by Sheri Boggs

If you didn't know any better, you'd swear that you'd wandered into some remote corner of the European wing of the Seattle Art Museum. With its soft pewter gray walls, wood floors and astonishingly beautiful, enormous landscapes, the new Galleria De Felice has a smart and understated elegance, perfectly in keeping with its location on the main floor of the Davenport Hotel.

"I saw the Davenport as being a great magnet for all sorts of things, and one way I could be involved was by opening the gallery," says sculptor Vince De Felice, a Spokane native who quit his day job at North by Northwest to open the gallery along with his wife, Monique. "When the Davenport renovation started getting underway, the opportunity was right there in front of me."

Although De Felice had never before owned a gallery in the formal sense, his years of experience as one of the most noted sculptors in the area have helped shape both the direction of the gallery and its inventory.

"I wanted something really different from anything else in Spokane. I wanted really high-caliber fine art, and I wanted to deal only in original art," he explains. "I have good relationships with a lot of other artists in the area, which is why I can have someone like Melville Holmes or Ovanes Berberian here."

Holmes, the Davenport's artist-in-residence, was reportedly in the Hall of Doges "painting the ceiling on his back, like Michelangelo" on the day we visited, but we were instantly enamored of his pieces in the gallery.

The Age of Gold, in fact, grabbed us for a good long while with its rich Mediterranean colors, masterful-yet-delicate technique and its beguiling hand-painted frame.

Giving the gallery much of its museum-quality feel were Berberian's large-scale landscapes. In some cases four or five feet wide, his gorgeous twilight scenes have a bit of the abstract combined with a stronger impressionist or representational impact. There is nothing "hip" or "fashionable" about them; instead, they possess the solid, lasting beauty of simple nature-adoration.

"When artists hear I have his work here, they actually come in to study it," says De Felice. "I have one painter who comes from Idaho to sit and study the brush strokes for a few hours."

In addition to the paintings are sculptures, many by Otis Orchards sculptor Glenn Emmons, whose western- and outdoors-influenced pieces provide a nice visual contrast to the works on the walls. Heidi Wastweet, who worked previously carving coins for minting companies, has several bronze bas-reliefs in the gallery, their Greek lines and attention to detail giving testimony to the artist's sure, elegant hand. There are also sculptures by De Felice himself, including the bronze visage of Vanitas and the three wild horses of Spirit of the Plains.

The former Davenport had held a gallery in its heyday, the Curtis, and De Felice wanted to uphold its strong reputation. Although there won't be an ever-changing roster of current exhibits, the gallery will hold the occasional artist reception and it also offers its services in art placement, framing, consulting and most importantly, the procurement of * art not necessarily shown on the gallery walls.

"Not only am I able to locate most styles in most price ranges for people, if somebody wants something at the super high extreme of the art spectrum, for instance a very specific piece by say Picasso or Rembrandt, I can put the call out," he says. "And I can do that because of my relationships in the art world. That's something that's totally unique to this area."

Nevertheless, the gallery has a calm, approachable feel, and De Felice himself is quietly engaging and helpful. Which is just the way he wants it.

"The one thing I want to stress the most is that even if the gallery appears high end, I don't intend it to be exclusive," he says. "Everyone is welcome. "

Spokane County Interstate Fair: Fair Food Drive-Thru @ Spokane County Fair & Expo Center

Fri., Sept. 18, 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Sat., Sept. 19, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. and Sun., Sept. 20, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
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