by Greg Morell - Artscope Magazine - Jan/Feb 2012 issue - link
The R. Michelson Gallery in the center of Northampton's Main Street is a temple of the figurative visual arts that welcomes both believers and the non-repentant. It's a palatial showcase of the region's finest illustrators/artists and a testament of one man's devotion to a standard of excellence and reverent affection for a handful of iconic artistic practitioners.
Northampton's Main Street was once defined by its religious houses of worship. These historic churches were soon rivaled by a bastion of architectural gems that celebrated the ascendance of American banking. Times change. One of these grand bank structures is now the elegant headquarters of Silverscape Designs and another has been pillaged by the clothing enterprise, Urban Outfitters. However, the clever Richard Michelson has enriched the cultural heritage of Northampton by creating a gallery of celebrated distinction. The R. Michelson Gallery is located in the grand edifice that was headquarters to three separate financial institutions before being claimed by Michelson as hallowed ground for the arts.
In addition to establishing the gallery, Michelson has fostered a career as a poet and a writer of children's books. It's an interesting multifaceted career path.
Michelson's initial humble start in Northampton was as a purveyor of posters in an obscure hallway of Thorne's Marketplace. He had the good fortune of meeting Leonard Baskin on his return to Smith College after Baskin's sojourn in England. It was a portentous encounter. Baskin and Michelson collaborated on four children's books-my favorite being “Oh No, Not Ghosts!” which I fondly remember reading for the first time with my five-year-old son.
The influence of Baskin on Michelson is profound and enigmatic. Baskin passed away in the year 2000 at the age of 77, but his unmistakable spirit lives on in Michelson's gallery − in books, prints, engravings, paintings, and numerous fabulous full-scale bronzes that populate the gallery like saints in a cloister. The ghost of Baskin may very well walk its rounds during the midnight hours when all that is earthly has slumbered into oblivion.
Michelson himself is tall, lean, and soft spoken. But when he steps up to the podium and begins a public recitation, he reads with dynamic authority. I was quite surprised by his dramatic flair when I first heard him read selections of his poems at a presentation at UMass Amherst. His recollections of his youth in New York City were peppered with humor, personal familial intimacy, and quirky circumstance. His father and son saga of giftwrapping the trash during the New York City Garbage Strike is unforgettable − whenever it rings in my memory it still makes me laugh.
Michelson's published works now number 16 children's books and three collections of adult poetry. His list of citations and prestigious awards is long. He has garnered prizes from the likes of the New York Times, Amazon.com, and the New York Public Library to name a few. His busy schedule of public readings in the next few months will take him to Florida, Ohio, Texas, and New York. His only local reading will be at The Eric Carle Museum in Amherst on March 17th.
The Michelson Gallery has been instrumental in promoting the wealth of book illustrations that is a Western Massachusetts' phenomenon. The works of Michael Kuch, Rebecca Guay, Tony DiTerlizzi, and Springfield's Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, are just a few.
As of late, Michelson has become quite enamored with Leonard Nimoy and his photographic works. He has showcased Nimoy's exploration of the mystical spirit of “Shekina,” followed by a study of an unusual full-bodied California dance company called “Fat Bottom Revue.” The duo has recently collaborated on a project called “Secret Selves.” Michelson arranged to have 100 people come to one of his gallery's studios to have their portraits taken as their imaginative secret alter-egos. The Michelson-Nimoy relationship is an interesting dynamic that is mirrored with many of the other artists that have participated in the gallery's history.
The R. Michelson Gallery is open seven days a week: Mon-Wed. 10-6 pm; Thur-Sat. 10-9 pm; and Sun. noon-5 pm.