LOOSE ENDS: Wowed by WOW

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Jeff Siegel and Priscilla Snow Algava teamed up to bring the Wondrous on Witherspoon pop-up gallery to Princeton. 

By Pam Hersh
   The situation went from “wow” to “whoa, say it isn’t so.”
   The Wondrous on Witherspoon (WOW) art gallery that popped up two months ago at 14 ½ Witherspoon Street came down two weeks ago and deflated the spirits of thousands of Princeton residents and visitors, who gave the temporary art gallery rave reviews.
   For me, the wow went beyond the diverse and aesthetically pleasing qualities of the hundreds of pieces of art from 70 area artists. The most uplifting aspect of the show was its mere existence. The exhibit in the space once occupied by Princeton Army & Navy Store represented a community piece of art whose predominant colors were generosity and desire to support a project that benefited everyone — artists, customers, visitors, window shoppers, retailers, the ambiance of downtown Princeton, and local charities.
   The brainstorm of Princeton artist and retired art teacher Priscilla Snow Algava, the art show was curated by artist and former art student of Ms. Algava’s, Shannon Rose Moriarty from South Brunswick. Shannon’s mother, Lori Piscitelli, managed the day-to-day operations of the gallery. Jeff Siegel, Princeton real estate professional and owner of the building at 14 ½ (along with the buildings that house Small World Coffee and Lisa Jones Style) donated the gallery space.
   Raoul Momo of The Terra Momo Restaurant Group sponsored the opening and closing receptions for the exhibit, and Jessica Durrie of Small World Coffee provided coffee. And then there were the art purchasers. I know of four people in addition to myself who purchased items in the gallery, not only because loved the art but because they also loved the concept of supporting local artists.
   Completing the community support circle was the gallery itself that donated a percentage of all the artwork sales to Princeton Suppers, the Trenton Soup Kitchen Artists A-TEAM, and the Arts Council of Princeton. As a gift to the entire community, WOW in the back of the store set up a free create-your-own-art studio featuring all the materials — watercolors, markers, chalk, pastels, pencils, paper, acrylics, scissors, glue — visitors of all ages needed to make original art.
   ”There is nothing like art to breathe life into a community, connect people of all ages and backgrounds,” said Priscilla whose studio is on the second floor of 14 ½ Witherspoon.
   When the Princeton Army & Navy Store closed its doors after nearly seven decades of operation, the Bonin family, which owned the business as well as the building, sold the row of three buildings on Witherspoon Street to Jeff Siegel of ML7, a family of private real estate investment, development, management and construction companies with offices in Princeton and New York City.
   Priscilla approached her new landlord for permission to put artwork in the windows of the former clothing store during Princeton University Reunions Weekend — a time of intense pedestrian activity on Witherspoon and Nassau streets.
   Siegel said he would go one step further and give Priscilla the entire store to be used as a temporary gallery for one month. One month morphed into two months. Siegel gave life to Priscilla’s vision that in turn gave life to the creativity of area artists, whose work gave life to the entire Princeton downtown scene.
   Educated at Cornell University, Priscilla Snow Algava completed her Master of Arts at Depauw University. An art specialist for South Brunswick schools from 1993-2011, she has taught and exhibited extensively locally and at different locations throughout the world. Her art continually evolves as she experiments in different media and styles and subjects. But the unifying quality in each of her works from different phases of her long career is a joyful, light, playful quality reflecting a love of her family and her community.
   ”My work is about layers of time and memory,” she says. “As I work, I repeatedly return to and process the joy of living in the moment… Color plays a crucial role in my art… My aim is to create visual poems that ask the viewer to imagine, to wonder and wander along with me.” That is exactly what she did with the creation of the pop-up gallery.
   Princeton has a tradition of supporting pop-up art exhibits and installations over the years. Nationally acclaimed installations have included: the Parklet, Quark Park, and Writer’s Block. Palmer Square has hosted the HomeFront pop-up Art Exhibition for a few weeks each year for a number of years. Last year it was the ArtJam exhibition of 902 works by 91 artists with 50 percent of the revenue from the sales going to HomeFront.
   The Princeton Shopping Center houses the Kristina Johnson Arts Council of Princeton pop-up studio space — which is a venue for local arts events, as well as exhibitions. A few weeks ago, a funky and most appealing plant house appeared on the plaza outside of the Kristina Johnson pop-up studio. The work of artist Peter Abrams is titled “B-Home,” constructed out of recycled construction pallets. This public artwork is sponsored by the Arts Council of Princeton and Princeton Shopping Center/Edens.
   In my most joyful and colorful manner, I say ‘thank you’ to everyone responsible for the success of WOW. I hope (actually urge) the Princeton community and its inherent generosity and extensive resources to put those empty retail spaces in the central business district to creative use and find a way to continue the WOW or perhaps establish a winning WON (Wondrous on Nassau).