New gallery opens in Sisters


Last updated 8/23/2022 at Noon


Toriizaka Art is Sisters’ newest gallery.

The wait is over. After nearly a year, Toriizaka Art has opened at 222 W. Hood Ave. in the space formerly long occupied by Ken Scott’s Imagination Gallery.

The new gallery was rebuilt from the skeleton up — new floors, new walls, new windows, new roof, new plumbing, all-new electric, brand-new kitchenette, and a paint job inside and out. The renovated space is nothing of its former self.

The curator, Karen Thomas, has taken art in Sisters to a new height. She and her husband, Jack Bird, owners, have not only an expansive collection, but a sense of design and style that you’d expect in LA’s Art District or New York’s Soho.

Over 200 works are displayed on uncluttered walls.

“I wanted a wabi-sabi feel,” she said, as Bird quoted the essence of the words: “In traditional Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi is a worldview centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of appreciating beauty that is ‘imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete’ in nature. It is prevalent throughout all forms of Japanese art. It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence, specifically impermanence, suffering, and emptiness or absence of self-nature.”

At Toriizaka, visitors are greeted first by the energetic and knowledgeable Thomas, and then by a range of contemporary Asian art not at all what one typically imagines.

The works are large, many framed. One triptych measures 51 inches by 102 inches, and is the most expensive piece in the gallery. Prices range from $450 to $25,000. Eight paintings are marked at $12,500, one at $16,500 and dozens in the low to mid $4,000s.

This is serious art from noted artists, mostly from Vietnam, and several from Japan. In the late 19th and early 20th century, Vietnam was a French colony, and the European rule had great effect on the artistic production in the Asian country, specifically through the École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine, founded in 1925. Now the Vietnam University of Fine Art, the school left a lasting impression that was picked up by many masters of Vietnamese modern and contemporary art.

Thomas and Bird now reside permanently in Black Butte Ranch, following years of seasonal residency. They lived in Japan from 1992 to 2018 and opened a salon-style gallery in Tokyo in 2006. Thomas has no formal art or design training, acquiring a passion for art simply by seeing it and feeling it that drives her to this day.

They have four adult children spread across the country. Travel was a major component of their lives, giving them the opportunity to experience and collect art, adding a following of collectors.

“Most of our patrons come to us by word of mouth and many have become lifelong friends. Art displayed on their walls and in the various collections we’ve curated has fueled interest in our gallery and our sales have been to collectors around the world,” Thomas said.

Among her accomplishments, Thomas has curated hundreds of pieces of art for leading Japan hotels like the Hilton and the 950-room InterContinental.

The 5,600-square-foot space is divided, with Toriizaka using 4,100 and Sisters Gallery & Frame Shop leasing the remainder. Paulina Springs Books is expanding into the space previously occupied by Sisters Gallery & Frame.

The museum-level gallery lacks nothing in state of the art design. The picture rails all but disappear into the ceiling. The wall colors are subtle backdrops for the art, which is generally vibrant in color and rich in texture. There are also scattered sculptures in wood or bronze, accents primarily to the paintings. Lighting is remarkably technical.

The gallery is divided into 14 vignettes (salons), none of which is crowded. Viewing benches on oriental rugs are strategically positioned for study or simply to gaze in wonder.

Toriizaka imagines musical events enhancing its tranquil setting. Thomas envisions string quartets or small chamber ensembles adding to the ambience, but any number of genres could enrich the setting.

Thomas and Bird hope teachers will bring entire classes to the gallery for field trips, where they can browse, study, or have workshops. Most of the salons can hold 30 to 40 comfortably. Likewise, the gallery can be made available for charitable fundraisers.

Hours are Wednesday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment. Winter hours will be adjusted to allow Thomas time for travel to make new acquisitions.


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