New Vergennes gallery looks to make a splash with fine art

VERGENNES — A Vergennes duo has big plans for a small gallery that throws open its doors this Friday.
Northern Daughters is the art gallery owned and operated by Justine Jackson and Sophie Pickens, lifelong friends who have endeavored to share their lifelong appreciation for art by creating a space where they can showcase all sorts of work.
Both women come from creative backgrounds. Jackson’s mother is New Haven painter Anne Cady. While her children were growing up, Cady often featured them in her work and gave them lessons. Pickens is the daughter of artists and entrepreneurs and helped her mother, Pamela Smith, produce live-sized statues. The two childhood friends attended the Bridge School in Middlebury together.
The idea for Northern Daughters began as a conversation over coffee in New York City last year. While neither studied art in college (Jackson graduated from Middlebury College in 2010 with a degree in Latin American Studies while Pickens studied Chinese and Costume Design at Vassar College, graduating in 2006), the idea of getting back to their state where they spent their childhood for an artistic endeavor was weighing heavily on their minds
“We both wanted to move home to Vermont and we were discussing how we might do that,” Pickens said. “Justine had always talked about wanting to open a gallery and together we often discussed wanting to start a business. The timing felt right.”
The two returned to Vermont this past spring and last month quietly opened the gallery at 221 Main St. in Vergennes, the space formerly occupied by the 3 Squares restaurant. The pair worked with the building owner to renovate the space, which was transformed from a sit-down restaurant to a tidy gallery with white walls and the new name of the space spelled in lettering on the wide windows at the front: Northern Daughters.
“It a nod to our ancestry and the land we come from,” Jackson said of the business’s name.
On the gallery’s website, northerndaughters.com, the two describe the gallery as “a space that merges the aesthetic of blue chip galleries with the familiarity and authenticity of a Vermont general store.”
“It’s about having a clean design so you can see each piece of work, while at the same time having a space that the whole community can be part of, a space that you regularly visit,” explained Pickens.
The gallery currently hosts the work of six artists, ranging in style and media from the swirling abstract acrylics of Cameron Schmitz to the stark illustrations by Ricardo Vizcarra and the wire sculptures by Eben Markowski.
“We look for work that elicits an emotional or visceral response, that stirs something. Its art you want to live with,” Jackson said.
When they’re not at the gallery, both of the young entrepreneurs hold down other jobs in Vergennes — Pickens at the John W. Graham Emergency Shelter and Jackson at the Vergennes Laundry eatery. Neither considers herself a practicing artist.
Northern Daughters hosts its grand opening this Friday from 5 – 8 p.m. ; they’re calling the event “Madonnas Make You Brave.” The opening will feature art produced by both Jackson’s and Pickens’s mothers. The title of the opening comes from a painting by Anne Cady called “Mountains Make You Brave” and the “Madonnas” that Pickens made with her mother.
“The title was a direct message to me, her daughter,” said Jackson. “It was a reminder that where we come from, the actual land we belong to, can always lend us strength. My mother’s approach to her work is deeply personal and rooted in her love of this land, that which our family has belonged to for generations.”
After the opening, the two hope to host workshops, film screenings and other live events.
“We want the gallery to be a living space,” Pickens said. “We’re excited to develop programming for the community in addition to exhibiting art.”

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