I want to do the work that I think is really important to do.’ ”

In her third go-round, Fisher said she’s created something that encompasses all of her passions: art, social justice and bringing people together.

“Business can be a force for good, and art can help us to shift away from what at the moment is a very divisive, very destructive conversation,” Fisher said, “and shift us toward a much more productive, much more positive, much more aspirational conversation.”

For more information about the gallery, contact Fisher at 803-1050 or keenefinecraftgallery@gmail.com. For more information about the League of N.H. Craftsmen, visit nhcrafts.org.

Sierra Hubbard can be reached at 355-8546 or at shubbard@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter at @SierraHubbardKS.