On a Friday night in East Oakland, Shoshana Zambryski-Stachel, founder and owner of ArtVale gallery, prepares for a monthly community potluck by arranging cheese wedges, dips, cut vegetables, and wine across two large tables at the back of the gallery. The air outside is crisp and cool, but the gallery is warm and well-lit, and will soon be filled with children and adults eating, drinking, and drawing together.
A Bay Area native, Zambryski-Stachel opened ArtVale two years ago on Champion Street in the Dimond district. From outdoors, the space looks small and unassuming. Inside, the gallery is one long, narrow room with white painted walls and high ceilings. By the entrance, Zambryski-Stachel has set up a well-stocked arts supplies store offering high-quality paintbrushes, drawing pads, pens and more. Towards the back of the gallery, she curates and installs fine art exhibitions, prioritizing multimedia works and local artists. Several times a week, she teaches free (or low-cost) art classes for children and adults. A member of Oakland Art Murmur, Zambryski-Stachel hosts a public potluck each month on First Friday, offering the community a chance to break bread and view the current exhibition.
“I love talking about art,” said Zambryski-Stachel. “That’s one of the greatest things. Random people come in and we have amazing discussions about art in all its forms, which is just astounding.”
The current exhibition at ArtVale is a group show titled “Irreality,” which reflects each artist’s changing perception of reality in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. The exhibition includes works from nine local and national artists in a range of mediums including painting, sculpture and textiles.
As both strangers and old friends start to filter in, Zambryski-Stachel offers cheese, crackers and wine to her guests. She is humble and welcoming, and has an infectious nervous giggle. At the front of the gallery, people admire the art supplies for sale, touching the soft bristles of the paint brushes, and opening art books and watercolor pads. At the back, Zambryski-Stachel walks a group of people through the exhibition, explaining the concept behind the show and describing the artwork. A large chalkboard mounted on the wall attracts several people who begin drawing intricate illustrations.
ArtVale is a one-woman show. Zambryski-Stachel manages the space, curates the shows and teaches the art classes, all by herself. Though Oakland Art Murmur, the popular network of galleries that programs public art events, provides her with organizational and marketing support, ArtVale is a bit off the beaten path of the downtown Oakland art scene. “I’m kind of tucked away on this little street,” Zambryski-Stachel said. “I still get people every week who live in this neighborhood and are like, ‘Oh, my God, I never knew this was here!’”
But those who do know the gallery see it as a valuable resource for the Dimond district. Alexene Shore and her daughter Genevieve, 10, live close by the gallery and have been taking classes at ArtVale for a couple of years. When they first moved to the neighborhood, Shore said that she and her daughter were in their driveway when Shore was attacked by a pedestrian. As they struggled to recover from the assault, ArtVale became a place of refuge for the family. Genevieve began attending the weekly Wednesday afternoon art classes for kids, where she experiments with watercolors, ceramics, embroidery and beading, while Shore takes the Thursday ceramics class for adults. ArtVale “brought us back to a safe, fun place in childhood,” Shore said. “Because it’s enjoyable. It’s how life should be.”
Zambryski-Stachel fell in love with photography in a class she took as a student at Berkeley High School. She began taking pictures in her free time and learned how to develop images in a darkroom. She went on to receive her degree in photography and imaging at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, and began to create clay sculptures and light fixtures now installed at ArtVale.
For her senior thesis project, Zambryski-Stachel developed an unusual process in which she exposed the negative directly onto the inside of a halved eggshell. She dressed the eggshell in chemicals normally used in a dark room, including a light sensitive emulsion and a fixer, to fix the image inside the shell. Then, she produced photographic images of those eggshells for the final product. “To me, it’s more of a merging of art and science,” Zambryski-Stachel said. “Curiosity is a big part of who I am.”
After graduating from NYU in 2012, Zambryski-Stachel returned to the Bay Area and continued to practice photography. In 2013, she was selected as one of the artists in the 50-50 Show at the Sanchez Art Center in Pacifica. A year later, she joined TrainHole Studios in Berkeley where she built a darkroom.
Since 2015, Zambryski-Stachel has rented the gallery space on Champion Street to pursue her interest in bolstering community arts. ArtVale is one of the few galleries in the Dimond district, and Zambryski-Stachel works with other local businesses and community members to increase access to and participation in the arts. As a member of the Dimond Business and Professional Association, Zambryski-Stachel helps organize the Dimond Lights Artisans Markets, where local merchants sell handmade goods and bands perform live music. She also works with Dimond Public Art, which initiates public art projects in the neighborhood.
Participating in the business associations, along with managing the gallery and facilitating classes, has been challenging to manage, she said. Marketing and social media for the gallery has been a particular challenge, though her affiliation with Oakland Art Murmur has been helpful in getting the word out. She said Oakland and the Dimond community are extremely supportive of her work and of the arts in general. “There’s a lot of art in Oakland. Almost everyone is an artist,” she said. “And with that comes an incredible appreciation of the arts. Everyone is kind of stoked on art, which is awesome.”
In her art practice, Zambryski-Stachel uses film cameras to make black and white experimental images. The tones are soft, hazy, and grey, which give the photographs a vintage look. Her subjects range from close-up, textured shots of plants and animal bones carefully arranged in a studio under dramatic lighting, to images of naked women with flowers and leaves covering their genitals. The images are feminine, artistic, and show extreme attention to detail and dedication to experimentation.
At a recent afterschool art class, Zambryski-Stachel taught her students how to paint with marbles to create textured paintings. On other days, the kids create collages, play with clay, and embroider onto fabrics. “It’s all about the kids and the community,” she said, “a space where they can freely create.”
At the end of the evening, as everybody has had their fill of chips, and dips, and cheese, Zambryski-Stachel admires the chalkboard, newly covered in drawings. Someone has drawn a large block text that reads “EARTH,” and below it, “The Earth Without Art is Just Eh.”
This article is part of a series profiling women artists and gallerists in Oakland.
Click here to read the profile of collage, print and mural artist Favianna Rodriguez.
Click here to read the profile of Pro Arts director Natalia Mount.