For tens of thousands of people who attend the Wickford Art Festival each year it is a special summer tradition. Festival goers celebrate the healing nature of art wearing the themed sticker they give out free that reads: “art is my therapy.” This is especially true for photographer, Gerry Grabowski who lost her husband suddenly and with no warning in 2012 after 42 years of marriage.
“There was no illness, no sickness. He was just gone… A heart attack. It was totally unexpected,” says Gerry who met Richard on a blind date. They had three children together and have three grandkids with another on the way. The two met in Brooklyn, New York and Richard’s work with IBM brought them from Pennsylvania to Rhode Island 36 years ago. They settled in the North Kingstown area and attended the Wickford Art Festival together for many years, enjoying the diversity of the work from artists that come from all over the country. She misses that experience they shared, after going faithfully every year since they moved to RI.
“Since he passed away its been a struggle because he took care of the whole house,” says Gerry. “We were together for 42 years and suddenly the whole house was totally empty. During the day I could keep myself busy but nights were especially hard. So I got a rescue dog. But I think he rescued me.”
Her blue eyed Siberian Husky came from a rescue organization in North Carolina and Gerry was able to pick him up in Maine. “Tundra has me up in the morning and out to walk every day.” But it’s “faith, family and friends” that Gerry attributes to getting her through her most difficult times. As well as the knowledge that he went peacefully (at 70 years of age). She continues to be challenged by regular home maintenance and repairs and making sure there are enough funds to cover taxes and other needs. Gerry retired from a career in nursing right after Richard died. She does some volunteer work at the Phoenix House in Providence, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation organization and serves on the North Kingstown Arts Council. She often donates her work for various purposes, for aesthetic purposes, as well as for fund raising events throughout the community. Her faith is very important to her and Gerry is a devoted parishioner of Saint Bernard Catholic Church in North Kingstown.
“I’ve always loved taking pictures, and then about seven years ago I started taking classes to learn more about it and was selected to be in a juried show of the Wickford Art Association. She continues even today to take classes and seize opportunities to learn more about photography. She appreciates the camaraderie of being with other photographers, sharing ideas and helping each other. She has been a part of many juried shows over the years. “I was so excited (with that first show). It really motivated me.” She is a member of the Wickford Art Association, the North Kingstown Photo Guild and the South County Art Association.
But her passion for improving her photography skills is not limited to Rhode Island. In 2009 she took the first of three trips with Profundo Journey led by two photographers from Rhode Island. That first photography workshop style trip was to the Amalfi Coast of Italy where Gerry says a transformation happened. Between the guidance of the instructors and the scenic natural beauty of the Amalfi coast, Gerry says her photography was elevated to new heights. Subsequent trips to Greece and later Ireland continued to enhance her skills and next October she will travel to Prague. But her favorite place to photograph above all is Wickford and South County, Rhode Island. The attraction …?
“Boating, beaches, sunrises and sunsets. They inspire me. The lighthouses are beautiful. I get up before the sunrise and take some of these pictures. What I see is God’s view. That’s the way I look at it.”
Gerry has been exhibiting work in the Wickford Art Festival for the past four years. It is the only outdoor festival she participates in.
“The Wickford Art Festival is just beautiful. It’s usually sunny and people come out in droves and they talk and they look. There’s plenty of food to be had and it’s a family friendly event. There are artists from all over the country exhibiting and it is a wonderful two days.”
“And I’m just thankful I have a hobby to kind of occupy my time, that I can share with other people and that brings me joy, and a dog that can go with it. There’s just so much beauty if people would just look around, stop and smell the roses as they say. Notice the little things, a chipmunk crossing the road, a crocus coming up, to me that’s joy. There’s beauty in life.” Her photography has helped her grieving process on an internal level and she knows that will continue and she looks forward to the upcoming event where she will don a sticker affirming, “art is my therapy.”
This year’s 53rd Wickford Art Festival will take place Saturday, July11 from 10 a.m.–6 p.m. and Sunday, July 12 from 10 a.m.–5 p.m.. More than 200 artists are expected to participate and crowds numbering around 75,000 will pass through the event which has been going on since 1962. It is sponsored by the Wickford Art Association and is one of the longest running outdoor art festivals in New England. Rhode Island is the first state in the nation to make the sale of fine art tax free. Wickford Village is located on Narragansett Bay and is accessible by boat or car at 84 Brown Street, North Kingstown, RI. Admission is free but artists pay a fee to exhibit their work. Proceeds from this annual event supports the WAA’s Annual Scholarship Fund which awards scholarships to talented Rhode Island public high school seniors furthering their studies in the arts, as well as benefiting WAA programs and exhibits. Visit www.wickfordart.org.