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'He made people open their eyes': Arthur Moniz Gallery, showcase for scenic beauty of the South Coast, closes in New Bedford

Jennette Barnes
Cheryl Moniz stands behind the desk at the Arthur Moniz Gallery in New Bedford after helping a customer on Feb. 23, 2022. The family-run gallery closed at the end of February after two decades in the Whaling National Historical Park.

The Arthur Moniz Gallery has been a fixture in New Bedford’s national park almost as long as the park’s been around.

The building, across from the Whaling Museum, is the color of mustard, with hinged, dark green shutters.

In the front windows, the subjects that made a name for Moniz are the same ones that made New Bedford: whaling and fishing vessels, historical architecture, and local landscapes.

Moniz died in 2018. His art lives on, but the gallery his family ran for two decades closed last month.

A few days before the last day, a woman inside is talking to a customer about Moniz’s work.

It’s Cheryl Moniz, whose name is in the gold lettering on the door, right beside her husband’s. While Arthur worked in his studio, Cheryl shepherded the business with help from their children.

“The back of the gallery — I always say, ‘Behind the iron gates’ — are all of Arthur's originals,” she says, gesturing toward two portable walls hung with framed prints that form an informal gateway to the rear of the store. “And everything in the front are all prints, framed and unframed.”

She lights up when she talks about her husband.

“Probably his biggest love was doing the fishing boats and the fishing area. New Bedford's history and heritage was very, very important to him,” she says.

Jennette Barnes
A few days before the closing of the Arthur Moniz Gallery, Moniz's original paintings were selling from the gallery's rear walls.

Moniz was a man of fine drawing — pen and ink, or graphite colored with watercolor.

Cheryl flips through the print racks, looking for one Arthur painted for the New Bedford Whaling Museum of the whaleship Charles W. Morgan coming into port. The original painting fetched more than $50,000 at a benefit auction.

Instead she finds another print of the Morgan — this one sailing into a misty white distance.

“This is one that I love,” she says. “This is ‘Last Voyage.’ I love that painting.” She continues to flip through the prints. The right one eludes her, but she pulls out a different one. “OK, that's another favorite of mine,” she says, with clear admiration and a chuckle at herself.

For all the attention Arthur’s work has received, it’s also accessible. His smaller prints sold for less than $100 — some even $40.

He saw the beauty in simple things, like a robin on its nest. And his pen-and-inks of local town waterfronts found a broad audience.

“He started doing those, I think, in ’85,” Cheryl says of the images of local towns. “But they just continued to sell, my God, for years.”

There’s a customer in the store — Mark Blouin. Cheryl offers to cash him out, but he’s been lingering to listen to her stories.

When he finally makes it to the front desk, he’s carrying a print of catboats off Westport. He likes the way it gives the impression of really being on the waterfront, he says.

“It's kind of neat how he can have, like, the haze coming across, instead of everything being so sharp and pristine. You can actually see the effect of the water in the air,” he says.

As Cheryl wraps the print, he says he has a houseful of Moniz’s work.

“And Cheryl's always been wonderful,” he says. “And I love listening to her, which is why I stayed here so long, just enjoying it. And the history and — it's amazing.”

You can sense the emotion as they imagine the gallery’s last day.

“I'm so lucky,” Cheryl says. “I don't know how I'm ever going to close the door next Tuesday.”

“I know. It's going to be sad,” Blouin says.

Jennette Barnes
The Arthur Moniz Gallery occupied this building at the corner of William Street (foreground) and Johnny Cake Hill, adjacent to the New Bedford Whaling Museum, at left.

The Monizes made their mark on the community. They were supporters of the Azorean Maritime Heritage Society, and they donated prints to The Standard-Times’ Neediest Families Fund, to raise money for children’s gifts and clothing for the holidays.

Lee Heald, longtime director of New Bedford’s AHA! Nights of arts and culture, says the gallery was one of the early anchors of an arts revival.

“And so, it was always great when Arthur came, particularly because he was right next to the Whaling Museum, so it was a very populated space,” she says. “Because you thought, ‘OK, that's the beginning of William Street coming back as the art street of New Bedford.’ He was really a herald of what we see here today.”

Arthur Moniz knew he wanted to be an artist by the time he was ready to graduate from New Bedford High School, where he and Cheryl met. But first, he had to get over a hurdle.

“My father in law, in the old days, said, ‘No son of mine is going to be an artist. You have to become a teacher if you want to go to art school.’” Cheryl says. “So he went to Mass College of Art to become a teacher.”

But he didn’t like the talking part of teaching, she says; he wanted to be in the studio. So he sidestepped the teaching path and started drawing advertising art for the yellow pages.

“So it started with commercial [art], and then the dream was to go full time — obviously fine art. And we were able to do that,” she says. “Very lucky. We were a team.”

Cheryl will still be selling Arthur’s work online — work that showcases a region that many feel went underappreciated for too long.

“We were both born in New Bedford, and I think sometimes people didn't see the beauty that's here,” she says. “What he painted made people open their eyes and see just what a beautiful place this is.”

They’ve seen it through the pencil and brush of Arthur Moniz.