After spending a decade bringing life, love, and art to Columbia’s Main Street, local gallery Anastasia & Friends will close its doors this month.
Nearly 10 years ago, Anastasia Chernoff, local sculptor and art collector, had the idea to start an art gallery in the lobby of the Free Times building, and with that, Anastasia & Friends was born. Chernoff started the gallery as a way to bring the art community together on Main Street, and this goal continued through her six years running the gallery until well after her death.
Bohumila Augustinova, who has run and managed the gallery since Chernoff first became ill almost four years ago, recalls her as being the kind of person who welcomed anyone into her life as a close friend within moments of meeting them. “She never met a stranger,” Augustinova said, “You met her and felt like you had known her your whole life.”
For Chernoff then and for Augustinova now, the gallery has been an opportunity for both established and new artists to show their work. “One of my prides,” Augustinova stated, “has been to show off artists who have never had a solo show before.” Overall, the goal of the studio has never been to be pretentious with their art but to show that all art is important.
Largely in part to its inclusive approach to art celebration, when Anastasia & Friends initially opened it was one of the main stops that made First Thursday such a prominent event. Now, close to a decade later, Anastasia & Friends closes its run with that same tentpole status for the monthly arts crawl.
Augustinova remembers that one of the first art exhibits Chernoff ran was called “Funny Art,” which echoed the fun and laughter Chernoff brought to everything she did.
Chernoff ran the gallery with this positive attitude until her health declined, and she had to step down. Chernoff asked Augustinova, both her friend and an artist who had an exhibition at the gallery just before she became ill, to take over. Augustinova fondly remembers the press letter Chernoff released when announcing she would take over the gallery: “I cried when I read it, and every time I see it in my memories, I cry again.”
In that letter, Chernoff calls the art openings at Anastasia & Friends “reunions, filled with old and new friends gathered to see and talk about the latest exhibition and their lives.” For Chernoff, the most important aspect of the gallery was that it promoted a family, and, in that, she succeeded.
Many people have been supporting Augustinova with this family in the past years. Diane Hare has been fondly named “Wine Goddess” for supplying the beverages at First Thursday events; other friends of the studio include John Allen, Grayson Goodman, and Lee Ann Kornegay, to name just a few.
Now, Augustinova and those at the gallery want to celebrate this last first Thursday, aptly titled “Last First,” by bringing together as many artists as possible who have participated in shows at Anastasia & Friends in the past. This event, sponsored by Free Times, Michael Anastasion, and Terri Mac, will be the last big hurrah for the gallery.
Featured artists include, but are not limited to, Kathryn Van Aernum, Laura Garner Hine, Michael Krajewski, Eileen Blyth, Wayne Thornley, Susan Lenz, and Matthew Kramer. In addition to the artists, there will be live performances by Caroline Lewis Jones, Joseph Daniels, music by Preach Jacobs, and an auction of a portrait of Anastasia. Drink & food will be provided.
A complete list of both people who support the gallery and of participating artists would be hard to name, and this is mainly because of all the people Anastasia touched over her years supporting the arts in Columbia. Augustinova remembers Chernoff as, “a light; a ray of sunshine on rainy days.” Her tendrils reach out to all, and they still remain, almost three years after her death.
All good things must come to an end, however, and change is an inevitable part of life. As Free Times moves to their new building, the gallery has chosen to close this chapter of its life. Augustinova does not plan to let the name Anastasia & Friends die, though. The legacy of the gallery will live on through different shows and events she will do in name of the studio.
However, the biggest legacy that will live on is in all of the people the gallery touched, and made family, over its run. In these 10 years, even after Chernoff’s death, the message that art binds us to one another will live on in all the people who were part of Anastasia & Friends. Whether you helped work with the gallery, presented work in an exhibition, or just stopped by on a First Thursday to peek at the art, Anastasia’s spirit continues within you. We hold the light and love that this gallery and its people put forth, and it is up to us to spread that light even after the gallery closes its doors.
If you want to celebrate the love, community, and light that is Anastasia & Friends for a final First Thursday event, come out to Last First, this Thursday the 6th at 6:00 p.m. You can find more information on their Facebook event page.