People have been walking up to Joni Parker-Roach recently wearing worried expressions. They’re concerned that she and her art gallery and school are leaving Groton. Parker-Roach knows that the confusion often stems from the fact that there are (soon will be ‘were’) two businesses in Groton with the same name, albeit different fonts. Parker-Roach runs NOA Fine Arts Gallery and School, located on the ground floor of her home at 113 Main Street. noa jewelry and gifts, at 115 Main Street, is closing and reopening in Boston. Parker-Roach lauds the confusion about the name because it sparks thought, questioning, and conversation she said, and communicating and strengthening community through the arts is key to everything Parker-Roach does.
Parker-Roach has been “an artist all my life,” she said. She grew up in Westford and attended Worcester State College for fine arts and art history and concentrated on painting and drawing.
After graduating, Parker-Roach worked for Digital Equipment Company’s advertising department, working with the graphic designers, photographers, and printers. Another staff person at DEC made a big impression on her. Parker-Roach says, “I met him because he had some books that he wrote printed, and it was through me, and some of the pages were bound upside-down! So he called to complain.” This was Patrick Parker-Roach, her future husband.
I did a lot of drawing and painting, tons of photography, surrounded by the most amazingly beautiful place to me in the world
They moved to San Diego, and then the South of France. Their son, Dylan, was born. Pat continued to work for Digital and Joni Parker-Roach spent more time on her art. “I did a lot of drawing and painting, tons of photography, surrounded by the most amazingly beautiful place to me in the world,” she remembers, and it’s clear that she is seeing it while she speaks.
After four years in France, “We came back here, and landed in Groton! People say, ‘Oh, you’re from Westford and now you live it Groton’,” she laughs, explaining, “It was a boomerang thing.” Parker-Roach held a variety of different positions, and took care of their son while her husband traveled for his business.
Ten years ago her neighbor and friend, Barbara Scofidio, began talking about creating a studio space, showcasing local artists. “It started with ‘The Beat’. The (idea) for NOA started with the first Open Studios that the Beat did in the fall; the Beat was the spark, the inspiration for NOA” The Middlesex Beat was a monthly arts and entertainment magazine and sponsored Artist’s Open Studios, a weekend where area artists would open their doors to the public.
Parker-Roach and Scofidio visited the studios and thought: what if they could have a space that featured these artist’s work? “I mean,, I knew a lot of creative people in the area,” Parker-Roach exclaims, “but I didn’t realize how many there were,”
They came up with the name NOA together, a word that has meanings in many different languages “Being an art history major, I was quite embarrassed by this,” Parker-Roach discloses, when someone asked if she named her store after, “Gauguins’ book NOA NOA,” which he wrote when he was painting and living in Tahiti. She explains, “ In that language it means ‘beautiful little flower’!” –another reason to embrace the name.
They first opened in the little space in the bottom of the Parker-Roachs’ Main Street building. They filled it with the work of 21 artists, and then it grew. And grew. And grew. They moved upstairs to the ground floor.
We made a promise to each other that we would never let the business interfere with out friendship
“It’s never been about NOA; it’s bigger than NOA,” she explains when asked if other galleries pose a threat, “It’s about Groton, it’s been about the town, increasing the creative energy in a space – which is the town. And supporting creative spirit in everyone, whether you are an artist or not, and just appreciate looking at it. We talk a lot about collaboration, that word is used a lot; and competition is used a lot. I’ve never been the kind of person that wants to get a bigger piece of the pie. I want to make the pie bigger and everybody gets a bigger piece.”
Around 2002, Parker-Roach began to offer classes, “I love working with kids.” She found others to teach adult classes, as she wanted to take classes, too. “I wanted to make sure that the teachers coming here were of the caliber that I wanted for the gallery. I have amazing teachers. Suzanne Binnie, from Hollis, New Hampshire …..she is the finest watercolor and color theory teacher, in both cases. Never have I had a teacher that is this good.” Another teacher, Joelle Feldman, “ has that same capacity (as Suzanne) for teaching pastel.” The third is Lex Rosoff. who teaches oil painting and drawing classes. Parker-Roach proclaims, “She has become invaluable to the gallery.”
“Things changed,” Parker -Roach reflects, “Businesses came and went, and continue to do so, but I think that there is something extremely important to know about New England: things take time; change takes time, there’s a lot of history here, a lot of steward ship and people wanting to keep things the same way.” She continues, “ My husband and I are constantly looking for places for people to gather and meet up with each other, see each other face to face. We need to see each other, come together to talk,” in order to have a healthy community.
She sees herself as a steward, and her time in Groton as fleeting, “This house lived long before me and will live long after me, hopefully. Same with the town. I want the people a hundred years from now to look back and say ‘Wow, those folks back in the 2000’s really were a blessing for the town.’”
There is tremendous artistic potential in the town Parker-Roach asserts, “there are new people coming in.” She mention Miranda Hersey and Ellen Olson-Brown of Open Studios, promoting writing; and Groton Center for the Arts evolving into Three Rivers, promoting theater. She cites the possibility of an artist’s collaborative forming.
One way that the community came together recently was when an auction was held at the site of the former Kilbridge antique store.. Parker-Roach was approached and asked if her students would submit art work. She submitted works from 15 of her students, and it was a great success. Her students saw how work that they created helped to enrich and benefit others. “Every piece sold,” she remembers proudly.
She’d like to revive events like the Holiday Art walk, with music and food, and a map of all the galleries. “It was an opportunity to really show the creative energy of the area,” she remembers. “There is room for it all. I welcome new people bringing new energy in the arts. It’s about all of us.”
It is important to Parker-Roach to expand public art, remembering the three pieces that are on the Rail trail, which had been a collaboration between Parker-Roach, Lawrence Academy, the Groton School, and the Groton Cultural Council. “This is about a spirit of giving to the community as a way to make the community better. To make spaces that are esthetically pleasing,” she states.
Parker-Roachs’ gallery is light filled and airy, complementing the water color paintings and earth toned pottery. No photos are allowed during this visit as the gallery is about to undergo a transformation. Parker-Roach has plans for the gallery as well as new collaborations. She plans to reveal these in the fall, to coincide with the tenth anniversary of NOA gallery. We look forward to visiting her again and, sharing the communities gratitude for her efforts and celebrating her accomplishments.