The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 20, 2002


Alpers Fine Art brings movement to fixed walls

The walls at the Gleason Library are a buttery, but plain, white. For the next two months, they will provide a subdued foil for some very imaginative artists. The library will feature "The Fixed & the Fluid" exhibit, works from over a dozen artists in a variety of media represented by the Alpers Fine Art Gallery in Andover, Massachusetts. The show will run from December 26 through February 24.

"In one sense, 'fixed' is representational and 'fluid' more abstract," explains gallery owner Peter Alpers, a Curve Street resident in Carlisle. "Putting them together in a phrase suggests a whole spectrum of work from representational to abstract. You can even see that within a single piece."

"Queen Anne's Lace" by Ruth Cobb on the exhibit's advertising postcard holds special meaning to Peter Alpers. His late mother studied as an artist at Mass. Art when Cobb was also there.
True to the lively work he represents, Alpers jumps up to guide one through his Andover gallery and demonstrates how all the works on display exemplify both characteristics. Each piece contains clearly identifiable objects, portrayed in eclectic style. A finch appears in a neon surrounding; beautiful flowers bloom in a garden without borders; objects like fencing, a pail, quotation marks, and tufts of grass float in painted poetry. A death mask of Beethoven scowls amidst the natural beauty.

The exhibition marks the eighth in the library's Visual Arts Program. The works on display range in price from $325 to $4,200. Twenty percent of the proceeds will benefit the library.

Personal and professional life converges

Alpers grew up in nearby Peabody. His parents had a frameshop in their home which became a gallery. His mother was an artist, and his older brother Byron — now successfully semi-retired from money management — does sculpture and works in wood on a lathe. Alpers grew up with an exposure to art, but he claims not to have inherited artistic talent. Nor did he ever expect to follow in the family business.

By the time Alpers graduated from high school, he had decided he wanted to become a fiction writer. After earning an undergraduate degree from Brandeis and a graduate degree from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, he pursued his dream. He acknowledges today that he just doesn't have the discipline to focus on creative writing.

Not to be deterred, he put his communications skills to pragmatic use first in academia, and then in business for the next 24 years. In his last corporate position, Alpers worked at Iris Graphics for a decade. Subjected to a multitude of takeovers and three managerial reorganizations, the senior marketing executive ultimately tired of adapting to new corporate cultures. In October 1998, Alpers announced to his wife Betsy: "I'm going to open an art gallery." Without even a business plan in place, he ran the business in their house on Curve Street in Carlisle. Then on April 28, 1999, he opened the Andover gallery.

Building a business

The economic downturn in the area, specifically in hi-tech, has negatively affected the fine-art market. Fortunately, the Alpers Fine Art gallery enjoys an excellent location on 2 Main Street in the busy Andover downtown. The business is still in the start-up phase, and gallery costs are fixed enough to make a business owner nervous.

Peter Alpers opens his gallery Wednesday through Sunday. For more information call 978-470-0013.
"I have to sell $5,000 worth of art a month to pay my rent," says Alpers. I have to sell $600 a month to pay my electric bill. I have to sell $220 a month to pay the lease on my laptop. My biggest expense in the gallery, and the one I embrace, is what I pay artists." He tries to keep prices reasonable and affordable for the local market.

"This gallery used to be in my home, and now has pretty much become my home," admits Alpers. He estimates he's at the gallery 60 hours a week. Fortunately, he chooses what surrounds him: "I can't possibly hang something on the wall that I don't like. It has to be work that I would own if I were buying rather than selling art." Surrounding himself with art he likes makes him more altruistic. "If I'm going to promote a piece, I have to believe in it.

Most of the gallery space features the work of one, or perhaps two, artists. The back wall still shows the group work. At the moment, there are no shows going on, and pieces from 35 artists appear in the gallery.

Unexpected repercussions

On September 11, 2001, a Tuesday, the gallery was closed as regularly scheduled. At home, Alpers watched the CNN coverage of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. After a few hours, he broke away, and decided he had to go to the gallery just in case any one wanted to talk.

"I noticed I am just like a barber!," says Alpers. "This used to be a pharmacy. People who grew up in Andover, old-timers, say, 'That's where the soda fountain used to be.' It's wonderful. I like how people will just come in and chat. It really makes me feel like part of a community. That was not part of the equation in Carlisle, partly because it was in my home."

As it turned out, people did stop by, not to look at art, but to talk. From a business standpoint, Alpers was then concerned about an upcoming September 20 reception for Andy Newman, a West Concord artist who is the gallery's best-selling painter and one of the artists whose work will be shown at the Gleason. As a result of a traffic accident, the downtown area of Andover lost power at 6:20 p.m. As the sun went down, people got flashlights out of their cars, and Alpers borrowed candles from a nearby French restaurant. Alpers was distraught as he'd hoped for a big show after a particularly slow summer.

Alpers recalls, "After about an hour, Andy [Newman] came to me and said, 'This is actually going to be so much more memorable. In this time of total loss, I think we have to call this a recoverable loss.' That really renewed my perspective and my sense of equilibrium." For the first week or so after the show, nothing sold. Then in October business started to boom, and it was the best month at the gallery to date.

For many Carlisleans, the Gleason Library represents our town meeting place. It's the only place in the center of town where people can meet and sit down in a warm place for a chat. The librarians are the 'town barbers' here. As in Andover, Alpers Fine Art will be giving people something beautiful to look at, talk about, and buy if they wish.

Artists showing "Fixed and Fluid" works

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito