Basement gallery spotlights artists of color

If you missed the fourth annual Dorchester Open Studios because of the lousy weather, "honeydew" chores, or sheer laziness, you're not off the hook yet! You can still view the works of local professional artists virtually anytime thanks to the vision and diligence of Dorchester artist and former New York advertising art director Laurence Martin Pierce. He has converted the basement of his 21 Oldfields Road home into the AfricanWinter Gallery, which opened in March of this year.

Pierce and his brother Mike spent the summer of 2004 transforming 220 square feet of cellar space into three rooms packed with a collection of art that's regularly rotated with an eye to what will sell. Prices range from $300 to $7,000, though Pierce has a "coloring-book" portfolio that appeals to adults as well as kids for just a few bucks. His demographic survey shows that his typical target customer is a professional woman of color between the ages of 30 and 40 with at least a year or two of college.

Located a half-mile from Franklin Park, on a quiet dead end street off Columbia Road, the AfricanWinter Gallery has a name that alludes to Pierce's environmental concerns like global warming and the disappearance of the rain forests.

The AfricanWinter grew out of another failed gallery and a self-improvement course. Pierce was part of the short-lived Gallery G in Dudley Square which collapsed from clashing personalities in the fall of 2003, but which won praise from neighbors for bringing "class" and "culture" into the community.

Pierce determined to resurrect in Dorchester what failed in Roxbury.

"When Gallery G came apart, I thought I'd get the best artists I've worked with during the past 15 years in one place without egos getting in the way."

The native New Yorker moved to Dorchester in 1989 and enrolled in a 20-week entrepreneurial training program with Jewish Vocational Services under Michael Olfe. Program graduates are expected to open their own small business, and the AfricanWinter Gallery is Pierce's "thesis project."

In addition to himself, Pierce represents and shows Ifé Franklin, Leon Robinson, J.R. Guzmán, Ralph Beach, Robert Murrell, Richard Waters, John Barbour, Sr., and Rebeca del Valle Broussard. Almost of all of these are long-established artists of color in their late 40s and 50s who live in Dorchester. Among all the portraits of prominent black figures like Martin Luther King and Allan Crite, the puddly landscapes of Iceland by Cambridge artist Broussard are not the only surprises to be found in the collection. Pierce's part-Cherokee blood manifests itself in Native American themes also varying a little the overall Afro-centric thrust of the gallery.

The current show encompasses everything from acrylics on leather and oils on canvas to pastels on paper, inkjet photo collages, and a variety of mixed media constructions.

Pierce has plenty of ideas on how to share his knowledge about art and art sales with the community. In addition to having participated in both the Dorchester and Roxbury Open Studios, he plans to attract visitors to his out-of-the-way space by hosting poetry reading and small jazz-combo sessions at the gallery. He's hoping to get art classes for kids started at the Catholic Charities Yawkey Community Center that scheduled to open in his Columbia Road neighborhood in the coming months.

Despite all the construction he and Mike did down in the basement, Pierce is a savvy enough entrepreneur to be keeping an eye open for a Dorchester main street storefront where he can bring all these oils, acrylics, and collages up from the underground and out where more people will see and buy them. His motto: "I want to see everyone make it."

You can visit the AfricanWinter Gallery on the first weekend of most months (October- June) from 11 am to 6 pm or seven days a week by appointment. Call 617-427-2386. Log on africanwintergallery.com.