How the serendipitous dream of 13Forest grew

Marc Gurton, left, and Jim Kiley at 13Forest.Marc Gurton, left, and Jim Kiely at 13Forest in East Arlington.

A 'pop-and-pop-run business' thrives

Marc Gurton, co-owner, of 13Forest Gallery at 167A Mass. Ave., Capitol Square in East Arlington, met me between snowstorms. He and his husband, Jim Kiely, share ownership of 13Forest. His cozy gallery is just a block walk from the Capitol Theater; all items are made by hand.

I wanted to know how 13Forest had grown from its original location in Medford Square to East Arlington.

"Building relationships with artists" and being a "family business" are what fulfill Gurton. It’s a "pop-and-pop-run business," he says, as the co-owners collaborate in all respects.

Following a successful 20-year career in corporate accounting, Gurton felt his enthusiasm for his job wane, and a need for a change was inevitable. In 2006, the New York native was fortunate to have the time and finances to visit friends in England, France, Ireland, Italy and Tunisia.

Gurton planned the February trip that year to coincide with the three-day St. Agatha festival in Catania in Sicily, near Mount Aetna. Standing up for her faith to the Romans, St. Agatha is known as “the patron saint” of breast-cancer survivors and firefighters. He vividly recalls the 2006 festival, as men in white tunics and black hats led a procession of hundreds of thousands through the streets.

After his immersion in other cultures, at home with Kiely in West Medford, Gurton found the effect of the trip "serendipitous." He found a job posting on the Medford listserv for an accountant in a Medford art gallery, and Kiely encouraged him. He soon became the accountant for Lisa Tang Liu, a computer programmer-turned-wedding photographer.

How gallery got its name

13Forest Street was the address of the tiny wedding photography gallery in Medford Square called Pigmentia Studio. Gurton shared with Lisa his ideas for drawing more people to the gallery in the confusing streets of Medford Square by organizing events called "Third Thursdays."

With these and other successful events bringing more people to the gallery, they began showing local artists' work. Fortuitously, a "big corporate client" came onboard. Kiely helped him curate shows. When Liu decided to focus on expanding her photography, she "literally gave me the keys" to the gallery, says Gurton, who had no experience in art-gallery ownership. He decided to take the leap. Gurton "has a thing for prime numbers," so the name and address of the gallery felt serendipitous to him.

Gurton had been surrounded by artists and art throughout his life. His mother and cousin are visual artists. He and Kiely, who has an art history and philosophy degree, are art collectors. His mother and cousin joined him at open studios and art shows, where his experience in retail inspired him to learn more about hand-made jewelry. Soon, his brother found the current gallery location on Craigslist.

Good fit with Capitol Square shops

In late 2007, the kind of shops in the neighborhood around the Capitol Theater -- such as Monroe Saltworks, Artbeat and Maxima, many featuring hand-made items and encouraging creativity -- seemed a perfect fit for 13Forest. With his "good eye for art and decorating," Gurton worked with carpenters to transform the new site, and 13Forest in East Arlington opened in February 2008.

The business owners of East Arlington met, and with the leadership of Artbeat owner Jan Whitted, shared ideas to draw more potential customers to the neighborhood. Naming the area "Capitol Square" and ideas for yearly special events were born.

In June, the square celebrates the Feast of the East and in December, the holiday shopping event First Lights. While some businesses have left the area, Gurton and other Capitol Square business owners are welcoming the opening of Derby Farm Flowers & Gardens, the popular store in Arlington Center, in the space formerly occupied by Wings Over Arlington.

13Forest is a curated art space, not an open studio. The owners are approachable and knowledgeable about the art in the gallery which includes fine art, photography, sculpture, ceramics, glass and jewelry. Staff members include a full-time gallery manager, Maggie Jensen, who "helps run the place for us," Gurton says.

'Finishing school'

Through the years, interns attending art school have worked at 13Forest. He says his gallery has become a "finishing school" for those excited to work in the field.

"I’ve been in the corporate life so long, I teach my employees things they’d never learn otherwise," he says. One manager went onto a job at Sotheby’s. Sarah Buyer, a previous manager is now marketing and outreach coordinator for the nearby Arlington Center for the Arts.

What's happening?

Periodic events spice 13Forest's schedule. On Feb. 6 an artist talk and reception for the current exhibit, "Likely Stories," drew about 20 people. The paintings of Bulgarian artist Boriana Kantcheva draw "on memories and imagination to create compelling narrative imagery in print and gouache."

As part of Romancing the Square on Friday, Feb. 13, 13Forest is hosting an adult-oriented event, "After Hours" featuring "Opera on Tap" from 7 to 9 p.m. "Opera on Tap" is a nonprofit organization of professional singers that brings opera to more relaxed setting in local bars, restaurants and arts institutions.

Short sets will begin at 7:30 and 8:15 p.m. Gurton promises this event "will be a bit bawdy."

This story was published Wednesday, Feb.  11, 2015. The author, Susie Goldman, is a volunteer feature writer for YourArlington.