Art in the Village Keeps the Vibe Local and Lively in Warren | Visual Art | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Art in the Village Keeps the Vibe Local and Lively in Warren

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Published August 24, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.


Art in the Village - PAMELA POLSTON ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Pamela Polston ©️ Seven Days
  • Art in the Village

Color greets you like an enthusiastic hugger at Art in the Village. Red and fuchsia impatiens border the lemon yellow front door, tiny heralds of what's to come. Inside the shop, a profusion of artworks in all mediums and hues kaleidoscopes your attention. In the middle of it all, proprietor Rita Ioannidis welcomes visitors with a captivating smile and a vibe that is equal parts hostess, BFF and sparkler.

Art in the Village is in Warren, just across a gravel parking lot from the renowned Warren Store. Ioannidis opened her gallery four years ago; last December, she and friends Diane Dolliver and Carol Dallas purchased her building along with the one next to it. Her 200-year-old building had previous incarnations as a horse barn, post office and another gallery. The adjacent structure was home to owner Virginia Roth's real estate office for half a century; it now houses Someday Boutique, an upscale resale clothing store owned by Lisa Reisner, and Forage and Finery, where Sasha Walsh and Sasha Lyons sell artisan jewelry and lifestyle goods.

The transformation, not only in color but in energy, is palpable.

"They add, certainly, some more critical mass in the village," Jack Garvin, longtime former manager of the Warren Store, says. "Rita and Lisa both have great taste — [their shops] are very well curated, and the customer service is great. They bring the total package."

Rita Ioannidis - PAMELA POLSTON ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Pamela Polston ©️ Seven Days
  • Rita Ioannidis

Ioannidis says she bought the property "to save the village." She's referring to her desire to keep Warren, well, village-y and off-limits to potential developers.

"I feel like she saved us, in a way," Reisner says. "Ginny [Roth] wanted to sell the buildings. Who knows what might have happened?"

Reisner, who worked for several years at the Warren Store and briefly owned a small boutique in Burlington, took another chance on retail when the current space became available. Since then, she says, Ioannidis has been not just her landlady but also a good friend, cheerleader and frequent shopper — not to mention consignor.

"Rita was the first to unload her closets — we started with hers and mine," Reisner recounts. "Her clothes were the first to go. I think people were looking for something fun; they were sick of wearing sweatpants at home during the [COVID-19] shutdown."

Ioannidis readily admits she adores fashion — the more vibrant, the better. For her, color is a talisman that wards off depression. On the day of Seven Days' visit, the gallerist is a vision in red: cropped cardigan, ankle-length leather skirt, pointy-toe mules with kitten heels. Her blond hair is piled in a loose updo reminiscent of Brigitte Bardot at the beach. Her stylish, large-framed glasses fail to disguise a mischievous look.

If Ioannidis is up to something, it's living her best life. And that's saying something about a life that includes two marriages, four sons, running a dozen highly successful shoe stores in Canada with her first husband — one claim to fame: outfitting Kiss with their vertiginous platform boots — and living all over the world with her second.

After hubby No. 2 departed eight years ago, Ioannidis says, she put city life behind her and returned to Warren, where the couple had purchased a second home years before. Now, she lives just down the street from her gallery. "This is my favorite place," she exclaims. "I adore this town!"

Ioannidis infuses Art in the Village with exuberance, utterly dismissing the notion of the cool white cube. Her inventory embraces abstract paintings, chain-saw-carved bears, watercolor landscapes, ski photography, eccentric clay sculptures and much more. Somehow, the hodgepodge is more family reunion than competition.

"It's supposed to feel like a fun gallery, a very happy place," Ioannidis says. It does. Her assistant, a black-and-white Havanese named Benjy, seems confident that earnest wagging compensates for his limited palette.

Art in the Village also represents a personal triumph for Ioannidis: "Now, in my sixties, I'm finally getting a chance to be me," she says, "and I can show the world I can take care of myself."

Maybe the whole world isn't beating down the doors, but Ioannidis says the gallery attracts both tourists and residents in the Mad River Valley, and she's grown her stable of Vermont artists to more than 40. At Someday Boutique, Reisner confirms that their collective customer base has been growing steadily, "especially over the past six months from locals." Maybe it helps that her shutters and door are hot pink.

Art in the Village - PAMELA POLSTON ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Pamela Polston ©️ Seven Days
  • Art in the Village

Garvin appreciates that the cluster of businesses in the center of town is still woman-owned. "It's very exciting," he says. "Ginny Roth owned the buildings for a number of years — she was one of the great matriarchs of Warren. It's a nice stepping-stone to continue that tradition."

For Ioannidis — who says she learned about selling through her shoe store experience — promoting artwork seems less transactional than life-affirming. "I teach people, 'You don't have to get art to match your furniture!'" she says. But if she delights in nudging circumspect customers out of their comfort zone, Ioannidis says her biggest thrill is "calling an artist and telling them that I sold a work. They get so happy!

"I love all my artists," she adds. "They're wonderful people."

She might include herself in that accolade. Ioannidis had no formal training in art, but in recent years she's found a creative outlet in making what she calls "pop art." Samples of her acrylic works, reproduced as greeting cards, fill a rack in the back of the shop. The whimsical images include a horse with a very long mane, a one-eyed girl with a hood of red-striped hair and the profile of a nearly nude woman, seen from the back, who's beginning to inch down her red panties. That last one, titled "Cheeky," sells well, Ioannidis says with a laugh, noting that its inspiration was the classic ad for Coppertone sunscreen. Not surprisingly, all of her works feature vivid color.

On the second floor of Art in the Village, Ioannidis has fashioned a small studio for herself to make art in spare moments. One of her sons, outdoor photographer Nickie Ioannidis, has a studio right next to hers.

"I'll be walking up the stairs to paint when I'm 90!" she vows. "Now, art is my entire life."

The original print version of this article was headlined "Color Theory"

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