Have you ever been to a gallery, looked around at all the beautiful artwork, and felt inspired?
That’s exactly what we, Benny Archer and Lisa Ferrari (me, Benny’s mother) wanted to bring to our local community.
We live in the Shire of Nillumbik on the outskirts of the Yarra Valley. The area is known for vineyards, windy roads with rolling hills, and its artists.
The lease for the Watsons Creek Antique Barn came up in February 2020, just as Covid-19 was rearing its ugly head. We thought long and hard about signing a commercial lease when the unknown was upon us. We didn’t know what the future held. None of us did. But what we did know was that when we opened those beautiful barn doors and viewed the light-filled rustic space, we could turn this gorgeous space into our vision of a local art gallery for local artists.
We signed on March 16th, 2020, the day the Victorian Government declared a State of Emergency due to the oncoming pandemic. Despite that, we decided that we, and the artists around us, deserved a local art space. A new opportunity for local artists to showcase their work and gain much-needed exposure.
We wanted to support artists in and around the Nillumbik Shire. With such a rich art history in the area, it was an opportunity too good to miss.
The ensuing lockdown was hard on everyone worldwide. Despite the long weeks of isolation, we were able to give the old barn a facelift. We plastered over the east window so that we would have one full wall of hanging space. With a wall of reclaimed steel service-station windows to the north and one to the west, the space was lit with gorgeous filtered light. We painted the window frames black to show off the magnificent views of the eucalyptus woodlands behind us.
Then we moved to the floor. It was covered in wood glue and sawdust. So much glue, so much dust!
The barn had been where John, the original owner and expert craftsman, had refurbished antiques for sale. I remember visiting the barn once, and looking up to the rafters, I saw a row of antique rocking horses delicately balanced up there, watching the antiques as they came in old and worn and leaving restored with new vigour and shine!
We sanded and painted the floors, filled, sanded, and painted the walls to show off the beautiful local artwork we knew would adorn the gallery soon. The barn had been made of recycled materials, adding to its rustic charm. The front outside wall was rendered and painted an “80’s apricot.”
To fit in with our vision of a modern art space in a rustic setting, we painted them black and continued the theme, painting the barn doors black with copper trim. The gallery now sat beautifully within the blue-green of the surrounding bush.
As lockdown continued, and of course, within the restriction guidelines (remember those!) we were able to install gallery lighting and hanging systems. Both were a feat of engineering as the barn doesn’t have one square angle! But Anthony and his team from Hypower Electrical was able to get the lighting rails hung from the high ceiling rafters.
We sourced the system from a local lighting specialist, Red Sock Lighting, trying to keep most of our suppliers close to support the local economy as much as we could. The gallery hanging system was a must, as we didn’t want to have to repair, sand, and paint the walls after every exhibition. It also now makes changing artwork around a breeze.
One of the last things we did was to section off the back third of the gallery to give Benny an art studio space. Divided by a nib wall, Benny’s studio invites visitors in to walk around, see his work in progress and talk to him about his vision and his process.
We are coming up to three years since we signed the lease and gained the keys to open those beautiful barn doors. It’s been a wild ride opening an art gallery throughout a global pandemic, but wow, it’s been worth it! Both Benny and I have grown as artists and small-business owners. We’ve hosted Open Studio exhibitions when artists weren’t able to open their own home studios to the public. We’ve had amazing exhibitions, celebrating the artists we are blessed to have in Nillumbik. And each Friday to Sunday, 10 am to 4 pm, we meet wonderful people from near and far, who come in to browse around and fall in love with all the artists of Nillumbik have to offer.
If you're out for a drive, visiting all that Nillumbik and the Yarra Ranges have to offer, Gallery 7six5 is next to Dark Horse Café, at 765d Eltham-Yarra Glen Road, Watsons Creek Victoria 3097. It’s a wonderful place to stop, stretch your legs, and appreciate the beautiful work produced by the amazing artists of Nillumbik.