William Vareika

“Bill Vareika at Home in His Gallery at Bellevue”   by William Heydt (American, b. 1949)
“Longacre Carriage House” Bill & Alison Vareika’s first Newport home and original location of William Vareika Fine Arts as private art dealers 1985-1987
William Vareika Fine Arts on historic Bellevue Avenue. Established 1987
Bill Vareika receiving an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters with honorary degree classmate Dr. Jill Biden (Salve Regina University, May 2011)

Bill Vareika is a gallery owner, specialist in 18th, 19th and early 20th century American art, writer, lecturer, community activist, preservationist, and philanthropist.

A 1974 magna cum laude graduate of Boston College with a BA degree in Political Science, Vareika abandoned law school plans to move to Newport, Rhode Island to volunteer to direct a six-year legal battle to save an endangered historic church building which was decorated by John La Farge, the 19th century American artist he had discovered in his one art history course at BC. During this preservation fight, he supported himself as the part-time custodian and art installer at the Newport Art Association, now the Newport Art Museum. In this early period after college, he also began to work as a modest art dealer, commonly referred to as a “picker.”  He later took a leave of absence from graduate studies in American Civilization at Brown University to embark upon a serious career as an art dealer. His primary interest was the study of the major historic American artists who were attracted to Newport and the Narragansett Bay region. He began by working out of his 19th century carriage house home as a private dealer, and in 1987 opened a large Bellevue Avenue Newport gallery with his wife Alison in order to present public exhibitions that illustrated the importance of the rich artistic heritage of the Newport region in the development of the arts in the United States. Throughout his career, he has specialized in two of these artists, John La Farge and William Trost Richards, and has probably owned and sold more of their artworks than anyone in history. The Vareika John La Farge library, scholarly archive and photograph collection is among the most extensive in the world.

From the very beginning, Vareika has used his gallery to raise public awareness and millions of dollars for a variety of charitable causes in the areas of the arts, education, the environment, health care, animal welfare, social services, and historic preservation. Among the many organizations that have benefitted are: Aquidneck Land Trust; Boston College; the Gilbert Stuart Birthplace & Museum; Historic New England; the International Yacht Restoration School and Museum of Yachting; the Martin Luther King, Jr.  Community Center; Museum of Art, RISD; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the New Bedford Whaling Museum; Newport Art Museum; Newport Historical Society; Newport Music Festival; Newport Opera House/Performing Arts Center; Newport Tree Conservancy; The Norman Bird Sanctuary; The Potter League for Animals; Preservation Society of Newport County; Providence Art Club; Redwood Library and Athenaeum; Rhode Island Council on the Humanities; Rhode Island State House Restoration Society; Salve Regina University; Save The Bay; and Trinity Repertory Theatre. Vareika has also donated dozens of artworks to museums and other charitable organizations, including: the Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Academy, Andover; St. George’s School; the McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College; the Newport Art Museum; and The Davis Museum, Wellesley College.

Bill served on the Board of the Newport Art Museum for twenty years and was a member of the museum’s Collections and Exhibitions Committee for thirty-eight years. He has also been a Board member of the Redwood Library and Athenaeum, the Newport Music Festival, and Save The Bay. He has also served on several advisory committees, including: the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center; New Bedford Whaling Museum; and Trinity Church Boston Preservation Trust.  He is a former Vice-Chairman of the RI State Council on the Arts, having been appointed by Governor Bruce Sundlun. Governor Donald Carcieri appointed Vareika to the RI State House Restoration Society. Governor Lincoln Chafee appointed Vareika to the Board of the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities. Vareika is a past member of the Board of Directors of Historic New England and the organization’s Board of Overseers. He is also a long-term Founding Trustee of the non-profit Newport Festivals Foundation which sponsors the Newport Jazz Festival and the Newport Folk Festival and supports education music initiatives throughout the United States.

Bill and his wife Alison were honored by the environmental organization Save The Bay with the “Partners in Philanthropy Award” presented by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center also honored them with the “Keeper of the Dream Award” for their non-profit work in the community. In 2011 Bill received a “Friend of Education Award” from the Newport Public Education Foundation.  Bill was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by Salve Regina University on May 15, 2011; his Honorary classmate was Dr. Jill Biden. In 2012 Bill was awarded the “Lifetime Achievement in the Humanities Award” by the Rhode Island Council on the Humanities for his “lifetime dedication to the preservation and appreciation of historic art and architecture in Rhode Island.” On May 6, 2017, Vareika was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame, the highest honor for a living or historic Rhode Islander. On June 10, 2020, Bill was awarded The Providence Art Club Medal. The Art Club was founded in 1880 and the Medal has been awarded annually since the 1950s to an individual in recognition of “extraordinary service to the cause of art in the community.” Former recipients include John Nicholas Brown II and U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell.