It’s hard for the name Times Are Tough Gallery not to resonate right now. Gallery owner/curator Pia Hogue supported local artists by opening Times Are Tough in an undisclosed, underused, commercially zoned Middletown location to introduce the public (strictly limited to two people at a time, by appointment only) to various media in one place. Billed “the smallest gallery in the smallest state,” Times are Tough measures just 10×11’ – the same size, Hogue realized, as a booth at a typical art show. Yet, like the State of Rhode Island, a small space can hold many wonderful things. Speakeasy-style Times Are Tough has featured paintings, posters, sculptures, jewelry, gifts, and home goods, all by local artists.

What’s Up Newport (WUN):  Can you share a bit about the gallery, how you came to open it, and what prompted its name?

Times Are Tough Gallery (TATG): I started including my artwork on Facebook Marketplace and local sell pages, and people instantly started to ask to look at our collection. Markets where we had always displayed our work, like Narragansett Beer’s Made on Honor, had become like family reunions to us, so seeing how those were canceled this year, I reached out to my maker pals. If we weren’t “starving artists” before, taking away our biggest shows and the holiday season was certainly a huge blow. I got artists to drop off their handmade stuff, and BAM: insta-gallery! With times being tough, “Times Are Tough Gallery” just kind of stuck as a name. I can’t afford to open a gallery downtown, so we are making do with what we have while helping others. Every artist gets paid directly to their cash app; I do not handle any of their money. I’m advertising on Marketplace, local sell pages, and word of mouth just like everyone else. I don’t charge commission or any sort of fee. These are my friends, these are great people, they are all hurting, WE are all hurting, and they deserve every penny.

WUN: What’s the coolest item you’ve shown in your gallery to date? Can you tell us a little about some of the artists whose work you’ve displayed?

TATG: The coolest stuff I have displayed is graphic artist Swamp Yankee‘s work. Even though we work with totally different mediums, I really appreciate his stuff. I want to be like him when I grow up!

Another highlight is artist friend Kristine Springett’s jewelry and crocheted scarves. Pre-COVID, I used to go with her to her chemo treatments, and we learned to crochet together during them. Times were tough then too, in a different way for her, which is another significance to the name of the gallery.

Her husband, Mike Springett, who has helped us immensely, is artistic as well as handy. He handmade these amazingly cool repurposed wine cork boards, then stained the frames. We have nearly sold out, there’s just one left!

We carry Tiffany Pica’s earrings; she’s a firecracker! She makes these great holiday and seashell earrings.

We just got in Newport’s own Eileen Pollina into the gallery. She makes adorable greeting cards printed from her watercolor paintings!

I have my friend Molly Sexton‘s Miracle Stones in here! She makes the craziest, most intricate designs on smooth stones. It is absolutely mesmerizing!

Musician and artist Dan Blakeslee’s work will be joining the gallery this week, with some of his Newport Folk Festival and nautical prints! I’d love to have him perform his solo act live in the gallery if I can sway him into it. He’s the jolliest person I know!

And a really special event is coming up on December 13: John Begin with Cocktail Wars Newport is a local bartender and historian. He’s going to be filming his show in here! He’ll be teaching people how to make libations using local spirits, while sharing some mind-bending history!

WUN: You mentioned that your own artwork spurred the idea for the gallery. Can you share what you make?

TATG: My naughty metal bracelets, Hammered by Pia, have pages on Facebook and Instagram. It’s all mostly adult, I like to call it “real sayings for real people”. You can find “live love laugh” anywhere, but sometimes you just need to hear something that reminds you to pull up your boot straps. (The few printable Hammered examples: “Sounds gay, I’m in,” “Busy building my empire,” and the romantic “I tolerate you.”)

Also, my husband Ryan Miller and I take molted horseshoe crab shells and preserve them in resin. Sometimes they’re themed, sometimes they’re bare, some in shadow boxes, and some on 200-year-old wide plank flooring pulled from someone’s attic. All are named with hammered tags. I just made one and was able to encase all of its legs around the piece. I named it “Hopi Kokyangwuti,” a.k.a. “Spider Grandmother,” after the Hopi tribe legend. I thought it was appropriate because the Kokyangwuti can take form as a common spider, and the horseshoe crab is more closely related to spiders. As the Hopi legend has it, when she is called upon, she can provide medical cures, just like the horseshoe crab has done for humans for years! It was nice to turn it into an educational piece and bring attention to the Hopi tribe.

WUN: Is there a dream artist or dream type of artwork you’d love to display someday?

TATG: There are a ton of talented artists on this island, and I want to support them all. But if I were to “import” anyone non-local, it would DEFINITELY be a show of the playful and creepy art of Jim McKenzie; now that would be a wild ride! His work goes from your wildest child brain’s surrealism to deeper adult visions in anything from canvas to clay.

WUN: When you spoke of art earlier you mentioned, “If someone gave me a warehouse, I could fill it overnight with makers.” How did you get so plugged into the art community? Is there something you could share that’s particularly special about southern Rhode Island artists that you might not find in other states?

TATG: I try to make friends with my booth neighbors at every show. I will make them a bracelet and give them a beer to break the ice. I loved the camaraderie of shows, and I’m really missing my ‘Gansett beer family! They’re amazing people who treat all the artists with respect and help them out.

WUN: Do you have plans to expand your gallery someday into a larger space, or do you always want Times Are Tough Gallery to stay tiny?

TATG: I didn’t really have any plans to expand, I thought this was just going to be a Facebook Marketplace type of winter thing, but word is really getting out there. If it stays in this space, I’m OK with that; if someone’s sitting on a cool old empty building I can play around with, I’m OK with that, too! The future is just so unclear in so many ways. Hell, two weeks ago this was empty space; now I have eight artists’ pieces in a makeshift art speakeasy.

WUN: What would a dream day at Times Are Tough Gallery look like to you?

TATG: If Danny Trejo came and brought his Taco truck and some rescue dogs for adoption, I’d totally welcome that; he’s my hero.

WUN: Although you don’t post the gallery’s address publicly, you do book appointments (with masks required, and you provide gloves and clean stringently between showings). How can people schedule a visit?

TATG: The easiest way is to use the BOOK NOW button on our Facebook page.