Gwen Parish doesn’t know how many people will be at the final show of the Parish Gallery in Georgetown. She knows only for certain of the one person who won’t be there — her husband, Norman Parish.
He opened his gallery 22 years ago “showcasing primarily, but not exclusively, artists from Africa and the African Diaspora” and became one of the most important figures in the Washington art world.
The show, titled “Norman Parish: The Artist,” will be an exhibition of abstracts, landscapes and figurative pieces by Parish, who is suffering from a brain tumor. “He has shown his work so few times over the 22 years,” Gwen Parish says. “I just want people to see his work.” She says he’s closing the gallery but doesn’t know when.
Parish Gallery has featured more than 170 artists in the two decades since it opened.
“At the time, it was unprecedented for an African American to have a gallery in Georgetown,” says Juanita Hardy, executive director of Cultural D.C. and a friend of Norman Parish since the early 1990s. Hardy says she and Parish made a pact: She was his business adviser, and he offered her his expertise on art. She’s been an avid collector for decades and bought one of her first pieces, a Frank Smith, from Parish.
Parish, 75, may never have gotten to fully express his own artistic sensibilities because he was always making sure other artists were recognized, Hardy says. “He always places others above himself.”
Tim Davis owns International Visions gallery in Northwest Washington. He had one of his first shows at the Parish Gallery. Like Norman Parish, Davis is from Chicago. Like Parish, Davis is a painter turned gallery owner, and Davis thinks that they are the only two established African American gallery owners in the District. He calls Parish a mentor, someone he looks up to. The final show will be a tribute to show “that we appreciate the time and effort and the dedication he has given to the art world,” Davis says.
Parish studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago. In 1967, he participated in the famed outdoor mural “Wall of Respect” on Chicago’s South Side. He had a hard time finding places to show his work in that city, his wife says. She used to go with him to Western Maryland to paint in the mountains. “Most of his landscapes are from that period,” she says. When he opened the gallery, “he just wanted to have a place for other artists,” especially artists of color who didn’t have the kind of space, or champion, that other American artists enjoyed.
“He’s so loved,” Hardy says. “So many people will want to honor him and express their appreciation to him for the way he has impacted their lives.” He has always had a spirit that has drawn people to him, she says. “I met my husband in the Parish Gallery. There are others who can tell stories like that. Norm is a giant of a human being, and the city of Washington and all of us are better because of him.”
Reception at 6 p.m. Friday, 1054 31st St. NW; exhibit open through July 31.