Chatting with Mary Cantone (pictured), the gallery owner & director
Q: The William Ris Gallery is relatively new on the North Fork, but it’s not a new gallery, right?
A: This year is the gallery’s 51st anniversary. My mother and brother founded the gallery in 1966 in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Harrisburg. William Ris was my brother; we renamed it for him after he died, very young, in 1970.
I was 14 when they founded the gallery. I was exposed to exceptional work from the beginning and learned what good work is. I have a good eye and carefully pick and choose my gallery's offering.
In 1971 we opened a second location in Stone Harbor, on the Jersey shore. It's a summer resort and destination on a beautiful barrier island. Both of those galleries in NJ and PA were open simultaneously for decades, though we eventually focused on NJ only. Over the decades we built a fine reputation as a result of the varied stable of fine artists we represent.
I closed the Stone Harbor gallery in January of this year after 45 years because I wanted to focus on the North Fork and live here full time. Q: How did you get to the North Fork from PA & NJ?
A: I was introduced to the North Fork by my daughter and son-in-law several years ago. I wasn’t ready to make the transition right away. First I bought a house in Jamesport and looked for the right location for the gallery.
When I found my favored location was available—adjacent to the Sherwood House Vineyards Tasting Room—I immediately visualized my gallery in there, but thought about it for several months before committing. But the space is perfect, a natural fit—art and wine-seamlessly cohesive, unique and absolutely beautiful. I decided to make the move.
I kept both galleries open for a year, but then closed the New Jersey location because it was such a short season on the Jersey shore. It's more year-round on the North Fork. I wanted that for our artists. And the reception has been beyond expectation.
Q: Does the William Ris Gallery have any specialties? Do you focus on a certain type of art or artist?
A: We are known for excellence and variety. I don’t want people to come in here and define the gallery as one genre. We have many styles, subjects, mediums and price points. That’s what we’re known for, and that’s what we’re continuing. We represent exceptional artists. The gallery walls are hung "salon style" which makes the experience different from most galleries.
Q: If someone stopped in right now, what could they see?
A: Representational and abstract work—painting, sculpture, mixed media, photography and American Craft. Before I moved to the North Fork, I represented mostly East Coast artists. After the move, I started my search for Long Island, NYC and North Fork artists including Marilyn Weiss, Charles Wildbank, Max Moran, David Peikon, Valerie Zeeman, Eve Behar, Sandra Bloodworth, Scott McIntire, Keith Mantell, Anahi DeCanio, Eileen Dawn Skretch, Daniel Pollera, Larry Johnston, Marrisa Bridge, Susan Saunders, Devin Cecil Wishing, Madeline Meryash, Nick Cordone, Christine D'Addario, Kirk Larsen, Martha McAleer, Miro Sinovcic, David Lyttleton Smith, Shawn Sullivan, Alexander Adell, David Tyndall, Jane McGraw Teubner and Carol Young.
There is a wealth of talent on Long Island. Artists and I have found each other which has made my decision to relocate even more gratifying. Q: Do you have any shows coming up?
A: In August we will be exhibiting a collection of works by Charles Wildbank. I’m also planning a two person show in August highlighting compositions with gold leaf collaborated on by Long Island artist Madeline Meryash and NYC artist Devin Cecil Wishing.
People can see work on the gallery website, and I post daily on Instagram and Facebook which allows me to communicate with my gallery followers. Social media is a great platform and forum on which I can share work and give my artists the exposure they deserve.
While I have shows, it’s important to know I have a continuing, rotating exhibit of represented artists; their works are always here. When displaying them, I make sure to hang art in ways to highlight how different pieces relate to each other and work with each other so people can experience it they way they would at home. I really enjoy curating the works that way, relating them to each other and the space.
Q: Anything else we should know about the gallery?
A: I am now offering the gallery space as a venue to rent for small business gatherings, small intimate parties and weddings; up to 40 people.
It’s not for everyone, as we have rules to be sure to keep the art safe, but for the right event it's a special backdrop. We hosted a wedding reception earlier this year & are hosting an engagement party next month that will include a large collection by NYC artist Marilyn Weiss.
My focus and strength is in building relationships with my artists and clients and collectors. I work closely with designers and allow on-approval opportunities before committing.
Q: What do you like about having your gallery on the North Fork, since you’ve served art markets in other states?
A: There is a sophisticated audience on the East End of Long Island, both on the North and South Forks, that appreciates fine art. This makes it satisfying to me and my artists. I say this is "serious fun!"
The broad minded arts community has embraced me—I feel so fortunate to have met all these special people & talented artists. I’ve felt far more welcome more quickly than I ever could have imagined. 18 months in and I’m finding my rhythm.
As I’ve gotten settled here, I’m able to grow my staff so maybe I’ll get a call from talented people reading this. Also, beyond the wonderful art scene, I’m here in part to be closer to my adult children.
Q: Speaking of your adult children, you grew up in the gallery business and it’s been a family affair for decades—are you kids involved? Will the gallery continue into a third generation?
A: Both of my kids and my son-in-law have an interest in the business and help out, particuarly with my website and digital marketing. Both of my kids live & have careers in NYC. They are learning from me. I have every expectation that one day they will carry it on.