R.I. Watercolor Society re-opens under new leadership

R.I. Watercolor Society re-opens under new leadership

Kathleen O’Hara has stepped into the role of director of the Rhode Island Watercolor Society, helping to guide the gallery at Slater Park through unprecedented times.

PAWTUCKET – Her first few months serving as director of the Rhode Island Watercolor Society did not go exactly as she had planned, but Kathleen O’Hara has turned trying circumstances into an opportunity to innovate.

O’Hara’s lifelong passion for art led her to take the role of gallery assistant with the Watercolor Society last June. In February, she was promoted to the position of director, just weeks before coronavirus forced the gallery to close its doors.

The gallery at Slater Memorial Park officially opened to the public again on June 27, and O’Hara said she and the staff are excited to welcome back artists and visitors after three months in the dark.

When the gallery closed in March, O’Hara said she spent a lot of time looking for grants and other funding opportunities to help keep the lights on.

It may not have been the introduction to directorship that she expected, but O’Hara said despite the circumstances she’s happy to be working in the field.

“I’ve been drawing since I was maybe 3, 5 years old. It has always been my favorite thing to do,” she said. The Tiverton resident, formerly from Scituate, graduated from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design with her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 2017.

“I think the way a lot of people respond to stress, especially in a global situation like the one we’re in right now, is through art and creating. Many people use art as an escape from day-to-day life, and also as a reflection of the day today. Particularly during a pandemic like this, people want to paint some landscapes and kind of relax,” she said.

The Watercolor Society began offering online workshops and classes, including introductory courses to various watercolor techniques, digital art and more, giving people the opportunity to hone their craft from home during the current pandemic.

“COVID-19 has caused us to move a lot of our programming online, and we hope to continue that even after the pandemic has passed,” O’Hara said. “We’re happy to be able to reach more people and cultivate an online community of artists and art-lovers.”

Smaller, in-person workshops are being planned for the fall.

The gallery eased into re-opening, beginning with a smaller members showcase of three artists, Elaine Gauthier, Catherine Mansell and Donald Blough. The exhibit is open Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“The three-person group show up right now is a great way for us to segue into a full show,” she said. A full show typically includes about 70 to 80 artists.

O’Hara said the experience of visiting the gallery hasn’t changed exponentially, as the space is never usually crowded with people and guests in an art gallery aren’t usually touching the art. Visitors must now wear masks and maintain distance between one another.

The society’s 2020 National Show is scheduled to open on Aug. 1. They’re accepting most of the pieces via mail to limit the amount of people dropping off artwork.

The show will be available online on the Rhode Island Watercolor Society’s Facebook page so that anyone can view it, even if they can’t make it to the gallery.

O’Hara said the ability to share art with the public is important for humanity. “While we should be cautious and responsible while visiting a gallery, it’s nice to be able to stop and remember a little tiny piece of normal life,” she said.