Willa Van Nostrand is Providence’s own Renaissance woman; when she’s not busy running her own successful artisan cocktail catering business, Little Bitte, she’s writing for publications like Edible Rhody, performing live as half of folk duo The Van Nostrand Sisters, or managing her own art gallery, World’s Fair Gallery, on Broadway. It’s an ambitious schedule, but for Van Nostrand, “It really comes down to living life as an art form.” Her various artistic and entrepreneurial passions weave together in a way that appears seamless, and the gallery – which opened in May 2017 directly adjacent to the Columbus Theatre’s entrance and also serves as tasting room for catering clientele – is the physical embodiment of that creative fabric.
“There’s always been art in one hand and cocktails in the other,” says Van Nostrand, who studied theater, printmaking, drawing, and “all kinds of art forms” as an undergraduate at Sarah Lawrence College. “I find it to be a very helpful pairing, because they both just enhance each other so much.”
Van Nostrand is cultivating a taste revival in both senses of the word: the intangible trait of exquisite style, and the literal physical gustatory sense. Willa Van Nostrand is a tastemaker, eagerly “encouraging” the arts, good food, and good humor at every chance.
At the gallery’s bimonthly or quarterly openings, a glassmaker or ceramicist will produce drinking vessels – glass tumblers, or ceramic cups – which are then paired with a painter or printmaker’s works (and in a couple of cases, one artist has provided both). Guests are invited to purchase the cup or glass and receive a complimentary Little Bitte cocktail to sip during the event before taking the vessel home at the end.
“I’ve found over the years that people are afraid to either touch or buy glassware because it’s too precious or beautiful, and I want to encourage them to incorporate beautiful vessels into their everyday lives,” Van Nostrand explains.
So far, all artists have been primarily young women “in an early part of their career or branching into mid-career,” but that’s not a deliberate choice nor an exclusive standard, she emphasizes; rather, “It was who I thought and who I know need a lot of support in terms of showcasing work.” Artists also must be willing to work around installation challenges resulting from the gallery’s hollow cinder block walls, and artwork must be affordable to World’s Fair regulars.
Artists exhibited thus far have shared “a vision of color palette and kind of the spirit of life, the joie de vivre,” Van Nostrand says. Painter Alexa Guariglia’s vibrant “Birds of a Feather” show occupied the space through April 12; printmaker Lois Hareida and ceramicist Shea’la Finch are exhibited starting April 19; and Joan Wyand’s solo show will open on June 14 with slipcast ceramic sculpture
World’s Fair Gallery is open “by appointment or by chance” and is available for private party rentals, workshops, collaborations, pop-ups, and more. Before it found a permanent physical home, World’s Fair was a “roving curation project” that Van Nostrand brought to venues like Pawtucket’s Machines with Magnets, launching their gallery and helping build out their bar program for several years before pursuing Little Bitte full time. The name World’s Fair connotes “everything good and beautiful and of quality,” she says. For Van Nostrand, the name “encapsulated the fact that art can be anything:” food, drink, painting, color... “Fill in the blank.”
World’s Fair Gallery