A place to createNov 26, 2017 09:32AM ● By J. Chambless
Roderick Hidalgo II and Trissa Hill at RH Gallery and Studios. (Photo by Kevin Barrett)
Roderick Hidalgo II wanted to create a studio space where artists could work and feed off one another's energy. When he learned that a Hockessin location had a large, open space at the front, he decided to make that space into a gallery. “The gallery was almost an afterthought,” he said. “I just really felt the need to have my own creative space where I could curate my own art shows.”
After having done most of the renovation work himself, starting in April and finishing up in early July, the RH Gallery and Studios officially opened in September 2017. It's on Old Lancaster Pike, across the street from the Wawa entrance.
Hidalgo spent most of his formative years in Hockessin. He wanted to create a unique place for residents and tourists to visit, for example, on a Sunday afternoon after having lunch in town. “This is where I grew up. What kind of person would I be if I didn't try to make the place I grew up a better place?” he said. “I want to bring something to the table.”
The gallery is not only an attraction for Hockessin residents and visitors, however. Hidalgo, who has been teaching art at Nativity Preparatory School of Wilmington since 2013, also wants his gallery to be a space that encourages other artists by giving them confidence to display their works.
Hidalgo works with resin and powdered pigment, a method he says is rarely used. He has only met one other artist in the United States who works in the medium, which he describes as time-consuming. “A lot of it is actually more science than art,” he said. “It's a chemical process, a technical process, a liquid medium. In a way, it does want what it wants to, but I’ve learned to control it over the years.” While the gallery does exhibit traditional art such as oil paintings, he wants to create a space where less traditional art can be appreciated. He has found that people who live in the Hockessin area tend to favor more traditional pieces. “I like to mix in extremely contemporary work with traditional, so people can view it and not be turned off by it,” he said.
Hidalgo’s journey to becoming a gallery owner took well over a decade. He attended A.I. DuPont High School, where he concentrated in art. He admits he ended up doing so because he enrolled late, and his only choices were art and band. However, he had enjoyed art before his enrollment.
“I always doodled on paper and remember always being a maker of some sort and having a wild imagination,” he said. “If I didn't have a Pokémon card that I wanted, I'd make my own. I was really into superheroes and anime as a kid, so I most frequently drew these characters. I also reached a point where I was really into architecture and car design. I would draw fantasy cars or homes, and dream big.”
However, he had no intention of becoming an artist as a child. He wanted to be either an FBI agent or Cirque du Soleil performer. It wasn't until after his sophomore year of high school that he decided he wanted to dedicate his life to art.
He credits teacher Bob Boyce for the decision. Boyce, he said, was very strict and set high standards for the best work. While Boyce is now retired, the two are still in contact. “If he had been any different, I don’t know if I’d be where I am,” Hidalgo said. “He just made such a huge impact.”
After graduating from high school, Hidalgo ended up styling hair at area salons instead of painting or sculpting. During those few years, he admits that he was partying too hard. In 2010, he finally decided to recommit himself to his art.
He still needed to support himself, so he worked as a barista, then as a server on the Wilmington waterfront. All the while, he was creating works of art. Finally, at 22, he sold his first painting, for $100, to his friend George Meldrum, a lobbyist for Nemours. At the time, he was painting in an abstract style using encaustic paints, made from heated beeswax and colored pigments. He learned about encaustic painting after visiting a gallery in Lambertville, N.J., with a friend. An artist exhibiting there worked in encaustic, and Hidalgo wanted to learn more about it.
“I’ve always been interested in different textures and surfaces,” he said. “I’ve never been a traditional artist.”
Soon after selling the first painting, he sold another painting for $1,500. That’s when he realized he might be able to make a living with his art. He also spent about a year taking continuing education courses at the Delaware College of Art and Design in Wilmington. It was during that time that he decided he wanted to work with resin, and taught himself.
“I figured out that no one would be able to teach me that,” he said. “Ever since, I’ve been working with that medium.”
Afterwards, he tried a number of glaze coats and varnishes, but nothing really helped to accomplish what he wanted until he saw a painting that was encased in resin while he was visiting a museum in Boston. He bought resin when he returned home and started experimenting. The decision to work with resin was partially the result of an accident. He had an exhibit at a gallery in downtown Wilmington. A curious child tried to feel the texture of an encaustic painting and accidentally knocked it off the wall, chipping a corner. Hidalgo said he was not satisfied with knowing his work would go to a new home and possibly not withstand a simple accident.
“I got a few interesting results and a ton of terrible mistakes,” he said. Eventually, after months of experimentation, he got the hang of his new medium and decided to work only in resin.
Hidalgo admits that his family, while supportive, was nervous about his decision to focus solely on his art career. Almost everyone in his family works, or has worked, in the medical field in some capacity. They initially suggested he focus on something else and work on his art on the side. “I wasn’t going to take that for an answer,” he said.
While he owns his own gallery and studio, and his work can be found in private collections in 20 states, Hidalgo said that one of his great joys in life is being a teacher. When he started at Nativity Preparatory School four years ago, the school didn’t have an art program. His work there started as a volunteer, working with a comic book club. He was eventually asked to become a staff member.
“Even if I hit the lottery or sold my work for a million dollars, I'd still give back and teach these guys,” Hidalgo said. “They are such a vibrant and gifted group. I couldn't leave them without a creative outlet.”
George Meldrum, who was the first person to purchase one of Hidalgo’s works of art, now owns several of his pieces. An art collector who sits on the board of the Delaware Children’s Museum in Wilmington, Meldrum has known Hidalgo for a decade. He has also bought from other artists who work out of Hidalgo’s studio. While not an artist himself, Meldrum thinks he has a good eye. “I know what I like when I see it,” he said.
In regard to Hidalgo’s decision to open a studio and gallery in Hockessin, Meldrum said that it takes a special sort of person, and all of our lives are enriched by art. “Just the energy he has to bring other artists together is an art form,” Meldrum said. “I think it really contributes to our neighborhoods. He has a level of confidence that you don’t see in everybody.”
The woman who bought Hidalgo's second piece of art, back when he was still working with encaustic paints, now rents space in his studio and pursues her own artistic endeavors.
Trissa Hill, a Hockessin resident, learned of Hidalgo’s work through a mutual friend. She was looking for art for her vacation home in Ocean City, Md. Her friend showed her pictures of Hidalgo’s work on his phone, and she was impressed enough to meet Hidalgo in front of the K-Mart in Pike Creek and pay him for a piece of work he had not yet created. She told him she wanted something “beachy.” Otherwise, he was free to do whatever he wanted.
Hill designed the room in her vacation home around what Hidalgo created, and he is now a friend of her family. He’s also the one who gave her the courage to create her own art. About 15 years ago, she took a class with local printmaker Mitch Lyons, but spent the years that followed focused on her family. Her art took a backseat to being a homemaker. “I was too afraid to be an artist,” Hill said. “I didn’t have the courage until recently.”
Hill, who donates the proceeds from her work to charity, said that everyone at the studio Hidalgo built gets along, and she enjoys having her own creative space. At times, she’ll go to the studio to just relax and unwind. “There’s a constant flow of information, discussion, and ideas,” she said.
Hidalgo intends to continue having show openings at his gallery every month, on the second Friday. In October, which happened to be Friday the 13th, the artwork was Halloween themed. While he typically works with bright colors, his work was uncharacteristically black.
“My goal is to provide a new experience every time someone walks through our doors,” he said. “Our range will be anything from contemporary to traditional, including sculptures and installations.”
RH Gallery and Studios is at 1304 Old Lancaster Pike, Suite D, in Hockessin. Call 302-377-1989 or find them on Facebook.