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Ukiah's Medium Gallery celebrates one-year anniversary

One man and two women smiling on a couch that is covered with graffiti, in a room with a wooden floor and lots of art on the walls.
Gallery co-founders Chris Pugh, Meredith Hudson, and Lillian Rubie, on the graffiti-covered couch at Medium Gallery.

Medium Gallery in Ukiah's Pear Tree shopping center opened on July 2, 2021. There have been eight juried shows in the last year, which brought $17,000 to over 250 artists.

July 4, 2022 — The last year has not been kind to the arts, with classes just starting up in person again, patrons hesitant to attend performances and events at galleries, and not a lot of discretionary income available to most people.

But on July 2, 2021, Medium Gallery in Ukiah’s Pear Tree shopping center opened its doors to the public — and left them open so fresh air could circulate among the masked attendees. KZYX spoke with co-founder Chris Pugh a few hours before the opening of the first show last year, which was called Prologue. He recalled that he and co-founder Lillian Rubie were both stuck at home during the pandemic, “and we both just had a conversation one day abouthow this is the time to do something, because eventually the world would come out of the pandemic, and we wanted to be ready for that.”

The pandemic isn’t over yet, but eight juried shows and a year later, Medium has sold $17,000 worth of art, all of it going to the more than 250 artists who have displayed their work there. The current show, ENcounter Culture, features a graffitied couch, work by established local artists like Spencer Brewer and Jean Avery North, and a collection of street-sign installations by the enigmatic graffiti artist known as the Velvet Bandit.

Street signs with graffiti on them in a gallery.
The Velvet Bandit's altered street-sign installations have pride of place at ENcounter Culture, the latest exhibit at Ukiah's Medium Gallery.

Last Friday afternoon, Pugh talked about how he, Rubie, and fellow co-founder Meredith Hudson have kept the gallery open for its first year. It’s not a mystery. “We do our best to keep our expenses low, and we volunteer as much time as we have. A lot of evenings and weekends, putting in a lot of sweat equity.”

Hudson, who worked on laying down the floor when the gallery moved in, knows a lot about sweat equity, though she said, “It might be better put as soft-tissue equity at this point. My knees are still recovering. But I definitely was not the only person who put in the floor. We all worked together to rip out old carpet tiles, and really transform the space from the previous state that it was in, which was an old Radio Shack. It was pretty musty…some very generous friends came in and also donated their knees to the project.”

Rubie said she knew from the beginning, when people had a hard time leaving the gallery, that “we were on to something…people enjoyed being here, people enjoyed creating here. And then seeing people make their first sale has been really momentous. And people purchase their first piece of art. Invest in an artist for the first time. That has been for all of us really the most touching part of this whole experience.”

Hudson said the practical matter of selling the art is a major focus, though the gallery doesn’t take a commission or charge entry fees. Over the last year, artists have sold their work at prices ranging from ten to $1,500. “A good quarter of those were children, youth under eighteen,” she said. “A lot of the artists who bring their art to us are people who have never shown in a gallery before, people who haven’t had the opportunity to submit work to a show that didn’t have an entry fee, that didn’t take a commission, that made selling their artwork unsustainable. They’ve instead reached out to sell their work through Etsy, or other non-local sources. And I think that this has provided a way for artists to sell their work locally.”

Rubie recalled a successful moment for one contributor to the most recent show, where all the artists were kids. “There was a really spectacular piece in the show by an eleven-year-old,” she recalled. “And it was for sale for 25 dollars. But on our opening night, there was a gentleman who was here, who was really moved by the piece. He couldn’t believe that an eleven-year-old created it on the one hand, and he also couldn’t believe that they had marked it at 25 dollars. And when he came to the front desk and wanted to purchase it, he said, I want to buy this piece, but I don’t want to pay 25 dollars, I want to pay 100 dollars. I want her to know that it’s worth that. And that was just really amazing.”

That show was memorable for Pugh, as well. He recalled that during the show, the gallery set out a table where visitors could make art. Two men came by and drew for about an hour, then showed Pugh what they had made, which was an elaborate drawing of a lion. But, “they didn’t speak English, and I didn’t speak Spanish, so we couldn’t really talk about their piece,” Pugh said. “Then one of them pulled out their phone, and we had a conversation through a translation app about the drawing that they had made, and they were asking questions about the gallery. They wanted to know if it was a school, or some kind of project…so I explained to them that it was a show that was a kids’ show, but we’re open to everybody…it was great to have people come in and just make art. That’s a thing that we do here. Pretty much every show, we have a place where people can make art, as well as experience art.”

Medium Gallery is in the Pear Tree shopping center in Ukiah, next door to Rod’s Shoes. It is open Friday 12-8, Saturday 12-6, and Sunday 12-4.

Local News
Sarah Reith came to Mendocino County in 2008 and worked as a reporter and freelancer, joining KZYX as a community news reporter in 2017. She became the KZYX News Director in March, 2023.