Big Art, Big Vision
Big Art. Big Vision.
There’s a new gallery in Manchester Depot. The first solo venture for veteran gallerist Lisa Helmholz-Adams, it’s a one of a kind MVT experience. We were lucky enough to pull an interview with Lisa last fall where we asked about the work on display, about making a great art experience, and of course, about her; who she is, what she loves, where she comes from.
“I grew up in Dakar, Senegal. It’s French-speaking and international; like the Paris of Africa,” she explained. “You find Independence Plaza with its huge circle of embassies…American, Italian, Pakistani, and on. And all of us international children, we grew up playing with one another in different languages. My father was with the World Health Organization, working in Africa to eradicate smallpox and measles. While we lived there, we had a cook, Assata, who lived nearby with her children. That was where you’d often find me, with Assata and Diallo, learning their African ways, speaking their language, tying baby Mamadou on my back, toting him about.” Lisa says Africa will always be home.
At fourteen, her parents divorced. Mr. Helmholz traveled on from Africa to Cairo and Mrs. Helmholz moved stateside with the kids. “My dad worked in health care and international public health, a specialized agency of the United Nations. If there was Ebola, he was on location. In part, his mandate was to ensure monies were funneling in from Switzerland and America, and that the WHO and United Nations knew what was happening on the ground. So he was always gone, always very far, but I was always aware that he was doing this incredible thing, impacting so many lives for the good, and on a huge platform.”
She paused. “Giving is a really big part of my life. Because of my dad, and because I love and admire the African cultures, so rich in family and so generous.
Lisa focused her athleticism (yes, she is an Olympic fencer) into performance art. At 18, she signed as a professional dancer with New York Guys and Dolls. Later fell into sales by accident. “A friend recommended me for a job at Victoria Falls in SoHo. Do you know it?” She asked. “Turned out I was great at it. We opened several stores. I traveled abroad three months out of the year to buy, and Rena Gill was the designer. She was fabulous.”
While the globetrotting and creativity seemed right up her alley, nothing could beat the appeal of Vermont. “I came up to visit my mom with a friend, and when we arrived in Manchester, I was immediately struck by the landscape. It reminded me so much of the North Georgia Mountains where I went to school. It seemed so familiar. So welcoming.” And so, another typical tale. Weekend commuting from the city, longer and longer stays, until finally — done. Lisa packed up completely and moved into Romona’s carriage house.
“I still went back and forth to New York, but there was so much to fulfill me here; the wonderful friends I met, their consciousness and willingness to help others, and these beautiful mountains.”
Maybe art was in the cards.
“Cue memory of nude model in the dining room. Pay no attention,” Lisa laughed and waved her hand, “it’s just mom working.” Mom (Romona) is remarkably talented, with a fine arts degree from Pratt. Dad was an avid art collector and passionate student of culture. “Much of my childhood was spent engaged with art; trips to museums, trips to the opera. And even though I loathed it at times, I couldn’t escape its impact.”
For twenty-two years in Vermont, she was Director at Tilting at Windmills, down the street. “Toward the end of my time there, there was this big part of me that I wasn’t really expressing.” In her own gallery, Adams is driven to bring art experiences to the public that are unexpected, and grand.
“I knew I wanted to bring the arts together with community in a stronger, more vital way. That was my focus, and I knew it was possible. And this gallery space is amazing. It allows expression and engagement to happen on really big scale.”
“My artists are always pushing their boundaries and always evolving. They have to grow, and I’m a big part of that. We’re a huge extended family. We’ve worked our asses off in multiple locations (Lisa has a gallery in Tribeca, too) to bring them to the forefront because they’ve worked hard. I’m passionate about them, and they deserve it.” She leaned forward, deadly serious. “What each artist does is so important. They each have a voice and a certain relevancy. There are lots of galleries that have 30, 40, or 50 artists. I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in an artist with a body of work that they think about and work on for an entire year or more. Sometimes they might only produce a few pieces, but when they do, they’re groundbreaking.”
Feast of Venus.
Last May we had the privilege of attending one of Lisa’s art + community events. An unforgettable evening in support of Hunger Free Vermont, an education and advocacy organization dedicated to ending the injustice of hunger and malnutrition for all Vermonters. A ticketed reception and meal inspired by Elizabeth Torak’s remarkable painting below drew 100 of our community’s women leaders together. Cocktails and camaraderie segued to a farm to table feast with remarks from Torak, our gallerist, and Hunger Free Executive Director Marisa Parisi. We learned from one another, we fell in love with the cause, and left feeling inspired and committed to make change. Boom.
Lisa’s big on synergy. “Vermont is our family home. My mother lives here, part of the time, and she’s my gallery director. My husband, David, is my business partner. He and my son, Kent, were hugely instrumental in the transition to this gallery space. They supported me in every way, and contributed hours and hours of hard labor to make it a reality.” She said Manchester was the right fit, at the right time, to make her vision a success. “The town is growing in such a powerful way! I’m very proud of all of this and where it’s going. Timing is so important to how we move and groove.”
You know we had to ask where a gallerist goes for inspo. Her response, Rupert’s Merck Forest. “It’s one of my most sacred places. I’ve been visiting since my son Kent was three. There’s something magical about parking your car and walking right into a place that’s on top of the world. You can bring the kids to meet the animals, you can stay at Ned’s cabin. Bring your snowshoes! That’s my place, 3000 acres of cared for land. And every time, in twenty-seven years, it’s always, always fresh.”
Lisa’s personal vibe and her willingness to share are what set her apart from other gallerists. Her unique and long-standing relationships with her artists make the work accessible so every visit feels as if you’ve been personally invited. If you go, rest assured, her spark — and this art — makes an indelible impact.
Check out the Gallery
Located on Depot Street, Helmholz Fine Art is a one of a kind MVT Experience. Find more photos here, plus links to Lisa’s website, and social media platforms.Helmholz Fine Art
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