2013-07-18 / News

Gallery offers jewelry, contemporary art

by ken shane

The new Didi Suydam Contemporary store at East Ferry Wharf is open for business, selling jewelry, digital photography and sculptures by her husband, Peter Diepenbrock. 
Photo by tim riel The new Didi Suydam Contemporary store at East Ferry Wharf is open for business, selling jewelry, digital photography and sculptures by her husband, Peter Diepenbrock. Photo by tim riel A new retail business at East Ferry Wharf has opened its doors, and the store bears the name of its creative owner, Didi Suydam. The store sells jewelry and contemporary art, all created by Suydam or her husband, award-winning sculptor Peter Diepenbrock.

Suydam is originally from New York City. After attending a couple of liberal arts colleges, she realized that her future lay in art. She enrolled at the Rhode Island School of Design where she began by majoring in sculpture. Suydam soon realized that she didn’t have the skills required for threedimensional art, so she moved to the light metals department where she found she enjoyed making small pieces while working with the human body as a site for her creations.

“Some of it was more traditional,” she said, “and other pieces were more about form and placement on the body.”

After graduating from RISD in 1985, Suydam went into business making jewelry that she sold to stores, boutiques and galleries. In 1999, the couple decided to move from their home in Providence. Following a thorough search through southern Rhode Island for the perfect place, they settled in Jamestown where they rented for a couple of years while building a home.

One crucial element that was missing for the two artists was studio space. One day while driving around Newport they noticed a recently renovated space on Bridge Street. The former body shop had three bays and high ceilings. It was just what the couple was looking for in a studio. At the same time the attractive front windows seemed to be perfect for a gallery as well.

In addition to their own work, the Newport gallery showed creations by other artists that the couple knew. The gallery did well, but after seven years Suydam and Diepenbrock began to feel constrained by aspects of the business side of the gallery. Diepenbrock decided he’d had enough of the retail world and built a studio of his own.

Just when Suydam was ready to give up on the gallery idea as well, she was convinced to open a new space on Bannister’s Wharf. She was there for three years until again feeling the strain resulting from long hours and a difficult economy. Just when she thought she was done with retail, Diepenbrock saw an old firehouse on Mill Street that seemed perfect for a gallery.

Business thrived at the new location, so much so that it started to be thought of as a temple of contemporary art in Rhode Island.

However, Suydam and Diepenbrock have always been more about art than commerce. Once again the business began to interfere with their work as artists. The artists retreated to their studio.

“People would come to our studio to see work, but there was part of me that missed that function of having the gallery,” Suydam said, realizing the two artists had a lot of work but nowhere to display and sell it. “I felt that Jamestown was a wonderful spot we lived in, and that it wasn’t crazy like Newport, which I was so sick of.”

Suydam saw the East Ferry storefront and right away knew it was perfect.

“I peered into that space and thought why not just be in our hometown,” she said.

Suydam approached Island Realty about the space, which had been vacant for quite awhile. The parties were able to agree on an arrangement that will allow Suydam and Diepenbrock to feel less pressure in terms of the business. In the short time the gallery has been opened, Suydam has been pleased with the response of the community.

“It’s been really wonderful,” she said. “We see friends and customers who we’ve been working with for years. Everyone is excited that we’re here. I’ve gotten some really positive responses and we’re selling some nice pieces. It’s just been great. I feel very refreshed.”

This time around the Didi Suydam Contemporary gallery is featuring only her work and that of Diepenbrock. Suydam’s jewelry is on display along with her digital photography.

Diepenbrock creates large sculptural pieces for commissions as well as pieces for himself that he can sell. Since his work is for the most part too large for the gallery to hold, visitors can see models of the public art that Diepenbrock has created, as well as smaller wall and standing pieces. He has already received a couple of commissions based on the work that people have seen in the gallery.

For Suydam, it was a trip to Rome while at RISD that not only inspired her jewelry work, but reawakened her interest in photography as well.

“It was frustrating that as a latent painter I hadn’t been able to actualize it. So when I began working with digital photography things began to happen, sometimes by mistake, and I began to feel really excited. I’ve explored and explored and come up with these different themes and scenarios using Photoshop. It’s just another side of my artistic self.”

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