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New gallery unites community around art

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RONAN – Nicole Tavenner spent last winter gazing at the vacant building across the street from her desk job, dreaming of the storefront filled with a bustle of art and performance.  

Last month, Tavenner’s plans became a reality when she opened the Grey Leaf Gallery on Main Street. Her plans for the space were to host art of all kinds, made by people from all over the region. The gallery has already re-invigorated artistic pursuits in the valley and will support new endeavors as well. 

“We’re all hungry for more art,” she said. “There’s so much talent in this area and the gallery gives artists a chance to share something or support other artists in their projects.” 

Local photographer David Spear has worked with Tavenner for years.  He said if anyone is going to bring people together over the arts, it’s Tavenner. 

“Nicole has a real instinct to be able to bring different things together,” Spear said. “She’s good at reaching out to different people who are engaged in art.”

Spear said a new gallery in the Mission Valley is “even more vital” than before since two galleries in the area have closed in recent months. The space will provide something different, focused on selling local work. At the Grey Leaf, sales of work won’t determine what gets shown, so a broader diversity of art will be on display.

Tavenner said it was “easy” to choose the spot for the gallery. The historic building once held a gallery. Much of the necessary infrastructure for Grey Leaf Gallery was already in place. Tavenner admired the aesthetics of the historic building. “It really glows at night,” she said. 

The space won’t just host art. Comedy, community forums and discussions will also be welcome in the space: “Whatever people need to explore, especially in those dark winter months,” she said. 

This isn’t Tavenner’s first experience owning a gallery. A decade ago she ran a gallery in Polson with the same name. The former Grey Leaf Gallery served as a place for photographers and students to collaborate and display their work. Tavenner said the same community spirit is at the heart of the new gallery.

Tavenner has worked as a professional photographer for years. After working all over the country, she returned to her home state of Montana. She’ll continue to make photographs, using part of the gallery as a studio for taking commercial portraits and product photos.  

Tavenner will use her artistic eye to curate compelling exhibits in the gallery. 

“I found her to be an interesting photo curator,” Spear said. Tavenner curated shows of Spear’s work in her former gallery, and he was pleased with the way they came out. “She’s got an insight that’s really strong,” he said. 

The gallery has already hosted popular events. The Black Satin Revue, a vaudeville burlesque dance group, has reunited after a hiatus and performed a sold-out show at the gallery. The group had performed in the area for ten years but took a number of years off. The dance group reconvened after Tavenner offered the gallery as a performance space. At their first performance in the gallery the group got a standing ovation. They are already rehearsing for a holiday performance that will be held at the gallery. Pop Up Film Festival shorts have shown in the space as well. The project is often called PUFF. Organizers are planning to hold another film festival at Grey Leaf in November.   

Tavenner sees the space as part of a broader movement toward revitalizing Ronan’s downtown. The gallery shares a building with the space where Ronan Cooperative Brewery will open in the spring. Tavenner hopes the spaces will become a hub for art, beer and community. She plans to collaborate with the brewery for community events. 

Tavenner also sees adding a performance space and gallery to town as a way to keep local art in the area.

“I want to bring activity and energy and creativity back to Main Street so people don’t have to travel to more urban areas to try to find art and performance,” she said. “We can find just as many wonderful local artists and outside inspiration just in our backyard.”

Spear thinks the gallery could draw tourists to Ronan as they pass through the Mission Valley. In addition to being a photographer, Spear teaches photography at Two Eagle River School. His students plan to show work at the gallery in the future. Spear said having opportunities to show work at galleries in the community helps his students grow as artists. 

In the coming months, Tavenner hopes to hold artists’ lectures and photography exhibits in the gallery. She also hosts events organized by the Lake County Community Development Corporation. She is planning a “show of thanks” with live music, dance and comedy in late November. Future events at the gallery will be posted on the gallery’s Facebook and Instagram pages. Notices about events will also be printed in the Valley Journal.

After years of imagining, Tavenner’s vision for a community arts hub in Ronan is coming together. “It really is a dream come true,” she said. 




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