MANCHESTER — To turn a former jewelry store into an art gallery and business that reflected their shared vision and interests, artists Carolina and Michael Ellenbogen had to put in a lot of sweat equity. A year and a half of it, to be exact, from the day after the real estate closing — Jan. 28, 2021 — to last Wednesday.
For all that time, rebuilding what is now Ellenbogen Gallery at 4620 Main St. was the couple’s day-in, day-out focus. Michael Ellenbogen owns a badly beaten pair of Carhart work pants, now more duct tape than fabric, to prove it.
The couple won’t be hosting an opening gala per se; at this point, opening the door and letting customers peruse the art, provisions and gift ideas is satisfaction enough.
“Most of all, it’s just relief — like, you know, when you’ve been working so hard for something,” Carolina Ellenbogen said. “It’s been a lot of pressure.”
But if there’s a key moment in the couple’s journey from a former sporting goods store on Depot Street to their current Main Street location, it might have been when Carolina Ellenbogen climbed up a ladder to peek in a hole in the drop ceiling that hung over their heads.
“Carolina stuck her head up through,” Michael Ellenbogen said. “And she was like ‘There’s a lot of space up here.’ After she came back down, that’s when the sledgehammer came out.”
It took three large dumpsters to carry away the drop ceiling and old lighting system in what had been a jewelry store. But the work was worth it — it revealed a high ceiling and walls well-suited to a future life as a gallery.
That Gallery I space, and the natural light streaming through the windows, are an ideal setting for Carolina Ellenbogen’s paintings. The exhibit, “When the Light Breaks into Pieces,” is the featured work of the gallery opening.
The paintings offer a dazzling array of reflective rhomboid shapes with a variety of color backgrounds, suggesting an intersection between Gustav Klimt’s use of geometric shapes and Mark Rothko’s color field paintings. But it’s the negative space those shapes create, and the way light reflects off the canvas, that Ellenbogen was focused on.
“My background is in architecture. So I’m always clinging to the concept of space,” she said.
Beyond the main gallery are two smaller exhibit spaces. In Gallery II is Gregory Smith’s solo show, 11 wall-hung sculptures in a series called “Walking on the Moon.” In Gallery III are works by Michael and Carolina Ellenbogen in a variety of media.
Those familiar with stART Space, the couple’s gallery in the former Eastern Mountain Sports space at Manchester Shopping Center, will spot Michael Ellenbogen’s deconstructed computer, now rearranged vertically, part by part.
StART Space, which later became Ellenbogen Gallery, filled a niche as a gallery focused on abstract art. It featured two- and three-dimensional works by artists including Dona Mara of Rupert and Rodrigo Nava of Putney and hosted events for ITVFest. It was rebranded as the Ellenbogen Gallery in 2019.
In the new location, rather than hone in on a particular school of art, Ellenbogen Gallery will have a broader focus — and feature their own work as well.
“In the beginning, a lot of our attention had gone to the artists, which gave us little time to focus and promote our own art, which is one of the reasons we started an art gallery,” Michael Ellenbogen said. “The first solo show Carolina was ever going to have after three and a half years never happened because of COVID.”
The new gallery is also a good deal smaller than the Depot Street space, and has less storage, which limits the number of artists it can show at once.
But rather than focus on abstract art, “Here, I think we’re going to be open to be both” representational and non-representational work, Carolina Ellenbogen said.
The couple did keep some of the former jewelry cabinets and display cases for the retail end of the business. They’re selling wine — though not serving it, they emphasized — as well as artisanal chocolate, small-batch bitters and gifts.