One might equate walking into Gallery Raffael from the rainy streets with stepping into a warm summer’s day and being greeted by a melange of colors and textures, each artwork saying “Come in and forget that you are in New Haven.”
In fact the Group W Bench and Gallery Raffael, its sister store, both on Chapel Street, are very much a part of New Haven. The Group W Bench was founded in 1968 by its owner, local artist Raffael DiLauro. The Gallery Raffael was founded six years ago by Dilauro — also an avid collector — whose grandfather founded the Columbus Auto Body Works, Inc., in 1928.
The collection’s origins range from Gabon to Morocco, China to Bali, store manager Aimee Nichio said. The store also has local pieces of art, such as a small collection of engravings by Emerson Tuttle, the first master of Davenport College.
Probably the most striking element of the Gallery Raffael is its contrast to its neighbor, Group W Bench. While the Gallery Raffael primarily features high-priced, more traditional artworks, Group W Bench is definitely more mass-market with glass pipes, beaded necklaces, and a large collection of incense. The atmosphere is much more suited to the 1960s hippie than the visiting suburban parent.
DiLauro himself is a striking man with a long beard. When speaking about art, Dilauro spoke of the role of whimsy and lightheartedness.
“For me, it’s very humorous,” he said. “Need a bit of that in the art world.”
DiLauro said that some of the art work in the Gallery Raffael was formerly a part of his private collection. While he said it was difficult to part with the works, this passion is ingrained in him.
“I think you’re just born a collector,” DiLauro said.
He said hopes that others realize the value in collecting art. In fact, DiLauro has visibly shared his love for collecting with his employees.
“I love coming to work everyday,” said Nichio, who has managed the store for two years. “Most people can’t say that, so I feel very fortunate.”
DiLauro said art collecting has importance as a legitimate business activity as well as a fun hobby. He said art holds value in both good and bad economic times and has the advantage of giving aesthetic pleasure to viewers and owners.
And DiLauro’s artistic expertise is far from domestic. Relating an experience with Tibetan art where he found two pieces of genuine and truly unique origins, he said it was important to have an eye for unique works of art.
Other than art, DiLauro said he places a great deal of pride in simply being from New Haven. While he has been a business owner in the Elm City for 34 years, his brother continues to manage their grandfather’s auto body shop, 74 years running.