It's a Friday night in town, and a local coffee shop opens its doors to the general public, welcoming them in for free food and art. Residents stroll slowly through the shop, taking their time to admire paintings and photographs of Italy, while conversing with one another.
This is a sight normally found in the Old City or Manayunk neighborhoods of Philadelphia, or even Phoenixville or West Chester in the suburbs. But last Friday, it was the atmosphere at 'feine, the month-old coffee shop on Fayette Street in Conshohocken.
"This is combining my two passions, coffee and art," says owner Daniela de Souza, standing in the back room of the shop turned gallery, visitors milling about. "I've been a resident of Conshohocken for two years, and I think that we needed this exact business. We needed a coffee shop and we needed a place where artists can not only show their stuff but also kind of connect and be able to meet each other."
de Souza made the jump into small business ownership after twelve years in the traditional workforce. While working as the manager of an Apple Store, de Souza met an employee named Judy Smith, who would prove to become a key connection in the opening of 'feine and also the featured photographer in Friday night's gallery.
A resident of Conshohocken since 2010, Smith became friends with her former boss and saw an opportunity for de Souza to follow her dreams of opening a shop.
"A good friend of mine's husband bought this building," says Smith, as she prepared hors d'oeuvres before the show. "And I told him that I knew a friend that wanted to start a coffee shop and ditch her day job."
Smith arranged a meeting between the two and the rest, as they say, is history. Given Smith's importance in the creation of 'feine, it only made sense for her to be one of the two featured artists at Friday's show.
"I have been a photographer, really ever since my Dad handed me a camera at eight-years-old," says Smith. " I've always been a person that would draw or paint, so it sort of augmented my liking to compose things in a rectangle."
Smith attended Moore College of Art and Design mainly to study the arts, but also took a few photography courses where she learned how to operate manual cameras and work in the darkroom. She eventually made the switch to digital cameras around 2002, and brought along a Nikon 5-megapixel camera to Italy in 2004. The resulting photographs were on display Friday night.
"This show actually represents photography in the beginning of my digital career," says Smith. "But because of my foundation in film, I don't do much editing on the computer. With most of the pictures you'll see in the gallery, there's no color effects or filters or any of that stuff… it's what I saw."
Smith also helped to bring Friday night's other featured artist on board, Philadelphia resident Francesco Sessa. The two met earlier in the summer at the Manayunk Arts Festival, and Smith arranged a meeting with de Souza that ultimately resulted in the Italian-born artist agreeing to showcase his work in the inaugural event.
A native of Florence who moved to the U.S. four years ago after meeting his wife, Sessa's paintings mainly feature bright depictions of the Italian countryside.
"I paint mostly landscapes, and that's just what I love to paint," says Sessa, who added that he's learning how to capture American scenes on canvas. "I'm still a guest in this country, and the light is really different. Italian lights comes to me really easy, and I challenge myself right now trying to get he Pennsylvania landscape."
Sessa, whose work has been featured in various Philadelphia festivals and received juried awards at the Manayunk-Roxborough Arts Center, was impressed with 'feine's first show.
"I think this is a really nice space, they did a really great, professional job with the lighting and everything else," Sessa said.
de Souza says she hopes to have a new gallery every month or so, possibly on the second Friday of each month to prevent competing with already established first Fridays in traditional art centers. She says the community has welcomed her business with open arms since the shop's July 4th opening, and she hopes to continue to provide quality coffee and art in return.
"It's amazing how people support you, especially here in Conshohocken where it's such a great place to have a business," de Souza says. "We already have four artists that are going to have shows here, and most of them are from Conshohocken. I want to try and keep it as local as possible."
Stop into 'feine at 812 Fayette Street in Conshohocken or check them out online. To see Francesco Sessa's work, stop in to the Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center. To see a slideshow of Judy Smith's Italian photography, click here.