Depending on how you count, it took three, 25, or nearly 80 years for Don Kenly to create the Olive Branch Studio & Gallery. Third, if you consider that Kenly took his first online sculpting class with his now friend and mentor, Eduardo Gomez in 2019. From there, it only took a few more sparks to ignite the renovation and the opening in July 2022 of 1,200 – gallery space in the building on Rt. 213 which he has co-owned for 25 years.
But for more than 80 years, the seeds planted by Kenly’s mother, a ceramicist, and grandfather, a church designer and watercolourist, lay dormant until the time was right.
“My mother had a kiln in the basement and painted her work by hand, and my grandfather, who I thought was God himself, designed tabernacles and church altars, so it’s always been there. “, he explained about his connection with art.
building a future
Born in Brooklyn and raised in New Jersey, as a young man Kenly focused on business. He moved from the excavation business to the extraction of aggregates – the sand, gravel and crushed stone used to make asphalt and concrete. But first, he fell in love with Woodstock while on a trip to New York State as the editor of a magazine for the auto body industry. After an early 1960s visit to the Woodstock Ford dealership’s body shop, he went to the city’s premier real estate office to inquire about the price of land ($1,000 an acre), when the broker offered him five acres in exchange for clearing and building. a road of 1500 feet.
“I did this and accomplished everything else I had with the help of my friends,” Kenly said, explaining that when he received the deed, there were actually nine acres.
In 1967, Kenly built a house on these nine acres in the Bearsville neighborhood of the city and, with his wife, Alice, raised four children there. The down payment for the house came from his chance discovery in 1963 of $18,000 rolled up in the cement blocks of a house he was in the process of razing.
“My wife went crazy and ironed all these wet $50 bills, all silver certificates,” he said. “To find out who the money belonged to, we went to our priest who consulted with a lawyer who determined that legally it was ours – after a church donation, of course.”
In 1984, he financed the growth of his mining business, Kenly Materials, Inc., by selling the house and moving to Kingston. From then on, through a series of expansions and takeovers with its competitors, it gave in to a final offer from the Albany-based Crainsville bloc and, in 2007, retired. Over the next 12 years, with 10 grandchildren, a great-grandchild on the way, a sweetheart named Carol (after her divorce after 37 years), a golden retriever named Kramer, and a winter home in Stewart, Florida, Kenly had enough to deal with.
In 2019, however, he not only had to deal with Covid isolation, but also the painful deaths of Carol and Kramer, five days apart.
A path to healing
“I really needed something,” he said of how he found his way to Gomez’s online sculpting course, the first of several he’s taken through the company. through the local Florida Lighthouse Artists Association.
Working on his first piece, a female nude in molded clay, Kenly “got bitten”. The intimate connection with the material brought a sense of peace, an ingrained mind-body connection he remembered experiencing decades earlier when he and his son, Tom, a landscaper, took an ice sculpting course at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. .
“I loved it so much,” he said, “but timing is everything. At the time, I was working to stay ahead of the bank, so I put it behind me.
Kenly continued to sculpt under Gomez’s guidance. But in the summer of 2021, as he considered the necessary repairs to the Olivebridge building – the ground floor of which stood empty for a few years after having housed a store, a delicatessen and then the Tangore restaurant – he realized he could move his studio out of his home, and the idea for a gallery germinated.
Around the same time, he stopped at ASK THE GALLERY in Kingston towards the end of
Gulnar Babaeva solo exhibition of sculptures “Revival”, where he meets the artist and designer. They struck up a conversation and he asked if Babaeva would work with him to open the newly renovated gallery. She accepted and came on board as a business partner, leading the gallery’s launch, designing the gallery’s visual presence, and curating its first invitational sculpture exhibition. The first show, “The Other Dimension”, which ran until August 28, featured sculptural works by BabaevaKenly, Alex Kveton, Iain Machell, Marie Mastronardo, Philip Monteleoni and Casey Schwarz.
Now, as he prepares for his second exhibition, this time of abstract paintings, Kenly plays all the required roles with the enthusiasm of someone with a keen interest and an eye for art, people and a new challenge.
“I love it all,” Kenly said. “And people passing by say they love the space, the presentation. It keeps me young; it keeps me alive.
The next show
The Olive Branch Studio & Gallery will host the opening of its second exhibit, “A Life of Mean Intimacy,” on Friday, September 16 from 5-7 p.m. The exhibition features sculptures and abstract paintings by six local artists: Marie Mastronardo, 91; Sandra Zuccala, Francoise Collet; Sara Harris, Benjamin Franklin; and Gary Buckendork.
“A Life of Average Intimacy” will run from September 16 to October 15.
Olive Branch Studio & Gallery
5097 Route 213, Olivebridge, NY