After a long, mostly virtual sophomore year of high school, I had viewed so many digital photographs of pieces of art that I could have screamed. The College Board would claim that it was only 250, but I promise it totaled to many more. So many that during exam week I would find myself waking up in the night muttering things along the lines of, “Y No Hai Remedio by Francisco Goya,” or, “David by Donatello.” Though the lessons I learned during my Art History class were invaluable, it can not compare to viewing art in person. Seeing the individual brushstrokes of a painting, the shadows falling across a marble statue, or walking a full circle around a sculpture in the round cannot be replaced, yet taking a field trip to experience these things was rendered impossible due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As restrictions began to loosen, the first thing on my mind was art. During spring break, my mom and I grabbed our masks and drove to New York City to see — in-person — the artwork at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). It was an extremely rewarding experience, especially after I had learned about so many of these works in my art history class. Seeing them felt like meeting a pen pal for the first time.

Being in a room with physical works of art, breathing their same air, and feeling the energy created by viewing them made me realize what we as a society have been missing out on since the beginning of this pandemic. It made me realize the importance of looking at physical, visual art. Though driving to New York City and purchasing tickets to the MoMA is not something most can just do on whim — at least not often — it is not the only way to fulfill the human need for art and culture. The best way to do this, in my opinion, is to visit and create a connection with your own local art gallery.

As a Kennett Square native, my local art gallery is the Square Pear, owned and curated by Corien Siepelinga. Though it was never Siepelinga’s plan to open an art gallery, her journey began after teaching herself to draw from library books. When the opportunity to purchase the gallery was presented to her, it was unexpected, yet, within a few months she became the curator and owner of her first business, the Square Pear. She is proof of the impact that local art can have on a person.

When asked what she believes the significance of local art galleries to be, Siepelinga responded with the idea of inspiration. “These people live by you.” Siepelinga said. “They are not like obscure people that are from Santa Fe, or New York, or some fancy place where you have to go to some fancy school and those are the only people that are making art.”

The art hanging in your local art gallery is made by your neighbors, your community members, or maybe even a friend. I believe that this makes following your own artistic aspirations tangible. “It’s local people and they learned how to do it so you could learn how to do it…” said Siepelinga. She believes local galleries make art “approachable.”

Art galleries change from place to place, but what makes them so special is the community surrounding them. The biggest way this is apparent at the Square Pear is through the children’s art classes Siepelinga teaches. She shared many stories about kids being inspired to recreate the works on exhibition and feeling very confident in their ability to do so. One such little boy was set on painting a boat just like the watercolor painting by Frank Wengen titled “Blue Bottom” that was hanging in the Square Pear’s July exhibition, Float. When Wengen visited the gallery in order to collect his work at the end of the Float exhibition, Siepelinga told him about how his work inspired the young boy’s art. Wengen was supportive of the young artist’s endeavor and left a message on the back of the young boy’s piece. Siepelinga was moved by this chain of events because without the Square Pear and the artistic community that came with it, this young boy would never have seen “Blue Bottom”, been inspired to try painting it for himself, or have received a kind message from Wengen that may inspire his artistic aspirations for years to come.

Siepelinga’s young student’s recreation of Frank Wengen’s watercolor, “Blue Bottom.” Courtesy of Corien Siepelinga.

Frank Wengen’s “Blue Bottom” watercolor. Courtesy of Corien Siepelinga.

Siepelinga has impacted the community through her work, giving young children the opportunity to realize their artistic dreams through classes. Some have even been motivated to create their own work and exhibit it in galleries at home, according to Siepelinga. Her goal is to help these young children believe in their abilities and that they are real artists.

The Square Pear has also impacted my own life in Kennett Square. It is a place to find inspiration and put to practice my personal artistic aspirations. It is an amazing feeling to find a piece of art that you like — whether a painting on exhibition, an ornament or a mug — and take it home to share its beauty with others. The Square Pear, and all local art galleries, are great places to take one’s family and friends and create lasting memories.

Though local art galleries hold a special place in my heart, I will not stay away from art museums such as the MoMA. They are amazing places that hold amazing art and need to be visited by everyone. However, local art galleries are just as amazing and can hold just as much inspiration, if not more.

I encourage you to find your local art galleries and frequent them. Introduce yourself to the owners, curators, and artists for you may meet a new friend or role model. And besides the great community, the art will move you and local artists deserve to be supported.