Paula Baldoni can hardly believe that the tenth birthday of her Toledo gallery, River House Arts, is coming up, but she’s ready to celebrate. “The ten years have flown by. If you had just asked me, I’d have said it was 5,” she says.
Baldoni recalls opening her first exhibition space in Perrysburg in 2009 in an unused portion of her photographer husband Bill Jordan’s studio. She opened the gallery because she observed that many Toledo artists with international reputations had no place to show their work locally. She says, “I knew that there were artists living in the area and working here, but who didn’t have a place to show their work. They were showing in Europe and Asia–everywhere but home.” She adds, “We thought that if we could make our mark during the worst part of the Great Recession, then maybe we had something.”
A decade later, River House Arts has found a new, more spacious venue in the historic Secor Building in downtown Toledo. Baldoni has expanded from her original main floor gallery to fill several new exhibition spaces in the newly renovated structure, filling those spaces with art from Toledo and beyond. And in 2020, Contemporary Art Toledo, a non-profit arts organization that she founded in partnership with Brian Carpenter, an artist and professor of art at University of Toledo, will open the doors to its new gallery for the first time. She gives ample credit for the expansion to building owner Jim Zaleski. “He did a lot of work on the new space–he’s been extremely generous. We would not be doing what we’re doing if it wasn’t for Jim Zaleski,” she says.
Reflecting on the past ten years, Baldoni describes herself as a hunter gatherer of artists’ private obsessions, which she then introduces to the larger Toledo arts audience. “There has to be a place to show cutting edge and experimental work. The more people become accustomed to seeing contemporary art, art that they don’t have to imagine having in their living rooms, the more they are open to other [new] ideas.”
Baldoni views the upcoming 10-year milestone at River House Arts as a birthday celebration for a ten-year-old child. The exhibit, entitled Cake, though it coincides with the anniversary, is not intended to be a dignified affair. It’s meant to be “a show of fun, light work (with possibly a dark side because we don’t know how to do it without having a dark side). It will be light with depth…much like a cake!” She promises clouds and butterflies, mixing bowls, rugs and plates in media from glass to painting to fiber and neon. Artists will include Joanna Manousis, Boryana Rusenova-Ina, Loraine Lynn, Alli Hoag, Madhurima Ganguly, Katy Richards, Crystal Phelps and more. Cake will be on view at River House Arts from Nov. 21 through January 19.
When asked about lessons learned from past experiences and plans for the future, Baldoni responds, “The trajectory of a gallery is the same as that of an artist–you have highs and lows, good times and bad times. We are really not that different, we have the same struggles. This is such a crazy business, and it’s not even a business, it’s a life.” She continues, ”I think I’ve hit my stride. I still have goals [for the future]. I want to continue to show work by emerging artists, promoting them to a broader audience. As we move forward one of the opportunities we’re looking at for artists is working more with businesses, both in terms of bringing corporate people in to see our collection and to see the shows we have here and also introducing artwork to go to their locations. She finishes, “I’m still committed to glass [as a medium] and to showing glass work that we don’t normally see, like the work we recently showed in JB Squared, by Brooklyn glass artists Jane Bruce and John Brekke.”
But in the future, she adds, “There must also be cake!”