In recent months, customers shopping for new kitchen appliances got more than they expected at a local retailer.
They found a portrait of young girls gazing at the sea perched on an elite Bertazzoni range top, a colorful photo of bicycles providing a backdrop for stainless steel gas grills, and scores of original photos and paintings covering the walls as they shopped for mattresses and living room furniture.
Most people don’t envision the Southern New Hampshire Art Gallery being housed at a busy, 15,000-square-foot appliance and furniture center. But then most people don’t know Liz Jutras, owner of Seabrook’s Appliance Warehouse.
Appliance Warehouse is a family-owned business started by her father, Norm Jutras, in Newburyport 40 years ago.
It moved to Seabrook 30 years ago. The art gallery, however, took up residence there in November.
“I always wanted to have art here,” Jutras said. “My dad did, too. I love art. What made this happen now was that I visited an art gallery when I was in St. Augustine (Florida) last year. The art there was fabulous.”
As she walked out of the Florida gallery, Jutras made a pledge she would somehow start a gallery in her showroom. She returned home, talked about it with others, and the concept took shape.
“Two days after I got back last spring, Mel Briggle and Joe Reardon walked in and said, ‘We’re going to help you set up your art gallery,’” she said.
By November, the sign went up to let customers know they would find beautiful art – as well as new stoves, refrigerators, washers, dryers and furniture – when they walked in the door.
“Oh, the customers love it,” said Jutras, who admitted the lovely pictures can distract shoppers from their original mission of finding the perfect recliner or dishwasher.
Briggle, retired from his first career, is a well-known Seacoast photographer. After helping out at the store on occasion, Briggle knew of her gallery aspirations, Jutras said.
Reardon, retired from the corporate world, is also a photographer and a member of the prestigious Copley Society of Art, she said, an exclusive group started in 1879 by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
On the walls along with Briggle’s photos are the works of five members of the Copley Society, Jutras said. Along with Reardon, they include photographer Ron Wybranowski, and artists Jan Kilburn, Kim Meuse, Marilene Sawaf and Ann Trainor Domingue.
“Joe (Reardon) helped me choose the artists,” Jutras said. “I love the work of the artists we’ve chosen.”
In addition to handmade pieces, Jutras includes giclee prints from the Delano Art Gallery. Considered high-quality reproductions of fine art, giclee prints lower the cost of owning beautiful artwork.
“The price of the art we have here runs from $200 to $4,000,” Jutras said.
Jutras doesn’t paint, but her eyes light up when she speaks about the works displayed on her walls.
All artists represented are from the region, she said, and that’s a deliberate choice. An example of her dedication in supporting local causes can be seen in recent donations of furniture and artwork, she, Briggle and Reardon made to New Hampshire Public Television for its annual spring auction.
“If nothing else, with the gallery, I hope to make enough money for these local artists to keep them here,” she said. “That’s important.”
Angeljean Chiaramida can be reached at 978-961-3147, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Twitter @achiaramida1.