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5 Questions with Jessica Barnhill
Tim Becker and Jessica Barnhill.

The Music Show is on display through April 25.

GALLERY ESPRESSO has been a destination for art lovers for 25 years now.

The cozy coffee shop constantly has art on its walls thanks to its thoughtful curator, Jessica Barnhill.

With her mother, Barnhill began Gallery Espresso in 1993 and has hosted artists in the shop ever since. She loves finding the unknown or underappreciated artists of our community and giving them a spot on their wall.

Gallery Espresso’s latest show, “The Music Show,” is an inventive show that uses musical instruments as the canvas. Painted guitars, illustrated drum heads, and even sculptures of saxophones fill Gallery Espresso’s walls.

We spoke with Barnhill last week.

1. How did “The Music Show” come about?

My boyfriend Tim Becker is a musician himself, or he dabbles in it, so he had some equipment he hadn’t been using that was in our garage. I thought, the Savannah Music Festival is coming up, and it’d be so cool if we did our own music show where we did artwork on musical instruments. I think if we got a variety of people, and a variety of talent to do it on all different instruments, we could dig up things that could be repurposed instead of brand new stuff. I don’t know about painting on a thousand-dollar instrument [laughs].

'A Horse with No Name' by Jessica Barnhill.
'A Horse with No Name' by Jessica Barnhill.

2. How did you pick the artists you wanted in the exhibition?

They’re all connected to me or to Gallery Espresso. Some of them are self-taught, some of them used to work here at some point; some were kids I went to SCAD with. Some are just friends I’ve known over the years.

I even did a piece. Tim did a couple guitars, and we had Shelley Smith do a sculpture of a saxophone. It turned out really cool. Jessica Knapp did a little drum top. This is our first time doing a two-month show. I wanted to extend it to run through the [Savannah] Music Festival.

3. Gallery Espresso celebrated 25 years last year. Have you been with it since then?

My mom and I got into it in ’93, so it’s been going ever since then. The art program has been since the beginning. Several successful local artists had their first show at Gallery Espresso. The cool thing about it is when I see raw talent, it’s fun to give them their first step, to see them grow as people and as artists and for them to have an opportunity for bigger and better things in their careers as artists. That’s super satisfying for me and continues to make Gallery Espresso a landmark in Savannah.

'You Can't Beat Me' by Jessica Knapp.
'You Can't Beat Me' by Jessica Knapp.

Being such an art town, it’s like you’re never short [of talent], you just need a venue. When kids start getting out of school and trying to get their feet wet, you need a place to get started. I’ve been happy to go to Alexander Hall for Open Studio and find some talented kids that if they’re stuck in town for a couple months and they want a show ... That’s kind of a fun thing to do. To see someone brand new that no one else has seen before. I like experimenting in that way. Having people from out of town is fun as well, just to keep it fresh, but I’m definitely very supportive of the local artists as well.

4. Who’s your next exhibition?

I have an artist, Vanessa Withun, who’s going to be for May. She’ll have some local landscapes. Her style is more of a traditional style. I think it’s going to fit in well with the garden tour going on during that weekend.

5. Do you often plan your exhibitions around the events in town?

I try to. Sometimes things sneak up on you! I try to have a heads-up and try to make some sort of plan. But sometimes, people that are involved with these organizations approach me and ask if I want to be involved, and I just try my best to do my part to be involved with any community situation. I can participate as much as I can without spreading myself too thin.