Originally published in the Manchester Journal Dec. 20, 2017.
MANCHESTER — When Steven and Debbi Grossfeld first moved to Manchester in 1998, they had already built a reputation as “one of the biggest animation art distributors in the world,” they said.
Since then, the couple’s Gremlin Fine Arts Gallery has experienced multiple iterations in downtown Manchester. This November, the gallery re-opened in its third location, this time at 4712 Main St.
Despite some delays in their grand re-opening, including a missing carpet, the gallery is now in full swing. Featuring a vast selection of animation art, vintage ski posters, hand-crafted wood bowls, and more, the gallery provides something unique in the Northshire arts landscape according to Grossfeld.
“You don’t see what you see here in other places, especially with the variety of animation art,” he said, noting that locals continue to discover the treasure trove hidden within the gallery. “We’ve been here almost 20 years, and I still run into people who have no idea I’m in town.”
Animation art has long been a passion for Grossfeld, who had attended major auctions at Christie’s New York and Sotheby’s “in their heyday.” Over time, he developed relationships with many of the top animators from Disney, Warner Brothers, and more.
“I specialized in Warner Brothers animation, so I became very friendly with the guys that made the old cartoons,” Grossfeld said. “I have a lot of inroads into the studios, and for that reason you see so much of the animation art; I’ve got artwork that goes back to the early 1930’s at Disney.”
Beyond original sketches, the gallery also houses a number of animation cels. In this early style, a clear sheet of nitrocellulose was laid over an original drawing for artists to bring the image to life with color. The practice was eventually replaced by digital animation however, with the last hand-animated Disney film being The Little Mermaid in 1989.
Now, the cels featured at Gremlin Fine Art have become “a huge collectable” according to Grossfeld.
The animation expert amassed his collection over time, he said, primarily by making connections with the artists themselves. One such artist was animator Maurice Noble, who got his start at Disney prior to World War Two.
“His first cartoon was `The Old Mill,’ which I believe was the first Disney cartoon to be nominated for an Academy Award,” Grossfeld said, noting that the animator also contributed to Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Fantasia, Pinocchio, and Bambi while at Disney. “Because of the man’s style, you can see his work in virtually every best movie ever made.”
When many Disney employees went on strike before World War Two, however, Noble was “black-balled” for participating. Still, he continued to work as an animator during World War Two.
“He worked doing animation for the U.S. Army Film Corps; the captain in charge of the unit was Dr. Seuss, and the colonel that was in charge of the whole division was Frank Capra,” Grossfeld said. “They all got their start together.”
After the War, Noble went on to work at Warner Brothers prior to his death in 2001. Today, much of his work is on display at Gremlin alongside countless others.
“What you see here, these few thousand pieces that are on display, are but a drop of what I have,” Grossfeld said. “I’ve been doing it for a very long time, and I’ve amassed a huge collection.”
Though Grossfeld retains a spark in his eye for animation art, he’s found a second passion in recent years: woodturning.
“It started as a hobby, but when we opened up our first gallery everyday, without fail, someone would come in to ask us where the old Weston Bowl Mill was,” he said. “I put a few of the bowls in the gallery and they sold, I made more and they sold, and I eventually ended up doing this full time.”
Alongside his own work Grossfeld features a number of wood-works from across the country, and many from New Zealand as well. In the new gallery, the artist plans to develop an “open shop.”
“I’ll have a workshop with a lathe set-up right by the window so customers can look in,” Grossfeld said. “I’m also going to be teaching; I’ve had a lot of requests.”
The locally sourced wood is a big selling point for his works, Grossfeld says, and he collects it himself after storms sweep the region.
“It’s all local, recycled wood; a tree comes down in a storm, I get it,” he said, noting that the practice also allows him to keep prices lower. “Some of it even came from Main Street in Manchester, and a good deal of the cherry and walnut came from up near Stratton.”
Alongside the locally crafted bowls, classic ski posters and featured works from local artists add a touch of Vermont flavor to the gallery according to Grossfeld.
“We do represent a few local artists as well,” he said. “When we opened our gallery we had a lot of requests for local stuff.”
Prices at Gremlin Fine Arts range from as low as ten or fifteen dollars, Grossfeld said, and can climb up to “seven or eight thousand.” For more information, visit http://www.thegremlin.com/.
Reach Cherise Madigan at email@example.com, or by phone at 802-490-6471.