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    Tuesday, December 06, 2022

    Gallery at the Wauregan spotlights new and established artists

    Artist DanTopalis creates dot art paintings at the Gallery at the Wauregan, 200 Main St. in Norwich. After painting his canvas one color, he uses a different hue to create the dots. His tool: a pin stuck in a pencil eraser. Photo by Jan Tormay
    Artist DanTopalis creates dot art paintings at the Gallery at the Wauregan, 200 Main St. in Norwich. After painting his canvas one color, he uses a different hue to create the dots. His tool: a pin stuck in a pencil eraser. Photo by Jan Tormay
    Artist/curator Dan Topalis with two of his abstract nature paintings at the Gallery at the Wauregan, 200 Main St. in Norwich. They are featured in his November show, “My Continuous Orbs Paintings.” From left, are “Bluebirds” and “Dandilion Poppies.” Topalis founded the gallery in 2011. Photo by Jan Tormay
    Artist/curator Dan Topalis with ties and dresses made from his abstract nature paintings. Behind him is his acrylic work titled “Echinacea.” They are featured in his November show, “My Continuous Orbs Paintings.” Photo by Jan Tormay
    From left, Bo Jacaruso, president of the board of directors of the Gallery at the Wauregan, and gallery owner/curator Dan Topalis. Behind them, is his painting titled “Echinacea,” which is part of his November show, “My Continuous Orbs Paintings.” Photo by Jan Tormay

    Painter Dan Topalis believes artists from all backgrounds and cultures who have never shown their work, should be given the opportunity, “a little taste on how to do it.” And that is exactly what he does at the Gallery at the Wauregan at 200 Main St. in Downtown Norwich, which he founded in 2011.

    Artists (which include painters, sculptors, potters, photographers, jewelers and any other type imaginable) simply fill out a disclosure telling him a little bit about themselves and their art. “It’s first-come, first-served. We never discriminate,” explained Topalis, curator, who is signing up artists now for shows in 2023.

    "It's a very enlightening experience for a new artist that hasn't ever had the opportunity to show other than at their school or whatever, and it makes them feel wicked important," which he agreed increases their self-esteem.

    No portfolio is required, said Topalis, wearing a tee shirt which reads “The People’s Gallery” on the back.

    "I don't judge artwork, so everything would get in. If I don't like something, it doesn't mean that everybody else is not going to.”

    There is no fee to have the show. However, the gallery receives a 30 percent commission from each piece sold, which he said is much better than most galleries which charge a 50 or 60 percent commission.

    Topalis said many young artists don't want to sell any of their art. He remembered one 15-year-old artist with this mindset. After encouraging her to sell some of them and put "NFS" (Not for Sale) signs on others, he said she had a phenomenal opening and received about $1,500, which would help her with her schooling in the future.

    Topalis also gives established artists (such as Johane Landry of Canada who showed works with other artists at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France) a time to shine by equally dividing exhibitions between them and budding artists from the area and beyond, including Atlanta and Florida. He said it feels good to give other artists exposure to the public.

    The Gallery at the Wauregan’s gift shop also features artists’ handmade items including cups, jewelry, magnets and Topalis’ neckties.

    “I think people like that exhibitions are totally different each month,” said Bo Jacaruso, president of the nonprofit gallery’s new board of directors created in August, who has known Topalis since they both attended Norwich Free Academy (NFA).

    “Everybody loves Danny,” she said. “Everybody likes coming (to the gallery).”

    Referring to First Friday events held monthly year round from 5 to 7 p.m. (an idea Topalis and Norwich Arts Center imagined), Jacaruso said, “It gets people out - in the summer especially. You come down, you see people every month. Sometimes there are live bands out front,” which have included “Noah and the Flood.” During this event, she said people often walk to all the downtown Norwich galleries: ArtSpace, 35 Chestnut St.; Norwich Arts Center, 62 Broadway; Reliance House, 40 Broadway; and the Gallery at the Wauregan.

    The gallery was negatively impacted by Covid and First Friday events ceasing for about 7 months, so they’re in the process of reviving it, Topalis said. “Before Covid, on First Fridays, people had to wait outside to get in here. It used to be jam-packed.”

    Topalis founded the Gallery at the Wauregan in 2011, while also running two other downtown galleries (beginning in 2007). He credits Jason Vincent (Norwich Community Development Corporation president who passed away in 2020) with helping him to get grants for the Gallery at the Wauregan. "I miss him incredibly."

    Running three galleries eventually became overwhelming, so he closed the galleries on Broadway and Main St., he said.

    The Norwich native has been an artist since he was 7 or 8 years old, when he began drawing triangles and cubes. After graduating from NFA’s art program in 1973, Mohegan Community College in 1976 with an Associate’s Degree and then going on to attend Philadelphia College of Art in Pennsylvania (now called University of the Arts ), Topalis remained in Philadelphia for 10 years. He returned to Norwich in 1986 to care for his mom, Joyce Topalis, who passed 4.5 years ago at 96. “She was a very cool, magical lady. She played the piano, all the classical music by ear. She never had a lesson in her life.”

    For the entire month of November, Topalis is featuring his own abstract nature work in a show titled, “My Continuous Orbs Paintings.”

    ”Somebody turned me onto the orbs thing, because they're actually spirits of past butterflies, past flowers, past people,” he said. “There's a cave down in South America and you can see all the orbs. It's crazy. It's supposed to be the spirits of all the people that worked in that cave back in the day."

    He said he only works with acrylic paint, “because I cannot stand oil. You have to wait 1,000 years for it to dry. I don't like the smell of the turpentine.”

    Occasionally when he is in between things or just needs to “clear his head,” but still needs to create, he paints a very different type of abstract art. One such work is called “Bars” and the other is “Flying Senoritas.”

    Topalis also creates dot art by painting the canvas one color and then painting dots in a different hue utilizing a pin stuck to the bottom of an eraser (an idea that just came to him). The dots get smaller as he continues, because there is less paint on the pin.

    Describing this art as an "illusion with dots," Topalis said people sometimes "see all kinds of things," including faces in these pieces.

    He said creating dot art is “crazy therapeutic,” but he can only do a small amount at a time,” or his eyes play tricks on him. Sprinkled throughout the gallery are dresses, neckties and backpacks featuring his abstract nature paintings.

    In addition to having two abstract nature shows at the Garde Arts Center in New London, some of his portraits (something he no longer does), are hanging at the Otis Library and the Haitian Health Foundation.


    The new “energized, cohesive” board has already attained one goal: obtaining a grant for day-to-day operations, including electric bills, rent and insurance. They’re also refreshing the 550-square-foot gallery’s walls and flooring with paint, which was donated, Jacaruso said. She said they also want to broaden the use of the space by coming up with new fundraising ideas, which include giving art lessons to underprivileged children, like they did in the past, having some classes taught by featured artists and inviting NFA students to hold exhibitions again.

    “And we're going to see if we can get permission (from the landlord) to perhaps paint the cement, just give it more curb appeal, like when you look across the street at the chamber of commerce. Or at the very least power wash the sidewalk,” she said.

    Even though Jacaruso moved to Essex in 2013, the Norwich native and retired social worker said she frequently visits the area because she has many friends here and she and her husband, William Jacaruso, like to support local nonprofit agencies including St. Vincent de Paul, Tommy Toy Fund, Thames Valley Homeless Program and the arts.

    The Gallery at the Wauregan was the recipient of the Norwich Rotary Community Diversity Award in 2018.

    In December, the gallery will feature oil and water color paintings, as well as wood-burning work by Artist Christina Hammon of Chaplin, a former San Francisco, California resident. “My theme is ‘As Above, So Below,’ so from the earth and the forest to space,” she said. Meet Hammon during her opening reception on Dec. 2 between 5 and 7 p.m. Refreshments will be available.

    For more information, go to Facebook.com/GalleryattheWaureganInc. The Gallery at the Wauregan is open Sunday through Saturday from 1 to 4:45 pm. Monthly First Friday events are held from 5 to 7 p.m. For more information, call Dan Topalis’ cell phone at 860-885-6000, email him at dtopalis@aol.com, or go to Facebook.com/GalleryattheWauregan/about.

    Jan Tormay, a longtime Norwich resident, now lives in Westerly.

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