SARATOGA — Regular customers of Uncommon Grounds expect more than coffee and bagels when they walk into any of the store’s four locations. A board of seasonal specials occupies one wall of the cafes, but what adorns the other three rotates on a monthly basis as well. Only it’s not harvest soup being exchanged for summertime teas here – it’s a wide variety of local art.
Art Coordinator and Curator Fiona Neary grew up in a household chock-full of the store’s history. Her father was the architect responsible for designing the first cafe, which opened in 1992 on Broadway in Saratoga. Soon after that, her mother installed some of her work in the shop, becoming the first artist to ever show in an Uncommon Grounds. Neary described her own current role within the store as a full circle moment.
“They’d even bring me in when I was a baby to have breakfast,” she said.
Neary is responsible for curating all of the art featured in Uncommon Grounds’ four locations, which involves managing one show in Saratoga, two in Albany, and another in Clifton Park that all change on a monthly basis.
“I think they just want it to be a very cozy, homey environment to work and to have meetings in,” she said. “Having art on the walls is a part of that.”
“I’ll usually want to have a variety of different mediums,” she continued, describing the curation process. “Sometimes there’s a couple paintings and I’ll add some photography into that, to make it a unique mix in each store.”
Neary said that artists will often email her asking to have a show, or submit an online registration form at uncommongrounds.com. Other times, she’ll find work that catches her eye and personally reach out to the artist who produced it.
Jill Murphy is one such artist, who was invited by Neary to display in the Saratoga location this June. Murphy defines herself as an “Adirondack artist,” since most of her oil paintings depict scenes she encounters while hiking, canoeing and taking pictures up North. Her show is called “A Melody in Nature” and includes about 40 paintings.
“I want to take them to some place that I really love,” Murphy said. “I picked Saratoga because I have a load of paintings.”
Since Saratoga has the most wall space, artists with larger portfolios will usually display in that location, Neary said.
Also showing their work in June are artists Andrew Fontaine, Diane Swanson and Tatiana Schynoll. Fontaine’s art is currently up in the University Plaza location, Schynoll’s work is on display in the Stuyvesant Plaza location, and Swanson’s pieces can be seen in Clifton Park.
Although this is Schynoll’s first art show at an Albany location, her work has previously been featured at the shop in Saratoga on three separate occasions, beginning in 2016. The pieces she has chosen to exhibit in Stuyvesant are part of a portfolio entitled “In Full Color,” which consists of abstract oil and encaustic (wax) paintings.
“I’m really hoping that my body of work enlivens the space,” Schynoll said.
Like most of the art that Uncommon Grounds features in its shops, both Murphy and Schynoll’s work is for sale. According to Neary, artists receive 80 percent of the profits made from these sales, while Uncommon Grounds retains 20 percent. Customers are able to buy work directly at the register and then pick up their purchases at the end of the current month or beginning of the next one, when the show has officially closed.
Installing the work is usually a joint effort between Neary and the artists themselves.
“We’ll have a lot of communication back and forth about what looks the best,” Neary said. “We’ll make sure both of our visions line up for it.”
“It’s a really fun position for me to be in because I am also an artist,” she continued. “While I’m talking with these artists throughout the month, and specifically when we’re installing, I get to ask them questions about their process, and it’s really enlightening for me to just hear about how other people create art.”
As far as future plans go, Neary is considering the idea of featuring some children’s work. She would also like to curate more group shows.
“There’s a high percentage of one-artist shows because many people like filling the shop to display their body of work and prefer that, but I also always love it when there’s a group of artist friends that want to work together,” she said. “Sometimes I also will put two people together if they don’t have enough on their own, when I think their style will match, and that’s magical.”
Schynoll remembers going to the shop in Saratoga frequently while growing up, especially after class in high school.
“I think it’s really great that Uncommon Grounds has rotating art exhibitions, so customers can see a different set of work throughout the year,” she said. “Uncommon Grounds has been a big part of my life, so I’m really happy to exhibit my work there.”