The Benicia Arsenal plays a big role in the city—business hub, treasure trove of history, and destination for those seeking to create, enjoy and view art of all kinds. Found among the mixed industrial and business uses is Arts Benicia, and numerous art studios and offices. So it seems to be a perfect fit that a new gallery is opening inside the former U.S. Army headquarters building found at the “split” at the end of East Military Street. The HQ Gallery at the Arsenal will open in coordination with Artist Open Studios, May 7 & 8. The gallery is at 1350 Hayes Street, and has its own entrance at the back of the building.
Benicia painter Susan Street got the idea for HQ Gallery at the Arsenal and adopted the Nike slogan “Just Do It” to bring it about. She has an art studio in the historic white administrative building with the ornate façade over the front entrance. As she came and went from her studio she thought a courtyard in the center would be a lovely spot for an art gallery. She approached the property management firm overseeing the building and floated the idea among several artists. “I got a tremendous response. I nearly fainted,” she said.
Eighteen artists will show work in a range of mediums, including oil and watercolor paintings, metal sculpture, pottery, photography, mixed media, jewelry and fine needlework. Some have shown all over the Bay Area and beyond, while others work at home or in their studios and have never, or rarely, shown their work. Arts Benicia board president Barrie Robinson is one of them. Robinson does found-object sculptures and mixed media work in her Arsenal art studio. She said the new gallery has been a major boost. “This will be the first formal place for me to display. It’s new to me and very exciting. I was surprised to be asked if I wanted to join and I’m excited to begin displaying my work. It will give me, all of us, incentive to keep producing a body of work,” Robinson said.
Mary Frances Kelly-Poh will show her traditional needlepoint for the first time in a gallery, too. One piece that might go up is a large kimono that won a best of show prize at the California State Fair. She said she’s glad needlepoint will be on display. “I believe people need to see this kind of work. Because it is thread, people often think it’s not art. It takes months to do this. The kimono took 18 months to stitch.” Susan Street will also show her paintings, many of which are landscapes of local settings.
Benicia painter Lee Wilder Snider immediately said “yes” when Street asked her to join. “Aside from her fluidity and strength as a painter, she (Street) listens, sees the big picture and gets things done.” Snider also said she liked the combination of people working together and all the different kinds of art to be displayed. “I’m excited and intrigued. I see the gallery as a mix of different voices, each adding to the strength of the whole. It’s a new group coming together with ideas and hopes. The challenge will be giving voice to the vision, and then putting practical things in place to make it happen,” Snider said. The gallery’s small space may even inspire her to try working on a smaller scale or do some three-dimensional work.
Plain air painter Nikki Basch Davis also eagerly agreed to be part of the new gallery. She wants to support any effort to give artists new venues and voices to show their work. A new gallery, she said, will also help put Benicia on the map as an arts destination. First Street has the Plein Air Art Gallery and Gallery 621. “We have an incredible amount of very accomplished artists in this town and not all of them have the opportunity to be represented in their work. The more outlets we have for art the better,” Davis said.
The new HQ Gallery is near the Arts Benicia headquarters, at 991 Tyler Street, which has its own gallery and is surrounded by dozens of artist live/work studios. The two organizations intend to complement and support each other. Arts Benicia board president Barrie Robinson said the new gallery is testament to Benicia’s large, vibrant and talented artistic community, and Arts Benicia Executive Director Celeste Smeland said the new gallery is “wonderful. A new gallery adds to the artistic vitality and visitor experience of the Arsenal district.”
During Open Studios on May 7-8, the HQ Gallery at the Arsenal, 1350 Hayes St, will be open 10am-5pm both days. Regular hours following Open Studios will be noon-4pm Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Where’s the Art?
Benicia is filled with art galleries, you just need to know where to look. They are tucked away in dedicated spaces in local businesses, in the Arsenal and strewn along First Street, both upstairs and downstairs. The most prominent of the downtown galleries are the Plein Air Gallery and Gallery 621. But if you want to completely immerse yourself in art, you could make an entire day of perusing the artistic offerings, and more than a day if you want to check out Benicia’s growing collection of public art. The Benicia Library has a dedicated gallery that features wonderful exhibits as well as several interesting pieces of public art.
Arts Benicia Gallery, 991 Tyler Street
HQ Gallery at the Arsenal, 1350 Hayes Street
Downtown Benicia, Military West to the waterfront
Marilyn Citron O'Rourke Art Gallery, Benicia Public Library, 150 East L Street
Gallerie Renee Marie, 1038 First Street
Dos Gatos Gallery, 828 First Street
Studio 41, 700 First Street
Nourot Art Glass, 675 East H Street
Smyers Art Glass, 675 East H Street
Milinda Perry Salon & Gallery, 117 East F Street
Lindsay Art Glass, 109 East F Street
Mernie Buchanan, 117 East D Street
Gallery 621, 309 First Street
Plein Air Gallery, 307 First Street
Once Upon a Canvas, 129 First Street
Listing of public art in Benicia: www.visitbenicia.org/arts/public-art