These towns and getaways cater to the arts and those who shop for them.
CHOCKABLOCK WITH ART SCHOOLS, MUSEUMS, GALLERIES AND antiques shops, New England is blessed with abundant culture. Aficionados, collectors, amateurs and budding artists flock here year-round in search of the gallery or shop that will induce that wonderful feeling: This must be mine. Most times, the search is just as much fun as the find.
New England is home to dozens of towns throughout the states with thriving art communities and clusters of shops and galleries, making each journey a guaranteed shopping success. Here are a few of our favorites.
Perched on the edge of Maine’s picturesque Kennebec River, Hallowell is a well-preserved trove of local artifacts. Journey through centuries, decades and regions by browsing through shops along Water Street, which runs beside the rushing river. At Kennebec River Artisans (207-623-2345, kennebecriverartisans.com), contemporary and traditional designers display crafts such as sea-green pottery imprinted with dragonflies, proving the town’s artistic energy flows along this strip.
One block off bustling Water Street, hidden doorways beckon, such as the entrance to Josiah Smith Antiques (207-622-4188), where Asian pottery and British porcelain from the 18th and 19th centuries line the shop’s walls. For fine art, the Harlow Gallery (207-622-3813, harlowgallery.org) always carries a strong collection of local works. Home of the Kennebec Valley Art Association, the simple storefront is filled with paintings and sculptures from Maine artists. The gallery hosts plenty of public events, such as poetry readings, performances and artist receptions.
PETERBOROUGH, NEW HAMPSHIRE
This pastoral village near the state’s southern border lights up every season, especially during the fall when autumnal colors frame the Town House steeple and cover the area in fallen foliage. But it’s the colors inside the Sharon Arts Center (603-924-7676, sharonarts.org) that bring the area’s most vibrant art scene front and center. Located in the middle of town, this 60-year-old school, gallery and program center has infused education and beauty into the community. Inside the store, shoppers find furniture, weavings and paintings from local artisans as well as supplies to support their own talents, while the center’s two galleries feature rotating exhibits from regional, national and juried artists.
Over at Red Chair Antiques (603-924-5953), owner Jocie Sinauer seeks out a variety of European country-style pieces, such as old farmhouse tables, antique glass bottles and chairs. She also carries antique textiles such as linens, sheets and even buttons—giving the store a warm feeling of cluttered comfort.
One of the greatest art communities in New England, P-town, as it’s lovingly called, attracts artists, bohemians, vacationers and beach lovers who all coexist in this vibrant but relaxed Cape setting. Painters especially have long been attracted to the town’s remote locale and its outlying protected sand dunes. Packed along bustling Commercial Street, dozens of galleries and shops are within walking distance, bringing artist and buyer together.
While almost every shop in town boasts a special selection, the finds at Roots Home & Garden (508-487-2500, shoproots.com) are hand-selected and distinctive. Heavy on home decor, the shop shows off accessories like pitchers, hand-painted furniture, Persian rugs, vases, candles, mirrors, picture frames and lamps, as well as garden fountains and fixtures.
Handiwork from local artists is easy to come by all over town, but the owners of Kiley Court Gallery (508-487-4496, kileycourtgallery.com) generate an especially solid selection of paintings—mostly done in oil—which highlight the area’s colorful vistas and personalities.
PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND
Home to the region’s most prestigious art school, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Providence draws a young and quirky set of students every year. But while coeds shuffle on and off campus each semester, the Museum of Art, RISD (401-454-6500, risd.edu) houses more than 80,000 permanent works and acts as a foundation for up-and-coming and established artists. The museum’s 45 galleries are filled with Greek and Roman sculpture, French Impressionist paintings (including works by Monet, Cézanne and Matisse) and Chinese stone, as well as textiles and ceramics. A highlight is the Daphne Farago wing, reserved for modern art and traveling displays. A recent donation from David Rockefeller helped the museum renovate and restore the sixth-floor Asian gallery, filled with many items donated by Rockefeller’s mother.
Just off campus, the city teems with smaller galleries and shops that gather well-kept antiques. For classic pieces, Stanley Weiss Collection (888-884-5336, stanleyweiss.com) carries refurbished items like Queen Anne mahogany basin stands, Chippendale-style dumbwaiters, and intricately embellished mirrors, as well as a broad range of estate jewelry.
On the other hand, CAV (401-751-9164, cavrestaurant.com) feeds from the same youthful energy found on campus. Inside a loft space in the city’s jewelry district, the shop (whose initials stand for ‘cocktails, antiques and victuals’) is attached to a funky fusion restaurant where the art on the walls, such as African masks and Asian ceremonial art, are for sale. Live music plays on Friday and Saturday nights, bringing the entire neighborhood to life.