After seven years working as Chautauqua Institution’s digital communications manager, artist Leslie Calimeri opened her own gallery in Lakewood last winter.
In addition to Calimeri’s own work, the Chautauqua Art Gallery, at 104 Chautauqua Avenue in Lakewood, houses photography, jewelry and knitwear from other local artists.
“They’re all people that have a passion for creating well-crafted, high-quality pieces,” Calimeri said. “And I think it’s all affordable in here. We try to keep that so anybody who wants artwork can come in here and find something they could take home with them.”
Calimeri grew up in Cassadaga, a village northeast of Chautauqua Lake. After attending college in Rochester and working in northern Virginia for six years, she returned to Chautauqua County to work at the Institution.
“I think sometimes when you’re raised in Chautauqua County, you have to leave to appreciate what you had,” Calimeri said. “You don’t realize how nice it is here until you go to a couple of other places. … I was really happy to come back, get a job and stay here.”
Last winter “seemed like the right time, personally,” to open her own gallery, Calimeri said. She now shares a building with her father, who operates a wine-making and home-brewing shop next door.
Calimeri does commission work, primarily of people’s houses and their dogs. She also paints landscapes, which are available in her gallery.
“I don’t think I liked anything I painted until years after I was actually in college,” Calimeri said. “So I didn’t leave art school going, ‘Okay, it’s clicked, I know exactly what I want to do,’ but I think I’ve gotten around to that point in my life.”
Calimeri described her creative process while creating landscapes as “hands-on.” Calimeri typically drives around the area searching for scenes she can photograph and then paint, or plans specific destinations to visit beforehand.
“I want to show people the beauty of the area we live in, and oftentimes a lot of places we take for granted.”
-Leslie Calimeri, Owner, Chautauqua Art Gallery
“Some things that might seem more mundane that we see every day, I like to stop and highlight them and say, ‘Hey, this deserves your attention. This is important. It affects the way we live our lives on a day-to-day basis,” Calimeri said.
What has struck Calimeri the most after leaving and returning to Chautauqua County, she said, is the presence of water in the area — something she didn’t realize she would miss while living in northern Virginia after college.
“We’ve got Lake Erie, there’s Chautauqua Lake,” Calimeri said, then pointed out that her hometown of Cassadaga also has a lake, along with lots of creeks. Even though her family didn’t live right on a lake or have a boat, she realized water was “a big part” of her life — something reflected in Calimeri’s paintings.
“The reason I wanted to be here was to showcase my artwork,” Calimeri said. “But I’m also fortunate to put a couple other people in here, work that I think coordinates well with mine and artists that I admire and that I think are doing some creative work, too.”
While Calimeri does miss aspects of her job at the Institution, specifically the people, she said opening Chautauqua Art Gallery has been “a fun experiment,” and that it’s given her “more time to create, more time to spend with family and take things in my own direction.”
“I think being able to feel creative in any job you have is important,” Calimeri said.