Banks Gallery offers differing perspectives of the Seacoast

Featured art includes abstract, modern, and historical images

By Max Sullivan
On October 13, 2011

Most people get spooked by the thought of opening a new business in a new city. When Jamie LaFleur packed his things and left Rhode Island for Portsmouth, New Hampshire, he said there was never a doubt in his mind that he could make it happen.

"I wasn't [nervous]," LaFleur said. "I had decided it was what I was going to do and I was going to make it work no matter what."

Now in his seventh year running the Banks Gallery in downtown Portsmouth, LaFleur, 36, has made it work. Nestled in its conspicuous location at 32 Daniel St, it has flourished as one of Portsmouth's premiere art galleries. LaFleur said his secret was simply to never stop working to achieve the desired goal- to make a living in the art world.

"Recognition is a rewarding feeling, but the drive is to continue to improve the quality of the artist we represent," he said.

The gallery, opened in 2004, specializes in art specific to New Hampshire and Northern New England. There are lots of landscapes and images of New Hampshire's wildlife featured, as well as abstract paintings by local artists. No matter what type of piece it is, LaFleur said that the most important component is its quality.

"I don't say to people, ‘This is what's good,'" LaFleur said. "If its in here, we think it's good."

LaFleur has been actively involved in the art world since his youth. Both his parents were artists, and when his family moved from Keene, N.H., to western Massachusetts in his teens, LaFleur began an internship with Mirage Studios, the studios that produced the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics. After high school, the young artist headed to Brooklyn, N.Y., to study art and design at Pratt Institute.

In school, LaFleur said he knew little about galleries, except that the ones in New York City were rich, snobbish and, as far as he knew, beyond his reach.

"[The galleries in New York] seemed sort of a different world," LaFleur said. "It was money, money everywhere, people that sit behind desks that don't say hi to you. It didn't seem like a real world … As a dirt-poor kid from a little town in New Hampshire, it didn't occur to me that I could access that world at any level."

That perception changed when LaFleur began work at a Newport, R.I. gallery. LaFleur was given his first major responsibility when his boss had him open a second gallery in Naples, FL. LaFleur succeeded in his task, and he was soon making runs back and forth between the two locations and learning the trade. It was an eye opening experience for LaFleur.

"It was when I left art school and started working at the gallery in Rhode Island that I realized that there isn't any real pretention to this," he said. "And if people do that, it's not real. It's whatever their own ideas are."

After working a few years in Newport and Naples, as well as making extra money on the side by selling his own art, LaFleur decided that it was time to take the next step and open his own gallery. He said he wanted to move back home to New Hampshire, and he thought that Portsmouth was his best bet. In 2004, he made the move and opened up the Banks Gallery above Breaking New Grounds on Market Street.

In 2005, the store experienced its first boom with a showing of current and historical paintings of the White Mountains. LaFleur said that this was the catalyst for the store's success in Portsmouth.

"We must've had 300 to 400 come to the reception," LaFleur said. "That was really where the gallery took off. From there we started running."

The Banks Gallery has since settled at its D Street location. It has remained a must see for art viewers in Portsmouth.

LaFleur has had a passion for historical art for years now, but today he says that he gets most excited about the new art that comes in. Currently, he claims Lisa Nunez is one of his favorites. Nunez has a handful of pieces at the gallery. Her work is what LaFleur refers to as a blend of abstraction and realism.

 "I think drawing and paint is part of our DNA, and people will do it forever," LaFleur said. "A lot of people think painting is old, and it's been done, but it hasn't. It's just getting started."

The Banks Gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday. For hours and information, including art samples, check out the gallery's website at

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