In June 2021, an energetic and spirited 21-year-old Lambertville resident — Hope Gaburo — walked into Scrambled for the first time. Little did she know that meeting gallery owner Erin Simmons would change her life forever.
Eight months later, under the weight of nearly unbearable grief, Gaburo opened the door to the gallery as its new owner.
On Gaburo’s first visit to Scrambled, she and Simmons hit it off immediately, their 20+ year age difference insignificant. They quickly slid into a friendship as if they had always known each other. The two bonded over a shared passion for pursuing art on their own terms and for supporting others doing the same.
During the raging COVID-19 pandemic, Simmons realized her dream of owning an art gallery. She opened a tiny 300-square-foot shop with an unusual name and lime-green walls.
Never daunted by a challenge, Simmons ran the gallery on weekends while simultaneously excelling at a demanding full-time job. A self-taught artist, her vibrant acrylic paintings of flowers, abstracts and unique eggshell mosaic pendants filled her shop with color. Her pieces were complemented by an eclectic collection of works from local and regional artists.
Brightly colored flowers in the shop window initially drew visitors into Scrambled, but they returned for conversations with Simmons, which were punctuated by her well-known side-splitting belly laughs. Visitors often morphed into Simmons’ friends and her “artists.” She had a knack for discovering talent and never shied away from exhibiting unknown artists’ work alongside that of established artists.
Simmons immediately recognized Gaburo’s talent and offered her friend her first-ever show. Also a self-taught artist, Gaburo’s affection for New Hope and Lambertville permeates her watercolor landscapes.
In a New Hope Celebrates video from 2021, featuring Simmons and her neighboring gallery owners, Simmons recalled Gaburo, “was just so excited and proud of her debut here at Scrambled.”
The show marked the start of Gaburo taking her art more seriously.
Despite the limitations created by the pandemic, Simmons’ shop thrived. Unfortunately, Simmons fell ill in January 2022. Her underlying medical conditions resulted in the need for hospitalization, and soon her body began to shut down. True to Simmons’ personality, she never lost her sense of humor or let go of her dreams, even as she confronted her own mortality.
Gaburo stayed by Simmons’ side, never giving up hope her friend would recover. Simmons knew otherwise. So, during their last conversation, Simmons insisted that Gaburo was the right person to continue Scrambled’s mission. Gaburo recalls, “she told me to ‘run with it’…to get a bigger platform. Then Erin laughed and said, ‘don’t (insert expletive) up!’”
Simmons passed away in February 2022. A myriad of emotions later, Gaburo now stands in front of a freshly painted wall at Scrambled. It is no longer lime green, but Gaburo’s preferred shade of antique olive green. Gaburo’s joy and self-assuredness are visible in her eyes and posture, as she animatedly describes Simmons’ artwork on display for “The Origin of Scrambled”: a celebration of Simmons’s life.
On the wall outside Scrambled hangs a large plywood board painted with a pair of butterfly wings, beckoning visitors to pose for a selfie. These are the wings Simmons created. Over time they faded, but in the days preceding the “The Origin of Scrambled” event on Oct. 21, Gaburo repainted them, reviving the dull colors and giving the wings new life.
Gaburo recorded a video of herself painting the wings, with text scrolling across the video, “Sometimes…we lose our light; what once was shiny and colorful and bright now just feels exhausted…it takes digging down into the deepest parts to remember that light never left you…This is a part of your story. Through everything life throws at you, and the times you question if you’re making a difference and where you’re going. Remember why you started.”
Simmons’ mission was to spread love, joy, and laughter through art, and although she achieved her dream through Scrambled, the work was not finished. Simmons had to leave her wings behind sooner than expected. Simmons knew Gaburo could pick them up again, even though Gaburo herself didn’t.
In a voice choked with emotion, Gaburo says, “I used to ask, ‘Why me? Why, Erin, would you give this to me? Why aren’t you here with me?”
Then Gaburo’s face softens, and she breaks into a wide smile and says, “But now I get to say, ‘Yes, me. Yes, it is me. I’m the one that gets to help make this happen.”
Scrambled Gallery showcases regional and national artists. The next event at Scrambled is a celebration of the closing of the autumn exhibition on Dec. 2 from 6-8 p.m.
Beth Zarret writes occasional columns about the people and places in her beloved towns of New Hope and Lambertville.