Feature: Pucker Gallery (BOSTON, MA, USA)Posted: May 9, 2012
FOREWORD: When visiting Boston, MA, last month, I was completely enthralled by its thriving arts scene. There were art galleries and museums and theatres and street musicians everywhere.
One of the most exciting places I found was Newbury Street. It has everything you want from high end boutiques to Japanese supermarkets, but it’s their (sometimes inconspicuous) art galleries that really fascinated me. And so I decided to embarked on a quest to visit and put together a complete guide to incorporate every single one of them.
While that is still a work in progress (I’ve been to all 28 of them, but please bear with me as I write them up), I would in the meantime like to feature one gallery that made a particularly strong impression on me. The interesting thing about art galleries – or any place, for that matter – is that you can tell a lot about them just by the people who greet you. Overall, the gallery directors and staff I met are mostly lovely people, but Mr. Bernard ‘Bernie’ Pucker stood out especially.
I was both astounded by his seemingly infinite knowledge of art, and touched by his sincerity. He spoke gently but passionately. He is a man infatuated with art, and in love with life. And he wore a bow-tie.
Pucker Gallery will of course still be included in my upcoming guide. However, as I do not wish for its story to be limited by space in the guide, I decided to make this a featured article instead. I would like to express my thanks to Bernie and his gallery staff (Allison McHenry in particular) for their time and patience in showing me around and talking me through each piece of work with such tender loving care.
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ADDRESS: 171 Newbury St, Boston, MA, 02116
‘When I first opened the gallery – it used to be called Pucker Safrai – in the basement space here back in 1967, there were no shops below street level,’ Bernie Pucker told me with a gentle, reminiscent smile. ‘The whole street was mostly residential. Nothing like what you see now.’
In order to attract visitors, he created an outdoor courtyard at the bottom of the stairs with a little help from an architect friend. The result resembles a mini peace garden in the urban landscape, complete with a working fountain.
‘We hoped that the sound of running water would attract people to look down to see where it is coming from.’
Bernie eventually bought the whole building in 1979, and the magnificent but unassuming five-storey gallery we see today was complete. During its first 20 years of business the gallery mostly showcased and sold traditional art pieces, such as works by Picasso and Matisse. But then Bernie was introduced to renowned Canadian-born ceramics artist Brother Thomas (Thomas Bezanson) one regular day in 1983, which ended up changing his outlook and interests entirely.
‘A customer needed to borrow our toilet,’ Bernie chuckled at the memory. ‘We got talking and then he started telling me about a great ceramics artist he knew, and asked if I wanted to meet him.’
Brother Thomas was the kind of artist who would create 1,200 pieces of work and then smash 1,100 of them because they were good, but not good enough. He became an influential teacher and close friend to Bernie, and introduced him to the beauty of pottery. The two corresponded by fax everyday for the next 23 years until Brother Thomas passed away in 2007.
Brother Thomas wrote beautifully, Bernie told me. ‘There would be lines of poetry embedded in his writings. They were simple, but powerful.’
These lines, along with photographs of his works, were published in a beautiful, non- year specific diary planner Bernie named ‘Celebrate the Days’ in 2000.
Over the years, Pucker Gallery has sold over 1,600 of Brother Thomas’s breathtakingly exquisite pots and vases. They now have about two-thirds of the artist’s legacy in their stock, and holds an exhibition displaying a selection of them every two years.
Those aside, the gallery also deals in a wide range of art in other media, including powerful oil paintings by artist and Holocaust survivor Samuel Bak, Roger Bowman‘s watercolour and gouache works, as well as authentic South African beer pots Bernie discovered in his travels to the country.
Most recently, Paul Caponigro‘s unique black-and-white photographs were added to their already huge collection. Bernie had initially been reluctant to display any photographic works, but was so captivated by the surreal and almost painting-like quality of Caponigro’s pictures that he now not only sells them, but bought some for himself, too.
Outside of art-selling, Bernie and his wife Sue started a charity project in 2008 called ‘Save the World.’ As a part of this ambitiously-named venture, they would hold evening events at the gallery and invite the CEOs of nonprofit organisations dedicated to helping children in America to attend. The gallery provides a ‘spiritual space’ (as Bernie likes to call it) for them to meet and hopefully come up with ways to make a difference to the lives of people less fortunate than us.
‘Nobody really needs art when there are wars and hunger out there,’ Bernie admits. ‘But art energises and enriches people’s lives, and we should do our part and give what we can.’
It is incredible to experience how much effort Bernie and his team must have put into creating such a soothing atmosphere at Pucker Gallery. There is a sense of calm there that is hard to find in the modern world, especially in such a bustling city as Boston.
The gallery captures the essence of what art embodies, and it is one of the most inspirational places I have ever been to. Oscar Wilde famously wrote in the Preface to Dorian Gray that ‘All art is quite useless,’ but Bernie Pucker has, with clear visions and hard work, fairly and squarely proved him wrong.
Watch this space for my upcoming Complete Guide of all the Newbury St. Art Galleries!