Patrick Ryan ’68 doesn’t do “art speak.” But he does know how to command the stage at an auction, rattling off antiques and art at break-neck speed to the highest bidder. Last Saturday, at the historicBenjamin Temple house and dairy farm in Ewing, N.J., where he was born and raised, Ryan auctioned off more than 80 items in 2 1/2 hours under a blazing hot sun — all for charity, to support the Ewing Township Historic Preservation Society.
Ryan has led a life of talking fast and moving faster. A long-time art collector and gallery owner, Ryan is just as comfortable in overalls and work boots as in seersucker shorts and a polo shirt.
He reckons he somehow “inherited the Irish gypsy gene,” a drive that rattled against the quiet rituals of his father’s 166-acre dairy farm: rising at 4:30 a.m. to milk 50 cows, twice per day. “The cows don’t care if it’s Christmas,” he remembers.
One item on the auction block was an original milk bottle from the Ryan family’s farm, which opened in 1903. “No one can believe that there was a dairy farm out in Jersey,” he says. “But that’s all there was: horses and cows and peaches.”
Ryan’s wanderlust took him far beyond his father’s dairy farm — to boarding school, to Princeton, and after graduation to law school in Washington, D.C., then homes in Chicago, Honolulu, Louisiana, La Jolla, San Francisco, Sante Fe, Oregon, Key Biscayne, Las Cruces — and home again, after five years as the director of an art gallery in Charleston, S.C., and nine years as a pecan farmer.
Last May, Ryan opened Gallery 353, a one-room art gallery in Princeton. Tucked within the basement of the McCarthy building on Nassau Street, the gallery’s current collection is as eclectic as Ryan’s background.
“It’s a great job to be able to sit and just enjoy beautiful things. Especially when you can’t lift — when you can’t do fence holes any more!” he laughs.
Gallery 353 currently features the work of four contemporary artists: Heather Haaga (plein air and still life oil paintings), Nancy Merrill (collages and figurative expressionist oil paintings), Katherine Mooney(computer-generated sculpture, animation, and video), and Richard Trenner ’70 (photography).
Although the gallery is subterranean, the space is bright, well lit, and precisely structured. Merrill’s bold, crisp, floor-to-ceiling nude paintings flank one wall, opposite Haaga’s series of radiant and opulently framed landscape works. The gallery also makes use of the adjacent hallway walls that weave throughout the lower level.
In the tight walk through, every corner is considered, every space is full: a painting, a collage, a sculpture, an antique bust, a vintage print. Scattered about are estate items: furniture and trinkets. “Everything’s for sale!” Ryan grins.
Trenner’s upcoming show, entitled “A Tale of Three Cities: Photographs of New York, Philadelphia, and Princeton,” features 35 black-and-white photographs. The opening reception is Sept. 18 from 5-8 p.m. Trenner, a Princeton-based writer and communications consultant, was formerly a lecturer at the Woodrow Wilson School.
What is art, anyway? To Ryan, art is “what grabs you.” It’s “what allows you to look at the world in a new way.”
At Gallery 353, there’s certainly a lot to look at.