Kantor Kellett is moving her studio from the Queens, NY, neighborhood of Long Island City to downtown Wilmington, a town where she and her husband have owned a second home for nearly 20 years. Wilmington has become a place where she finds peace and sees herself and her husband retiring to. When the gallery space in Carolyn Palmer’s building became available, she saw an opportunity to add something to the town.
The Kantor Kellett Gallery at 7 North Main Street will be hosting a grand opening reception aturday from 3 to 6 pm, and will feature her own body of work, as well as that of Wilmington resident Elie Roden, and Fiona Westphal’s hanging sculptures and stone work. In her gallery’s new home, Kantor Kellett is planning to curate shows for artists from New York and beyond, and provide a place of understanding through art and education.
The development of Kantor Kellett as a professional artist and curator came late in life, the culmination of decades of viewing both the fast-paced life of business, and a knowledge of what both tragedy and survival are. These experiences have all been up close and personal and have often mixed. She was raised by parents who survived the Holocaust, and she learned from an early age that surviving the war years did not mean the end of the survival instinct.
In her professional life she would wear many hats, working for major credit card companies in branding and marketing, as well as in publishing and media. When she saw tragedy strike the United States on 9/11, a country she said always seemed so safe, she decided she needed to do something to help others, and joined the Business Council for Peace. She ended up leading three missions to Rwanda, helping Rwandan genocide survivors create a business through knitting. “When I met these women, these genocide survivors from Rwanda, it was like meeting my own family, because when you have no family, other survivors become your family,” said Kantor Kellett.
In the same time period, Kantor Kellett quit her job at Citibank, and enrolled at the National Academy of Art where she received a diploma, and a fellowship for sculpting. As a part of Holocaust Remembrance Day her collection of pieces called “Surviving Surviving” was put on display at the school. “I grew up experiencing the question what do you do after you survive? And I watched my mother go through it, and she had to survive, and she also had to remember. I was born to Holocaust survivors, I grew up with all the war stories, and that’s where my art comes from.”
Using her experiences as her inspiration, Kantor Kellett has found multiple ways to express what she has seen, heard, and felt. While her photographs of Rwandan refugees showcase a straightforward and captivating approach, paintings on another wall are of her backyard in Vermont. They are both there for people to reflect on and interpret as part of the human condition. “It’s all stories,” said Kantor Kellett. “We all have different stories and they’re all important, and they all need to be heard. Art is a way of letting people look and reflect, and hopefully they see something they want to live with, but I’m not creating a product. It’s about educating and telling the story. It’s about what’s important, the simple things, because growing up, that’s what my family would point out. ‘Look at the clouds, and take it in because it’s precious,’ and a lot of people aren’t grateful for what they have.”
While she says she likes New York City for its diversity, and the sense of safety that large crowds provide, she has taken a liking to Wilmington, and believes it’s important to bring people to see this place she has started to call home. “There’s so much opportunity to work with the community and bring more people in. From the view of a longtime second-home owner who came here originally because of Mount Snow, I think Wilmington right now has an opportunity to develop more as a destination, and I think art is very important in that. We feel comfortable here, with the people here, and that’s what it comes down to.”