During her first week as the gallery coordinator of the Robert and Elaine Stein Galleries, Paige Früchtnicht-Ponchak had little time to settle in. She had to help install an exhibition featuring sculptures by Dallas artist Kristen Cochran in the galleries.
“I jumped in right away,” she said.
Things haven’t slowed down for Früchtnicht-Ponchak since she joined Wright State University in August. As the only full-time employee at the Stein Galleries, she helps install exhibitions, manages the budget, writes grants, paints and patches walls, manages the Permanent Collection and the Stein Collection, and assists faculty members in the Department of Art and Art History curate exhibitions.
“I like that work changes every single day, and I have so many different kinds of projects going on that I can pick and choose what I’m feeling into that day,” she said.
Located in the Creative Arts Center, the Stein Galleries features five light-filled gallery spaces where visitors can enjoy rotating exhibitions, the Stein family and galleries’ collections and videos.
“Like Oil and Water,” an exhibition of highly decorative sculptures by Iowa artist Susan Chrysler White is on display at the galleries through Dec. 8. “It’s been a big hit so far,” Früchtnicht-Ponchak said of the exhibition, which is curated by Danielle Rante, associate professor of art and art history.
Throughout the 2019–20 academic year, the galleries also has on display “19–’19: Women from the Permanent Collection,” which commemorates the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. The exhibition features more than 50 works by women artists in the Permanent Collection. The Video Gallery is also showing a screening series of works by women video artists and filmmakers through the 2020 spring semester.
During her first few months at the galleries, Früchtnicht-Ponchak has spent much of her time focusing on getting to know the Permanent Collection “to see what we have and making sure those things are being kept as safely as possible.” She also is working on creating an online archive of past exhibitions and a new database of works in the Permanent Collection.
“It’s really special to have such an extensive collection on a small campus like this in Dayton. I had never previously been aware of the caliber of exhibitions happening in the space or even that there was a Permanent Collection at Wright State,” Früchtnicht-Ponchak said. “I’m hoping that we can make this information more accessible and useful to the public — something that can be useful to others beyond the space of the gallery itself.”
The Stein Galleries’ exhibition history and archive include exhibitions featuring artists such as Adrian Piper, Barbara Kasten, Robert Maplethorpe, Stephen Antonakos, William Wegman and Louis Finkelstein. Früchtnicht-Ponchak plans to make these exhibition files and archives available to the public as well.
She also plans to rename a space on the second floor to the Stein Galleries Project Space and open it up for community members to use. She will hold an open call, first to Wright State art and art history students and then to the public, to propose performances, exhibitions and events in the space.
She hopes it will provide more opportunities for others to get involved with the galleries.
“I always want students and people in the community to feel like this is theirs too,” she said. “It’s not just this lonely gallery in the corner of the building that operates by itself. I’m really excited about opening that space.”
Früchtnicht-Ponchak received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Columbus College of Art and Design and a Master of Fine Arts at the University of Cincinnati. She also studied architecture in the Studio for Immediate Spaces at the Sandberg Instituut in Amsterdam.
As a graduate student at Cincinnati, she assisted with art history courses and taught foundation courses, including a drawing course and a course on time-based media, including performance art, video and photography. She also served as the gallery manager at the university’s Meyers Gallery.
Früchtnicht-Ponchak’s first job in a gallery came as a first-year student with the Beeler Gallery at the Columbus College of Art and Design. She started working at the front desk, then began helping install exhibitions and eventually served as registrar and budget manager.
As a student in Columbus, she also was part of a cooperative live-work space called Skylab Gallery. At any given time five to eight students lived and worked in the space curating and directing exhibitions.
“It was a really amazing and formative moment for me and for us because we were students putting together national and international shows in our home, ” she said.
Früchtnicht-Ponchak and her husband, Greg, who is also an artist, are spending time doing minor renovations to a house they recently bought in Dayton. While major changes to her life haven’t left her much time to create art, she says, “I fully intend to get back to things.”
The Stein Galleries are open Wednesdays to Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. For more information about galleries, call 937-775-2978 or visit wright.edu/artgalleries.