by Ellen C. Warren – Photo by Mike Miller She is a presence. Larger than life. Her thick, straight, black hair that shook and flashed onstage in her years as the lead singer for Dummy Club and Psycho Bunnies still catches your eye as she lightly lifts it from her shoulders in a movement that seems, somehow, iconic. Dark eyes set in an exotic face beam confidence, calm and humor.
Stonie Rivera is a musician, writer, and teacher. After retiring from the nursing profession in 2009 due to health concerns, she began to contemplate an idea she’d had for awhile, to open an art gallery. Opportunity and willingness came together in 2011 when she created the Dominion Gallery on Wright Street in Riverwest.
“I’ve always loved art,” say Stonie. “My mother was an artist. (The gallery) is a little bit of a dedication to her. She taught me an appreciation for art, and how important art is in life, for people… that you don’t have to be a good artist if you’re using it therapeutically because it’s really not about that. Beauty really is something that’s relative.”
Her mother nurtured the artist in Stonie and her sister, keeping drawing paper and watercolors on hand for those rainy days spent inside the house. Particularly emblazoned in Stonie’s childhood memory is the time the girls used their mom’s rarest, most expensive tube of oil paint for finger-painting. Although “a little upset,” her mom kept that indigo blue piece for a very long time.
Stonie grew up in Milwaukee, on the west side, after her parents moved here from New York. While her Irish mother was the visual artist, her Puerto Rican father was a musician. “That’s where I get the love of music,” she explains, adding, “My maternal grandma played piano. Big band era stuff. There were a lot of interesting people in my family…music-lovers and art-lovers and writers.”
Riverwest was her choice of venue for her gallery owing to the fact that she loves it here. Until a couple months ago her home was in the same building on Weil Street for 21 years. Having lived through the times when people were fleeing the area she recalls that “there were all these diehards who stuck it out because we loved it and we had faith in the neighborhood. So, yes, I love Riverwest, and Riverwest has been good to me.”
Dominion Gallery is also being good to her. “I feel nothing but total gratitude for how it’s been going. I feel like I’ve found my voice doing this,” Stonie says. “I’m hearing this a lot, that women are saying ‘I found my voice as an artist or musician or entrepreneur, or whatever, in my fifties.’ That’s kind of where I’m at. I’m finding a new space and a new voice in my fifties. I think everything you go through in life, artistically, leads you to some other point. A change or a push or a flux. I feel like I’m taking more risks, and putting more of myself out there than I actually did when I was younger and playing in bands.”
Many of the artists showing their work at Dominion are in their fifties. But then, there are those in their twenties, and even others in their eighties. “This is the kind of thing I wanted in this gallery, and I’m glad it has gone in that direction… it’s inclusive… for everybody from everywhere.” The atmosphere is casual and the mix of work is eclectic. “The only kind of work I won’t show is ‘hate,’”declares Stonie.
Back when music was her central focus Stonie did a lot of song-writing. These days she is working on two books. The first, written under the pen name Diane Bettancourt (a family name from her father’s side) she describes as paranormal erotica. Although finished, she hasn’t quite completed the editing. “Writing a book is a very long process,” she says. “You have to be very patient. A lot of things can change. The bones are the same, but sometimes you have to rearrange the meat a little.”
Her second book, also nearing completion, is a series of meditations and exercises. “A lot of this is from my own life experiences and how I had to rebalance myself,” she says, continuing, “Women! We are notorious for not taking care of ourselves. We have to take that time for ourselves because we are better people (for it).”
Each chapter holds a different exercise, which may or may not include scents, candles, breathing. “There’s one that’s all candlelight. You turn off every light in your house and you light candles. Phones off. TV off. Computer off. If you can do it for a half hour, fine. It’s nice if you can do it for the entire evening. And get in touch with yourself. It’s amazing how good you’ll feel after that. Sitting with yourself in stillness and really connecting.”