From the beginning, the relationship between Norman Parish and his wife Gwen centered around a deep appreciation for talent and beauty, values that come to life in the Norman Parish Gallery’s 20th Anniversary exhibition, “Living Embodiments: Artistic Expressions of Being” which will run until July 12.
Norman met his wife, Gwen, 23 years ago after moving to D.C. from Chicago. They spent their weekends driving through the mountains of northwestern Maryland. They would park on the side of the highway where she would sunbathe and read while he painted landscapes, and together, they mused about the idea of opening an art gallery. One day, walking home after enjoying an oyster meal at Manhattan’s, the couple noticed an ad for the sale of a gallery.
Twenty years later, they celebrate not only the anniversary of their gallery’s opening, but also the talent and development of the family of artists who, Norman says, contributed work of consistent quality.
“My reference to quality is that the subject matter may not be to one’s liking, but the art works can truly be called fine art. The diversity of the artists shown over the years has one thing in common . . . quality,” said Norman in a press release.
The Parishes entertained a full house at the gallery’s opening reception for the exhibition on June 17. While exhibitions usually feature the work of one artist, in honor of the anniversary, Norman selected the work of a range of artists with whom he worked over the years and whose work he feels is “meaningful and impactful.” The works of master painters Herbert Gentry and Robert Mayhew were given recognition as well as upcoming artists Mason Archie and Morris Howard, pencil drawings by Kenneth Pasley, photos by 11 photographers and a piece by Sam Gilliam. Some are personal friends of Norman’s including Richard Hunt, a former classmate from the Art Institute of Chicago, and Evangeline J. Montgomery, who advised him while he was opening the gallery.
Collectively, the Parish Gallery features mostly, but not exclusively, artists from Africa and the African Diaspora whose art covers a broad spectrum of styles in contemporary fine art. In the past two decades, the gallery hosted artists from over 25 different countries.
Reflecting back on the life of the gallery, the Parishes remember a few exhibitions that were particularly notable. For both Norman and Gwen, Willard Wigan’s microscopic sculptures in his exhibition “Art in the Eye of a Needle” stood out, particularly for the notoriety and intriguing concept. During the two-month exhibition, 3,500 people visited the gallery to peer into microscopes to view the miniscule sculptures set in the eyes of needles.
Norman noted the development of Yvette Watson, an artist who he introduced to the gallery business. In her first show at the Parish Gallery, she sold 14 of the 16 pieces on display – one of the only sellout shows.
An oil painting by Parish himself also hangs among the work of his friends and colleagues, a brilliantly colored landscape that’s what he calls “expressionism in the form of stylized realism.” Despite his talent, Parish considers himself more of a businessman.
“I spent my life pursuing an art career and I was in my late forties when I realized it wasn’t happening. Someone said, ‘Why don’t you open a gallery?’ So I became a businessman,” he said.
Parish opened the gallery because few galleries consistently allowed diverse art in terms of style.
“My primary concern is that these artists have a place to be seen,” he said.