Hidden Gem: Little Art Gallery

If you want to find The Little Art Gallery in North Canton, look behind the books. The gallery—an entrance hallway and a single room—is in the south wing of North Canton Public Library.

Stark County is full of many attractions, some more well-known than others. Gary Brown brings our attention to the less-publicized places. This month: The Little Art Gallery in North Canton.
If you want to find The Little Art Gallery in North Canton, look behind the books.

The gallery—an entrance hallway and a single room—is in the south wing of North Canton Public Library.

“A lot of people don’t know where it is,” said Elizabeth Blakemore, curator. “I’ll run into somebody from school, and they’ll ask ‘Where are you working now.’ I’ll tell them ‘The Little Art Gallery,’ and they’ll ask, ‘Where is that?’ ”

Blakemore is undaunted by the hidden nature of her art museum. She knows The Little Art Gallery is an asset to her community, even if its art exhibition walls could be considered secondary to the primary use of the building in which it is located at 185 N Main Street in North Canton. The library’s bookshelves, research archives and the pieces of technology open the world of collective knowledge to the minds of library patrons.

Still, The Little Art Gallery opens up a world of culture—as expressed through the creativity of a cadre of local artists—to those who wander into its exhibit space.

And, Blakemore is confident in the realization that once visitors discover the gallery, they come back. Often. With others. And with heightened interest.

A Little History

According to a history provided by Blakemore, “The Little Art Gallery began in 1930 in a second-floor room of the North Canton Public Library, which was then located in a frame house on Main Street where the North Canton YMCA currently stands.”

“The Hoover Company and two Hoover employees, Ellsworth Smith and Esta Stoner, were instrumental in the conception of the gallery,” she wrote. “In 1944, The Little Art Gallery acquired the first piece of its permanent collection. The Women’s Club of North Canton made the donation. Since then, the collection has grown to include over 190 pieces.”

That artwork in the permanent collection is displayed in the gallery on a rotating basis, but The Little Art Gallery also has a history of discovering and promoting talented area artists. A series of exhibitions during the winter, for example, highlighted the artwork of students in the North Canton City School District. After a period of installation in April, the annual May show again will attempt, through a juried art exhibit, to “promote awareness of the arts,” by recognizing the talents and achievements of local artists, Blakemore said. Such shows “make fine art accessible to North Canton and surrounding communities,” the curator explained, since most of the artwork exhibited in the May Show is for sale.

Future shows in The Little Art Gallery will pay respect to the exhibit area’s history. The exhibition “Ellsworth Smith Painting the Town: His Legacy in North Canton and The Hoover Company” is to be displayed most of August and September. An exhibition titled “Permanent Collection” in December and January will be a retrospective of the last 10 years of acquisitions by the gallery, Blakemore said.

“I try to make the gaps between shows short, and I usually have something going on during that time,” Blakemore said. A brief period of set-up for the Ellsworth Smith exhibition, for example, will be made use of in part by the “Doggone North Canton” display, fostering pet adoption. After the Smith exhibition, in October, The Little Art Gallery will display a brief exhibition in collaboration with the One Book, One Community literacy program, which this year is highlighting the book “Rudy: My Story.”

Mixed in with those displays will be shows exhibiting the work of such local artists as woodcut artist Bill Bogdan (June and July) and landscape painter Emily Vigil (November).

Wealth Of Talent

“I try to pull in local artists of high quality,” Blakemore said. “There are literally hundreds of talented artists in Stark County. I try to vary the different styles of artwork and the different mediums. I sometimes have more than one artist on display.”

Although the not-for-profit gallery receives funds from the North Canton Public library, “there historically has been a separation between the library and the gallery,” said its curator. The Friends of the Little Art Gallery organization, made up of members of the community, also works to raise funds for such gallery needs as show-opening receptions.

“I like to tell the people who come to it that this gallery is yours,” Blakemore said. “Admission always is free.”

Visitors to the gallery can enroll in art classes or even solicit to be chosen for an exhibition.

“Usually we find the artists, but every now and then, someone will ask if we can display their work, and I would love to consider anybody’s work,” Blakemore said. “The artist needs to have a fully established style and enough artwork to fill a gallery in that uniform style. This gallery holds 30 to 50 pieces of artwork for a show. That’s quite a bit.

We’re really not as little as our name sounds.”