Silver anniversaries are something to cheer about. But the 25th exhibition at Morristown’s 70 South Gallery had tears, too.
The photo gallery has announced it’s closing at the end of the month, after more than five years on South Street.
“It’s just time,” gallery owner Ted Baldanzi said at Friday’s reception for photographers Judi Benvenuti, Mia Mutascio and Lily Wieder, a student at Morristown-Beard.
Baldanzi, a retired entrepreneur and shutterbug, opened the gallery and print center at the former site of Sandrian Camera in October 2014. He remembers his wife Beth telling him: “Are you crazy? You’re 71 years old!”
“She was right!” he said with laugh.
The venture won fans in the photo community; a showcase of works by the late Vivian Maier was a financial success. And 70 South hosted lessons, lectures, small concerts, and memorable parties celebrating black history and the Morristown Festival of Books.
But a business model proved elusive, just as it did for the Gallery Egan on Community Place a few years earlier.
“It’s just tough to get income. We sold more Vivian Maier portraits than almost any gallery in the world. That’s the kind of show you need in this place. But they’re hard to come by,” said Baldanzi, who plowed proceeds from his sale of a chemical company into this labor of love.
A hoped-for partnership with a New York gallery never emerged, Baldanzi said, adding that his networking efforts weren’t helped by his face blindness, a condition that hinders recognition of people.
Ira L. Black, manager of 70 South, said he is searching for partners and a new venue. He emphasized that the gallery’s landlord, the Silverman Group, has “been beyond generous” and supportive.
“I feel proud. I feel excited, what we’ve done in the community, and I feel grateful to Ted and Beth for giving us this opportunity and staying with it as long as they did, and for trusting us,” Black said.
Similar sentiments came from members of the six-person staff, and from the evening’s featured photographers and friends, who munched on sliders and macs-and-cheese and participated in a Q and A about this final exhibition, titled Juxtaposed Manifesto of the States of Matter.
“I love these guys. They’re such great people,” said Mutascio, a longtime Morristown resident who exhibited seascapes from her new home at Bradley Beach.
While honored to be part of the last show, “I’ll miss the vibe, the crew,” Mutascio said. “The student photographers here have blown me away with their creativity. I’ll miss them.”
“I’m sad,” said Caroline Gower, a retired special ed teacher who shopped for years at Sandrian Camera. She was thrilled when 70 South came along. ” It was wonderful to see their exhibits. I brought my grandson to see Frozen here,” Gower said.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Mariah Texidor, who works at 70 South producing high-end prints for customers.
The gallery nearly closed a year ago, making for some nerve-wracking times, Texidor said. She plans to conduct freelance photo workshops and continue doing portraits.
Gina Cerbone, who organized many of the gallery shows, teared up when Black acknowledged her during his thank you’s to employees and patrons.
“I feel like I’ve grown a lot… I’m very grateful to Ted for supporting what we do and supporting artists the way he has,” Cerbone said. Going forward, she intends to develop her Warren County yoga practice, and put her nutrition degree to work.
Friday’s guests included Myles Sandrian, whose family owned Sandrian Camera for 85 years.
“It’s tough to say goodbye. I have a lot of fond memories of being here. I’ve seen people grow up in their photographs,” he said.
Baldanzi said he was pleased that 70 South helped customers preserve print memories that will live for generations, unlike digital snapshots that are quickly forgotten.
And he was especially proud of one ground rule he imposed from the start: Every exhibition was required to include works by a student photographer.
At the very first show, a pro balked at exhibiting alongside an amateur. Baldanzi held firm. The pro pulled out. “Two years later, guess who was back? He saw the light,” Baldanzi said.
His wife Beth came around, as well.
“It’s been fun. We met so many people,” she said. “It added a real great element for Morristown, for culture. Before, it was just banks and bars.”
Baldanzi, who started shooting sporting events and plays at Morristown High School when his daughter Madalyn was a student, was feeling pretty good about 70 South.
“I think we’ve done a lot of good for the town, and for the students,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to do, and it worked out that way.”