Bill and Francie AnneRiley have wanted to open a gallery for some time.
ADAMS, Mass. — William "Bill" Riley has spent most of his career creating visually arresting scenery for theater productions.
Now his backdrop is a spare white space, the better to accentuate his own works of art and those of other local artists.
"I started studying art kind of seriously when I was 16," Riley said during the buzz of conversation at Saturday's opening reception for Real Eyes Gallery. "Eventually, in order to make a living, I became a scenic artist in the theater industry."
But Riley said he wanted to do more than express other people's broader visions.
"I wanted to express my own vision and do it in a way that I'm in complete control," he said. "I always thought this was the way to go."
Real Eyes Gallery is the culmination of a long-held vision by Riley. The storefront windows that once were filled with dining room tables and couches that his mother sold now invite passersby in to peruse an eclectic mix of media.
The name is a play on words and expression. "Real eyes" as opposed to so-called "fake news."
"It's sort of seeking truth, to look with your real eyes ... really look deep into something," Riley said. There's also the idea that as people say the name, they will "realize" there's something new and interesting and possibly profound within their community.
"I'm lucky to have a place so big I could include other people, include other artists and bring in our community," Riley said. "That's what they need to feel — part of the community."
Riley's parents bought Simmons Furniture in the 1970s but the business had been around since the 1870s and had been at the 71 Park St. location since 1902. The business was successful and even expanded but the entire operation closed in 2013 and Riley, who works largely in New York City, bought the building with his wife, Francie Anne.
They've made a home in the 15,000 square-foot structure that was once, suitably, a theater. The gallery has been under construction for at least a couple years.
Riley said he was inspired after reading one of artist and developer Eric Rudd's books. Rudd, who's responsible for the Eclipse Mill artists lofts and the Beaver Street mill studio and residential complex, has written about strategies for art, real estate and community development.
This was before the success of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, he said.
"Back in that time before, you never imagined that would happen to North Adams and so when I got the point where I had a vision that I would like to have a big space and to have a big studio," Riley said, "the thought was to go the Eclipse Mill." But when they were at the point to do something, the furniture store became available. "So it all lined up coming to the Berkshires."
On Saturday, several of the Board of Selectmen were on hand with a bright red ribbon to celebrate the gallery's opening.
"I'd like to welcome Real Eyes to the town," new Selectman James Bush said. "I think it's a great asset. We need more people willing to open up businesses in the town of Adams. I hope this is the beginning of a great future for our town."
Francie AnneRiley made clear that this was a business. "It's not a museum gallery or a museum," she laughed. "It's an art gallery. There's no admission — this is a store."
Her husband said he's heard the lament that "the last thing we need is another gallery." "But on the other hand, from the point of view of someone's who's interested in cultural tourism," he said, "I think that you can't have enough."
The gallery was filled on Saturday with dozens of people, including a large contingent from the local arts community. Riley joked he wasn't sure what PR they'd done to get this many people.
Francie Anne, he said, "thought this area is really hungry for this kind of thing."
Real Eyes is open weekends, Friday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
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