Gallery Profile: Korongo Gallery, Randolph
When he first moved to Vermont three years ago, Patrick Texier could be found most days directing traffic on the runway at Burlington International Airport. “I was the guy with the red sticks,” he says with obvious delight, in a French accent. These days the 66-year-old inhabits a vastly different environment: the sunny little gallery he and his wife, Sara Tucker, just opened in downtown Randolph.
Drastic career changes are nothing new for Texier. Over the years he’s done everything from guiding safaris in Tanzania to leasing rental cars in New Jersey. “I’ve done all the jobs in the world,” he boasts. But one thing has remained constant for Texier: his love of art.
“I wanted to go to art school, but my father wanted me to be an engineer,” he says. He never did get to art school, but he has been painting and illustrating through every phase of his life.
At the Korongo Gallery on a recent afternoon, Texier appears still to be dressed for the airport tarmac. His fire-engine-red overalls are bright enough to signal incoming planes. When asked about the pants, he proudly shows off every pocket, while his wife explains that he returned from a recent trip to France with a suitcase full of overalls, each in a different color. Texier calls them his “gallery uniform.”
The gallery is small but light, thanks to a huge storefront window. The long-vacant building was last used as an office, says Tucker. Now, the walls are hung with Randolph artist Laurie Sverdlove Goldman’s paintings: reinterpretations of photographs from World War I depicting battlefield explosions and trekking soldiers.
Texier and Tucker, 56, didn’t have a plan when they moved to Randolph, her hometown, in 2007. They had been living in New Jersey when Tucker, a copy editor for Condé Nasts Traveler magazine, realized her mother needed live-in care. So they dropped everything and moved in with her.
The couple got involved in the community right away. Tucker and her mom began a memoir-writing workshop at the local senior center. Participants became known as the Hale Street Gang, a group of elders whose stories and black-and-white portraits by photographer Jack Rowell have been exhibited around the state since last summer. Texier provided illustrations for the group’s blog.
After 18 months at the airport, Texier and his entire crew were laid off. He began looking for other jobs and, simultaneously, for studio space. That’s when he happened on the storefront on Merchants Row. It was too big for a studio, but just right for a small gallery.
“He kind of surprised me when he said, ‘I want to open a gallery,’” says Tucker, but when she thought about it, the plan seemed perfect for both of them. Texier has a small printing business that he can run from the gallery, and Tucker can hold writing workshops and other events in the space. She attributes her husband’s vision in part to his “outsider” perspective. “When you come from somewhere else, you see things with different eyes,” she says.
Texier certainly sees things differently. “The idea is to turn this part of town into the East Village of Randolph,” he says with a smirk, though the notion isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. A new tapas restaurant just opened across the street, and a distinctly urban gourmet-food boutique occupies the building next door. “It looks like a little, sleepy town, but they’re ready to wake up anytime,” Texier says.
Korongo, which means “ditch” or “gully” in Swahili, was Texier’s nickname when he worked as a safari guide. He had a reputation for taking people off the beaten track, pushing the limits of his vehicle when he drove it over ravines. “It was kind of a back-handed compliment,” says Tucker.
If he brings a Frenchman’s perspective, Tucker has the invaluable status of the hometown girl. “Everybody knows her,” Texier says. Tucker wants Korongo to be a gathering place. In addition to openings and artist talks, she’s thinking of wordier events. Inspired by the cowboy-poet phenomenon out west, Tucker wants to start a farm-related literary evening in which farmers who write — and writers who farm — can share their work.
“We’re serious about art, but we also want to have fun with it,” says Tucker. “I think it’s important that we keep surprising people.”
For his part, Texier is interested in art that “shakes people up.” The next show, by Phil Godenschwager, will feature the Randolph artist’s stained-glass work and cartoons.
Texier says he’s interested in “John Deere art and Budweiser art.”
“You mean the tractors?” Tucker asks.
No, her husband explains, the art that’s appealing to farmers and other working people. “If you don’t want them to fall asleep, you have to make them laugh,” he says.
Tucker points out that nothing in the currently war-themed gallery will make people laugh.
“Except me,” offers Texier dryly. And he’s right. Half the fun of visiting Korongo is stealing a moment with Tucker and the Frenchman in red overalls.