FARMINGTON – Nina Gianquinto owns a row of three quaint, commercial properties on Front Street and she doesn’t like to see “for rent” signs in her windows any more than other landlords.

So, the owner of Up Front & Pleasant Gourmet at 157 Front Street, has landed on an idea that might be used as a model for other landlords who cringe as the number of vacant storefronts increase in this post-recession economy.

Gianquinto is keeping her vacant property at 155 Front Street filled, even if she has to offer it rent free.

The concept is simple: she invites local artists to fill the space and pay her a small percentage of what they sell to cover the cost of utilities and upkeep.

Last week, the Washburn & Johnson Fine Art Gallery opened its doors next to the gourmet shop and The Granary Restaurant. It is also two doors down from Gianquinto’s other tenant, The Chickadee’s Nest, where owner Julia Staples sells specialty soaps, lotions and dried flowers – all made from plants she grows on her own farm. .

A reception and open house will be held at the gallery from 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday, April 30, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 1. Regular hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.

“There have been other people who have been interested in renting the space but I wanted something that would provide a positive complement to what is already here,” said Gianquinto, who has had her shop on Front Street for over 17 years.

The gallery’s artists are Janet Washburn of Farmington, who is also the manager; Su and Richard Johnson of Rockland; Joyce Dubay of New Vineyard; and Gayle Barigar and Marjorie Austin, both of Farmington.

Gianquinto, who knows the economy is still slow, said she hopes the diversity of the collection will draw in visitors.

Richard Johnson, a potter and sculptor who is designing his own studio foundry, makes whimsical bronze and ceramic sculptures of wizards, mermaids, mythological figures, dragons and faeries. The Johnsons also make a signature line of sculpted blueberry pottery that they sold at their Camden Pottery gallery until they closed it last year due to the poor economy, they said.

The walls are covered with Barigar’s large oil paintings and watercolors and pastels by Washburn, Dubay, Su Johnson and Austin. There are also limited edition prints for sale and handcrafted jewelry by Marjorie Johnson.

Last year, at the height of the recession, Gianquinto tried a similar gallery concept but it worked as a cooperative with everyone putting in time to staff the shop. This time, there is a manager responsible for keeping the doors open.

Gianquinto invited Washburn, a longtime friend and former Mt. Blue High School art teacher, to set up the gallery and recruit a handful of artists to display their work. Two weeks later, it opened.

“This is such a fabulous idea. It gives us all a chance to display our work and there are such different kinds of art,” Barigar said. “I am very happy to be here.”

“You have to always be trying something different to see what works. It is part of being an artist,” Dubay said.

Reception set

A reception and open house will be held at the new Washburn & Johnson Fine Art Gallery at 155 Front Street in Farmington from 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday, April 30, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 1. Regular hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. On display are bronze and ceramic sculptures; oil, watercolor and pastel paintings; and jewelry. The artists are Janet Washburn, Su and Richard Johnson, Gayle Barigar, Joyce Dubay and Marjorie Austin.