Founded in 1976, Touchstone Gallery is one of the oldest cooperative galleries in the Washington area. It represents more than 50 member-artists who work in a variety of media, subjects and styles.
Here you can see the creations of sculptors like: Rima Schulkind and David Peirick; abstract painter and installation artist Sheila Rottner; Carol Hammett, who works in casein, a tricky milk derivative; and Margaret Alderson, one of the founders of Alexandria's Torpedo Factory.
The members decide at regular meetings whether to admit new artists to the gallery. Members, who pay dues, are entitled to periodic shows focused on their work in the gallery's big front room, which measures 1,800 square feet and has a 16-foot-high ceiling. At least one piece by each member is on display at all times in two smaller back rooms with windows overlooking Seventh Street NW, according to gallery director Jerry Scott.
Walk-in visitors are welcomed warmly: Scott calculates that they represent two-thirds of the gallery's sales. If one particular artist's work appeals to you, ask the attendant to show you others, which are stored in bins nearby; you may also be shown slides or other materials about that artist. Prices can range from photographs for as little as $100 to $4,000 for complex assemblages.
Scott says the artists at Touchstone are mostly women, often from the Washington suburbs or outskirts, and, in the main, academically trained. Cooperatives traditionally have been organized by women, who began banding together in New York in earlier, less friendly times for female artists, he notes. Scott says that cooperative galleries now provide "alternative space for above-average artists" who haven't found a niche yet in the commercial art market.
Touchstone Gallery originally was located in a smaller space on Dupont Circle's R Street, but has been at its present site at 406 Seventh St. NW since September 1995. Press the buzzer at the entrance for admission to the building, which houses a variety of contemporary galleries.
-- C.J. Mills