Jessica Valentin has an infectious smile.

And she uses it to greet visitors to her Muñeca Arthouse, a contemporary art gallery and creative space that just opened in Patchogue.

She credits her own art with managing to smile through a life tinged with tragedy.

Valentin, a 1995 Patchogue-Medford graduate, has lost two husbands.

The first, Rob Bowden,  28, took his own life in 2003, she said. Then her second husband, Darren Flomberg, 41, died from brain cancer in 2015.

“A lot of what inspires me is grief, and working out all the sadness … ,” she told GreaterPatchogue during a gallery tour last week.

Inside Muñeca Arthouse, located at 12 South Ocean Avenue, Valentin’s own works hang on the south wall. 

But, she says, she wants the gallery to be better known for its ability to showcase the works of the many talented artists local to the area.

Currently four other artists are displaying at Muñeca, on the north wall.

These are artists who might not get play in more traditional galleries on the island.

“[They’re] a little more of a traditional vibe,” she said of most galleries in Suffolk and Nassau counties. “I’m big into illustrators, comic artists, digital arts, street art and pop art.”

There’s also a growing retail component to the shop that includes small prints and artist merchandise.

Prior to opening in Patchogue, Valentin did art projects for the East End Arts Council in Riverhead, and also worked at the new-closed Ripe Art Gallery in Huntington.

“So I was working at a gallery, helping to create content for that gallery and helping to facilitate interest whatever I could, doing their social media and things like that,” she said. “So I had gallery on the brain a lot.”

Last October, she joined the board of the Patchogue Arts Council. Just a few months later she’s opened the only arts gallery in the village.

“What artist doesn’t dream of opening not just a space to do their own work, but to showcase the art of friends and people they admire?” she said.

As for the name, Muñeca is Spanish for doll. Valentin herself is of Puerto Rican descent. She wants the gallery to become comfortable space for people of all backgrounds to gather, whether it’s to display their work, shop or mingle at an artist reception.

“I know a lot of really talented artists of color,” she said.

‘I’m trying to open peoples eyes to that.”

photos below by Michael White

IF YOU GO

Muñeca Arthouse will be hosting grand opening festivities this coming weekend with a ribbon-cutting ceremony this Saturday, July 21, from 2 to 4 p.m. The ribbon gets cut at 3 p.m.

Currently, Ratgrrl is the solo exhibit, featuring Diego Garcia, Amanda Reilly, Ben Owens, milks0p, and Tom Benincase in the retail space.

Jessica Valentin’s work on the south side of the gallery

Pieces by local artist milksOp on display.

Some of the retail offerings at the gallery.

Gallery assistant Eric Murphy and owner Jessica Valentin, along with a portrait of Valentin’s late husband, Darren Flomberg (background).