By Stacey Pastorella
Each day for the past seven years, Martha Press has opened the doors to the Farnsworth Gallery and provided a gathering place for the community to enjoy art and conversation.
“The artists became my friends, the patrons became my friends, and this door was always open,” Press said. “If I was here, the door was open. Anybody could come in, anybody could sit and chat.”
Press, the owner and executive director of Farnsworth Gallery, said she looked forward to seeing who visited each day. Some came to browse the gallery’s collection of art, which ranged from paintings and photographs, to sculptures and jewelry. Others came to socialize about politics, family events and local news.
On Sept. 19, Press opened her doors for one of the final times to host a cocktail reception that marked the start of the gallery’s closing stretch.
In August, the landlord informed Press of the decision to rent the property to a new tenant. The proprietor of Randy Now’s Man Cave and Consignment Shop is expected to open at 134 Farnsworth Ave. starting Oct. 1.
The gallery’s cocktail reception was packed with artists and patrons, many of which expressed sadness and disbelief about its closing.
Bordentown resident Al Barker, whose works appear in galleries across the county, said that when the gallery closes, it will create a cultural void in the town that he can’t imagine will be replaced.
“She will be sorely missed,” Barker said of Press.
Press was described by many as an inviting presence in downtown Bordentown. The gallery often hosted events on Friday nights, where people gathered for art, food and conversation.
Bobbie Shelingoski, an art patron, was a regular presence at those events. Over the years, she has made new friends at the gallery. She even unexpectedly reunited with a childhood friend who was also involved with the gallery.
“This is our social life. We came here most Friday nights,” Shelingoski said.
Bordentown resident Ellen Shannon is another art patron who has enjoyed the social connections she has made at the gallery.
“It’s brought together people from many different backgrounds,” Shannon said.
Shannon even hosted her rehearsal dinner at Farnsworth Gallery before her wedding five years ago. She said that Press has been gracious, encouraging her to take pieces of art home on a trial basis to find the right fit.
“It’s an emotional purchase because you’re bringing it into your home,” Shannon said.
In addition to the social atmosphere that the gallery provided, it was a place for artists to be among other artists and their work. Photographer Richard Demler said that he was often inspired to create something new after a trip to the gallery.
Demler said that Press introduced artists to one another and was active in promoting the work of the artists in the galleries.
“It’s a place that was more than a gallery where you hang your work. Martha was always very interested in your work,” he said.
Demler said that not all art galleries view photography as a type of artistic expression that is equal to other art forms.
“There are a lot of galleries that don’t want to touch photography,” he said.
Another artist, Pat Todd of Bordentown, said that Press’s mentorship was a key factor in her career.
“If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be where I am,” Todd said.
About two years ago, Todd attended the Bordentown High School Alumni Association’s art show that was hosted by the gallery. At the time, Todd was a painter, but did not regularly display or sell her paintings. When Press learned that Todd was an artist, she encouraged her to bring some of her works to the gallery.
“Having the courage to do that came from all of the confidence I gained from my experience here,” Todd said.
Farnsworth Gallery has also hosted two “plein air” art shows, where participating artists worked outdoors to paint subjects and scenes inspired by the local community.
Press has been a gallery owner for 14 years, and opened the Farnsworth Gallery in Bordentown in 2006 after relocating from The Gallery on Lafayette in Trenton. Several artists and patrons of Farnsworth Gallery followed Press to Bordentown after the move. Throughout the years, Press has been involved in the community, including her presence with the Downtown Bordentown Association.
“I have become very much a part of this community, and the community has become very much a part of this gallery,” she said.
Press said she has also enjoyed connections with other local businesses, including The Artful Deposit, a fellow art gallery on Farnsworth Avenue. The two galleries often referred people to one another, Press said.
“It’s just been a privilege to be here, it really has. Am I sad to leave? Absolutely. It’s a small business. Small business is hard to maintain,” Press said. “We’ve really had some tough times, and we’ve had some better times.”
Press said that she has always been interested in art, and minored in the subject in college. In her travels to Europe and throughout the United States, she has visited galleries and museums and cultivated a knowledge and appreciation for art. She is still undecided about the future, but said she will take some time to relax and regroup.
The identity of Farnsworth Gallery as a community gathering place could perhaps best be seen in a candid moment, when a reporter asked to photograph Press in her gallery during September’s cocktail reception. Press said that she’d prefer that the photograph be taken from the stairs, overlooking the gallery and all who had gathered there.
“It belonged to everybody,” she said.