PORTSMOUTH — Looking over all the 6×12-inch tile boards being hung at four different locations around town, you’ll see many familiar scenes: the former Island Park amusement park, Flo’s Drive-In, Clements’ Marketplace, Melville, Wapping Road, Green Animals, etc.
That’s no coincidence, as the theme for Portsmouth’s first-ever Gallery Night this Friday, May 23, is “My Portsmouth.”
From 5-8 p.m., you can view the tiles at the Portsmouth Arts Guild Center for the Arts (PAG), 2679 East Main Road; Portsmouth Free Public Library, 2658 East Main Road; Town Hall, 2200 East Main Road; and Portsmouth Publick House, 1 King Charles Drive. The exhibit continues through June 27.
“This is history-making,” said Wayne Quackenbush, president of PAG, which is presenting Gallery Night with a little help from its friends. One of them is Rose Escobar, an art teacher at Portsmouth High School who started the tile project as part of the Portsmouth 375th anniversary celebration last year.
“The original concept was to try to incorporate as many businesses and venues in town so when people were out and about everybody’s work would be visible for the whole community and public,” said Ms. Escobar. “We started realizing that would be quite a task, so we ended up deciding to pick four venues.”
Although the tiles will be up for viewing Friday at Portsmouth Publick House, that establishment will have its own opening night a few days later, she said.
“Their business switched since we originally planned this back in September. They’re really a restaurant now, so their official opening is probably going to be the following Tuesday (May 27, from 5-8 p.m.). They’re going to be slammed Friday,” said Ms. Escobar.
Mr. Quakenbush said he’s excited about Gallery Night, which is part of PAG’s renewed focus on more outreach. It’s intended to pull the general public, artists and businesses together in one celebratory night.
“The Portsmouth Arts Guild is making a concerted effort to get more involved in the community,” he said.
The tile project is part of an international art exchange program with Portsmouth, England called the PARTS (Portsmouth Art Reflection Tile-boards) Project. Judges will select anywhere from 10 to 25 of the best tiles to be sent to England for the sister city’s own exhibit, which opens June 14.
All tiles will be for sale through a silent auction that will extend to the length of the exhibit. The proceeds will be divvied up between the artists (40 percent); PAG (30 percent); and H.A.T.S., or Holistic Artist Teaching Styles (30 percent), a series of workshops in the holistic expressive arts.
Artists paid $10 for each tile and returned the completed work by April 27. More than 200 tiles were sent out, with about 100 different artists returning them for the show. They represent a wide range of skill levels, said Mr. Quakenbush, with the artists ranging in age from 5 to 92. Some students from the Prudence Island School even sent tiles, he said.
A tile by one of the artists, Peter Turner, depicts the outside of Flo’s Drive-In in Island Park.
“I originally was going to do Second Beach, but this project is supposed to be focused on everything Portsmouth. What could be a more iconic Portsmouth scene than Flo’s?” said Mr. Turner, who stopped in at PAG Saturday to admire some of the tiles.
On Friday, two of the younger artists — PHS seniors Isabella Tomlinson and Kristen Kemper — helped Ms. Escobar hang tiles at Town Hall. Isabella received a photography scholarship and will attend Salve Regina University in the fall.
Kristen took a photography class for the first time as a junior, and is taking an AP class this year. She’s not pursuing photography, however, as Kristen plans on studying engineering at the University of Rhode Island next fall.
Still, her tile, featuring a photograph of the Melville waterfront, was one of the few selected to be shipped to Portsmouth, England, for that city’s exhibition.
“She’s the only high school kid whose work was selected to go to England,” said Ms. Escobar.
For more information about Portsmouth Gallery Night on Friday, visit www.portsmoutharts.org. A juried photography show is also opening at PAG that night, with an opening reception from 6-8 p.m. That exhibit runs through June 29.