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The Wall

Southport Galleries & The Transformative Power of Art

Sissy has long helped people improve the aesthetic quality of their lives. The petite blonde with the big smile is a lifestyle host who’s made frequent appearances on television shows, including Today. But she’s also recognized because she’s a local girl. “People in Fairfield know me because I went to Roger Ludlowe High School class of blank,” she chuckles. She says her gallery has a family-friendly Fairfield vibe. “We really have deep local roots and I think that helped establish the credibility and the open-door feeling. I don’t think anybody comes in here and doesn’t feel completely at home.” The gallery is co-owned by Sissy’s husband, Kelsey, and when they decided to take on the historic preservation project of giving the old hardware store a new life, they called upon their art grad daughter Sarah to help. The man who established the collection, the gallery’s curator, is Fairfield University art history professor Philip Eliasoph. And its managing director is Sissy’s sister-in-law, Jennifer Cargill, who points out the prices are “friendly” too. “You can buy a beautiful piece of art for $500.” Or substantially more. “The comfort zone,” says Jennifer, “is somewhere between $1,000 and $3,000.”

Like the doctor in a small village with a local barbershop, Jennifer’s job includes making “house calls.” She’ll visit a home to get a sense of a family’s décor and then bring paintings into the home, hanging them in different spaces and in different light. Describing a recent two-week-long project, Jennifer says she brought thirty paintings to a man’s home to see what would fit. He wound up taking seven pieces. “We re-arranged some of his existing art to accommodate the new art.” Sissy points out that once a piece speaks to someone, a place can always be found. “There’s always room for art,” she says, “if you really love it.”

Then there are the clients who have never owned artwork, the ones Sissy says are “ready to shed their framed posters” and invest in a canvas or a piece of photography. “It’s really exciting to watch the process of their making that decision and helping them decide.”

At Southport Galleries, clients can chose among an array of art genres. “We’re not your typical marine art type of gallery, where you’re going to find only very traditional New England representational art,” Jennifer says. They display all disciplines, everything, she says, from photo realism “all the way to abstract contemporary.”

To walk up to the gallery’s vast attic—where scores of additional pieces are stored—is to drink in that diversity. The upstairs is filled with the works of modern masters and local favorites. On display downstairs this spring: the gallery’s newest artist, Stephanie Danforth of Martha’s Vineyard. The proceeds from her gold-embellished, whimsical paintings of fruit all go to the children of Kenya. Alex Churchill, a young muralist who painted the extraordinarily vivid still life Ball Jar with Mandarins, is also being showcased this year. Gracing the gallery as well, abstract painter Kim Romero, whose work, says Sissy, has already “filled many walls for young collectors designing new homes.”  

It’s easy to find new talent, with curator Eliasoph constantly combing the art shows, auctions and art-scene parties. The artists, says Sissy, “want to be on that wall.” And Southport Galleries, to coin a phrase, wants them on that wall. Their clients—whether seasoned art aficionados or families taking a break from errands to browse—can make a purchase that’s more than ephemeral, that not only beautifies a home, but also can become an heirloom.

Sissy concludes, “I think art matters. It elevates an existence. It creates a great culture at home for a family, and it’s a culture that will go on to the next generation.” And with a wink to the fathers and sons awaiting their turns in the barber chairs, she adds, “I think it’s a wonderful gift to give your family. It’s with you forever.”

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