Keith Fitzgerald and Jeanne Paterak at Zero Station, an art gallery, frame shop and artist studio that’s been in East Bayside for 18 years. Staff photos by Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Keith Fitzgerald knew he had a good idea. He never imagined it would take so long for the neighborhood to catch up with it.

Fitzgerald relocated his funky art gallery and custom frame shop, Zero Station, from Cottage Road in South Portland to Anderson Street in Portland’s East Bayside neighborhood 18 years ago this winter. Back then, there wasn’t much happening in the Portland neighborhood. It was so quiet, he had to explain to people where East Bayside was, let alone the gallery’s specific location on Anderson Street.

“I used to have the doors open with music blaring, because there was nobody down here and nobody cared,” he said.

Today, the neighborhood is hopping with the fervent energy of roasters, brewers, furniture makers, potters, painters – and an inclusive mix of residents and workers. Now when he opens his doors, Fitzgerald sees families with strollers, young people on bikes and older couples walking from the galleries to the coffee shops and tasting rooms.

Zero Station celebrates its pioneering creative presence and relative stability in a quickly-changing community with a 20th-anniversary group show that will open with a neighborhood party Feb. 22, and double as a relaunch of the gallery as an active, engaged community space.

As they begin their 20th year overall and 18th on Anderson Street, Fitzgerald and his wife, the jewelry designer and maker Jeanne Paterak, are re-imagining Zero Station in much the same light they imagined it in the first place, as an active, creative maker space with a gallery and small showroom.

They’re calling their relaunch Zero Station 2.0.

Creative designs by Fitzgerald. Buy this Photo

Paterak recently moved her jewelry bench and shop to Anderson Street, and Fitzgerald has returned to a long-held interest in light and color and begun making what he calls Bespoke Reflectors – modernist wall-hung mirror systems made in array of interchangeable shapes and colors.

They are mirrors for the selfie set, and also art.

“They’re not only geared to the hipsters, but everybody who needs a mirror,” Fitzgerald said. “If somebody calls it art, it’s art. They can call it whatever they want. I just want to make something attractive.”

When he started at 222 Anderson St., Fitzgerald envisioned operating his frame shop, which is his specialty and bread-and-butter, while running a commercial gallery and small retail space that focused on artsy interior decor and ambiance, with some of his designs and those of others. Part of that plan worked out. The frame shop thrived, and Fitzgerald has become one of Maine’s go-to framers, particularly among photographers.

It’s been a consistent place for art and provocation. Zero Station has hosted live music, dance, movies and community talks, angling for opportunities to bring people in to look at and talk about art across media. Among the high-profile guests during the Zero Station’s Citizen Salon lecture series a decade ago was MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow.

The gallery side of things got off to a good start with notable photography exhibitions with Tanja Alexia Hollander, Scott Peterman and others, and has given exhibitions over the years to a range of artists and art collectives. But the gallery has been an on-and-off-again concern, and the commercial space never caught on.

During the lean years, Zero Station survived as a frame shop. As the neighborhood has grown up around them and other galleries opened, Fitzgerald and Paterak realized that maybe they were years ahead of their time.

“It made us think, maybe we should go back to what we started,” Fitzgerald said. “Whether they’ll come, we’ll see. A lot of folks may not realize it, but there are people making things down here other than beer and coffee. … This has always been a maker space, and it’s always very much been an artist space. The whole idea is that we will make it here and we will sell it here.”

Fitzgerald will continue with his frame work, taking advantage of the CNC machine he invested in a couple of years ago. The computer-controlled machine that measures and processes materials allows for a different level of precision and efficiency, and that has fueled his personal interest in the mirrors and reflectors, Fitzgerald said.

It’s a family affair. Their son Alex is a graphic designer, and he came up with a new logo, T-shirts and other swag.

Paterak has moved her jewelry bench to Zero Station. Buy this Photo

Paterak feels triumphant to have her shop in the Zero Station space. When gallery first opened, Paterak and Fitzgerald were a two-gallery family. He operated Zero Station and she had Plum in the State Theatre building, where she made and sold her jewelry. For a variety of reasons – raising kids, caring for parents – she set her work aside. Now she’s back.

“It feels really good,” she said.

She displays her work, including small paintings, in the gallery space. She is known for her jewelry, but her roots are in painting going back to her college days at Massachusetts College of Art and Cranbrook Academy of Art. Her work space is behind a wall, and the door is always open when she is there and working, which is most workdays.

Fitzgerald works in the back of the back of the space. They meet most days for lunch.

It’s a comfortable, homey space. They brought in a sofa and books from home.

Nat May, past executive director of Space, knew Fitzgerald from the frame work he did for the Bakery Photo Collective in Portland, when it was on Pleasant Street. Fitzgerald earned his reputation as a supporter of photographers because of his “eye for the work” and his ideas, May said. “Keith particularly has been important as someone who has been encouraging photographers all along – by helping them present their work but also by showing their work. It was exciting to visit Zero Station to see what people had been working on.”

Portland Museum of Art director Mark Bessire has admired Zero Station since the gallery’s formative days, and praised it as “a conveyor of thought-leaders in the cultural scene.” Bessire first interacted with Fitzgerald when, as director of the Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art, he went to him to frame an Ikè Udè exhibition.

He appreciates both Paterak and Fitzgerald as artists, makers and active members of the art community. “They have been a center for bringing together art and civic responsibilities. They both have great integrity and have fostered the trust of the art communities,” Bessire wrote. “It became quite a hub in early 2000s and an early experimenter in photography framing. Great mixed-media shows, too.”

May said Zero Station has remained a crucial part of Portland over the years, even with the irregularity of exhibitions, because of Fitzgerald’s willingness to share the space with community groups. His model of operating a community space and adapting to the needs to the neighborhood has been a good model for the community at large, May said.

“Portland has changed so much over time and I love how many people have felt empowered to start art spaces and galleries and performance venues. I think that process has been demystified,” he said. “But they don’t all last, and maybe they don’t need to. So it feels great to have a place like Zero Station stick around all this time and then excitedly and publicly say, ‘Hey we’re going to shift gears a bit, and then re-introduce our space to you’ after 20 years.”

Looking forward to the next iteration, Fitzgerald looks back to something he told the Press Herald in December 2002, when the gallery moved across the river from a relatively high-profile location in South Portland to a little-known, hard-to-find light industrial neighborhood along I-295 in Portland. He had taken over a building that once housed a taxi cab company, and liked the grittiness of the neighborhood. He described it as growing hipper every day.

“This part of the city is changing, and much faster than I thought it would,” he told the paper with great prescience 18 years ago.

The party on Feb. 22 signals both the next phase and a return to roots. The exhibition is coming together as a salon-style retrospective of artists who have framed or exhibited their work at Zero Station, from Maine and beyond.

“We’ve invited about 80 to submit something,” Paterak said. “It’s kind of a thank-you to the customers and artists we’ve interacted with because it takes a community to keep a place like this going.”


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