Walking through the Artists Gallery, visitors can discover a wide variety of original works of art, created in media ranging from watercolor and oil paints to ceramics, photography, glass, wood, precious metals, polymer and more.
What they might not see at first glance, though, is the dedication that the exhibiting artists have to the Downtown Racine gallery located at 401 Main St.
Founded in 1998, the Artists Gallery is an artists' cooperative which has been run and managed by its members for nearly 20 years. In addition to being able to exhibit and sell their artwork in the beautifully refurbished, historic space, members each work their share of hours (six a month) in the gallery — greeting visitors, helping hang items for shows and doing other administrative duties.
And, for members like Deedee Dumont, such responsibilities are both a plus for her as an artist and one of the keys to the gallery's success as a business.
“We work together and support each other, and because it's a co-op we have a feeling of ownership,” said Dumont, a mixed-media artist who joined the gallery about two years ago. “You get more out of it.”
Belonging to the gallery not only gives members the chance to have their work shown publicly year-round, but to meet other artists and learn about their work, she said.
“You learn things from each other and it creates a good camaraderie,” Dumont said. “It's a great group of artists, and this is more than a business to us.”
Sixth Street start
Dumont, who lives in Racine, is one of 27 current members of the Artists Gallery. Others include several of the gallery's founding members, such as painter and ceramist Lyle Peters.
Peters — who taught art in Racine's public schools for nearly 40 years — said the original idea for the cooperative gallery came from the late Emile Mathis, who owned a fine art gallery and frame shop on Main Street for many years. Mathis met with Peters and other founding members, including Harold Solberg and Doug and Susan Sorenson, and shared his expertise in gallery management, Peters said.
“We had several meetings with Emile and he gave us the nuts and bolts for running the business,” he said.
That group of artists opened the original Artists Gallery on Sixth Street, where it had two locations before moving to the Main Street address in 2009. Through the years, membership has grown as high as 40 artists and the gallery is always open to new members, said glass artist Nicholas Omdahl, who joined about five years ago.
Omdahl, a retired physician who also exhibits his work in Chicago, was looking for somewhere local to show his art, which includes both stained glass and fused glass pieces. And he said he was impressed with how the Artists Gallery was managed and how long it had been in business.
‘Wearable Arts’ show
Omdahl said he also appreciates the opportunity the gallery provides for the community to come and learn about what area artists are doing. During Downtown events such as First Fridays and Party on the Pavement, AG members often give demonstrations of their techniques, and a member is always on site to answer questions.
Places like the Artists Gallery are important to our city, Peters said, because they highlight the creative aspects of our community.
While some gallery members, including Peters and Omdahl, are Racine- and Kenosha-based artists, others live and work as far away as Milwaukee and Chicago. And many visitors to the gallery come from out of town, and even out of state, Omdahl said. To be considered for membership, artists must have their work juried, and once they are members they pay an annual membership fee (details at www.artistsgalleryinracine.com/Want-to-become-a-member-.html).
Gallery exhibits change quarterly, and the work of non-member artists is also featured in some exhibitions. The AG's annual “Wearable Arts and Domestic Designs” show opens this week and runs through December, featuring everything from hand-woven scarves and table runners to wooden trivets and rolling pins, as well as a wide range of fine art jewelry and other items.
“You can find a lot of great gift ideas, with boutique pricing,” Dumont said.
Regular hours at the Artists Gallery are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday. Hours on special event days (First Fridays etc.) are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, go to www.artistsgalleryinracine.com.