Cat Cutillo and Ross Sheehan have a thing for transforming old spaces. Their Vergennes home used to be a shed, and their new gallery, just a few blocks away, was a carriage house long ago.
The little yellow bungalow on Green Street opened earlier this month as Outerlands Gallery. When photographer Cutillo and sculptor Sheehan bought it about a year and a half ago, the bank-owned, two-room fixer-upper needed a ton of work. “If you saw it before, you would not say it was adorable,” Sheehan says. “We must have driven and walked by this place 100 times and thought, Should we really do this?”
They’re happy they did. With the help of Sheehan’s dad, Jack, who owns Sheehan Construction in Salisbury, they did a drastic renovation, converting the cramped living quarters into a homey, sunlit gallery filled with eclectic artwork from Vermont and beyond.
The place is impossibly charming, in part because of the many architectural details from the old carriage house that are incorporated artfully into the gallery. For example, a slab of old wood that once marked the threshold is now mounted to a crisp, white wall and serves as a shelf.
Other details have become works of art. During the renovation, Sheehan found all sorts of things stashed in the walls of the old building — notably, junk mail from as far back as 1910 and empty whiskey bottles about as old. Sheehan made an Andy Warhol-style collage incorporating a $2 bill that he and Cutillo acquired on their cross-country road trip, and one-cent stamps from a piece of 1911 mail from Grand Central Station he found tucked into a beam.
Cutillo, 33, and Sheehan, 35, met several years ago in New York City, where she was working as a freelance photographer and he was making art while holding down a job at an art-handling company. After a meandering two-month road trip, they relocated to Reno, Nev., for a time, and then moved to San Francisco, where Sheehan showed his work out of his garage studio.
All the while, the couple dreamed of having a gallery of their own to showcase their work. “We always thought it would be a cool venture,” says Cutillo.
About three years ago, they made another move — to Vermont, where Sheehan grew up. They lived for the first several months in West Addison, but ultimately settled in Vergennes, partly because of its convenient location between Middlebury and Burlington, and partly because, as Cutillo says, “There was just something special about this town. Instantly, we felt it. It seemed like people were doing really creative things here.”
Much of the work on display at Outerlands is from artists Sheehan met through his work as an art handler. Harlem painter Todd Monaghan, who specializes in “spiritual surrealism,” had a show with Sheehan in Times Square. His riotous painting “Is the Beginning Near” takes up a large portion of one of the gallery walls.
Brooklyn artist Michelle Bova’s abstract paintings are so wildly textured, they appear to spin and shimmer as you look at them. Seattle artist James Allen makes jaw-dropping book art — he painstakingly cuts around the words and illustrations in books, leaving their bindings intact, resulting in a multilayered, three-dimensional collage.
Local artists are represented, too. Proctor craftsman Mark Loso has made a cool set of Vermont Verde marble bookends and a miniature, gravestone-shaped sculpture from a fossil-filled slab of Champlain Black marble.
Sheehan’s artwork and Cutillo’s photographs are scattered throughout the gallery, too. Sheehan changes his medium regularly. His menacing metal sculpture of what appears to be a bighorn sheep skull looms over the gallery’s front room. In the back, a series of smaller sculptures incorporate old metal tools he uncovered while clearing out his and Cutillo’s house — a bit of tractor machinery, a bent tool probably used to split wood, a drill and an old hook, each mounted in a concrete base.
Sheehan paints, too. “I just started painting again because Todd [Monaghan] brought this up,” he says, gesturing to “Is the Beginning Near,” the enormous painting of a white ladder floating in a planet-filled outer space. “It just looked like so much fun!”
Outerlands — which the couple named after the part of San Francisco where they used to live — is also about promoting the services they offer. Sheehan makes custom furniture, while Cutillo does wedding photography and photojournalism; books filled with her work lie on a table in the gallery’s back room. Flipping through her portfolio reveals captivating portraits, striking street scenes and surreal nature photographs, one of which — a shot of bright-yellow jellyfish swirling in blue water — is also printed on metal and hangs by the gallery’s front door.
It’s quite a makeover for this little old carriage house.
Outerlands, 37 Green Street, Vergennes, 870-7228. outerlandsgallery.com
The original print version of this article was headlined "Starting Over"