Show and Sell

The Deal of the Art

By Mary Jasch

Making art is a self-fulfilling and solitary doing, but selling it and making a living usually requires a collaborative effort. The artist's outlet is an art gallery or a store, and like the art within its walls a gallery can come in a variety of composition ­ a for-profit commercial venture either privately or corporate-owned, a "co-op" group of artists who get together to sell their own work, or a non-profit as part of an educational organization. Here we take a look at how a few galleries in the Skylands sell art.

Gallery 23, a for-profit co-op in Blairstown, began life in 2001 with a group of 16 artists who wanted to sell their work. The gallery where the artists had previously exhibited closed. "We decided we could get together and have an art place. We found a place up the street, painted it, fixed it up, and formed a corporation," says Diane Pratt, treasurer. The decision not to be a "non-profit" came from understanding what they wanted to accomplish. "Our purpose is to show and sell the artists' work, not just make people aware of it."

Photography by Kathy Riss (above) and
Diane Pratt at Gallery 23 in Blairstown.

The original members contributed money at $3 a share to start the business. They take a small commission and space rental fee ($20 minimum) from new member artists, non-shareholders." That's the only way we could make sure we have shareholder members and regular participating members," Pratt says. They hold monthly meetings, which all members (30 tops) attend and give input on how the business's money is spent, but only shareholders may vote. Hours spent manning the shop and doing committee work, such as advertising and jurying, count towards reducing the amount of commission an artist must pay to the co-op. Commissions range from 10 to 40%, depending on how much work someone is willing to do. The co-op's structure and operating methods enable sales without big gallery commissions ­ good for the buyer and artist.

New artists go through an application process and have their work juried by a five-person committee. "We want to have a variety and not so much of one medium," says Kathy Riss, jury chair. "We look at the quality of the artwork and how it's presented. We look to see if it fits in space-wise in the gallery." The gallery has ongoing exhibits. The shop is a collage of media ­ stained glass, jewelry, photography, note cards, paintings, ceramics, fiber art, wood-turning and much more. Right now there is a waiting list to join.

908-362-6865, website

Peters Valley - Flower pods in a gold luster vase by Tom Stoenner of Rhinebeck, NY, accent a shelf of goodies -- a metal oxidized frame
with incised and painted swirls, and a woven triangle scarf of “eyelash” and gossamer yarns,created by fiber artist Mary Ann Kirchhoff, of Portland, PA. Photo by Mary Jasch

A nationally recognized center for fine craft, Peters Valley Crafts Center is a non-profit organization offering workshops, artist residencies, exhibitions, and a store with a paid staff. Crafters sell pieces on consignment and pay a 40% commission. The store sells the work of local artists, department heads, and others from across the nation.

Crafters who sell their work in the store are found in a number of ways. Clark has personally suggested some to gallery manager Mikal Brutzman and he has also helped recruit artists to exhibit in the gallery.

On the commercial side, the gallery manager looks for things that will sell. After staying open every day till Christmas, the store will reduce and conserve hours and resources during January and February, then come back fresher than ever in spring. New faces in ceramics and jewelry will contribute to the rejuvenation. The is there to be a means of support to craft artists.

973-948-5200, website.

At Decoys & Wildlife Gallery owner Ron Kobli runs a well-oiled gallery for nurtured customers. He sells original paintings, carvings, and offers a framing service.

As a dedicated hunter with a fascination for decoys, Kobli bought and sold functional "old" decoys until one day 25 years ago he opened a gallery. Decoys are the only craft native to this country, he says. Over the past decade he's seen a change in buying power and has adjusted his store's operations. "Eight years ago the average buyer was between 40 and 60. Now the buyer is 25 to 45," he explains. Also, prints are out ­ down from 40% of the business to 5.

Kobli woos his customers. By the time a potential buyer has come back a few times, Ron has spent hours with her discussing art. "These younger people are more sophisticated. They want an original and to know that their money is better spent." In most cases they set a benchmark around $1,500, he says, and within the next year they'll buy a few more paintings. When a painting comes in for $3,000, they'll look at it, like it, and maybe take it. Now the benchmark has been moved. Then, when they buy a new house, they'll buy paintings for $10,000 to $30,000 or more.

Frenchtown’s Decoys & Wildlife Gallery is packed with world-class original wildlife art, carvings and decoys.

"It's a process you have to go through," he adds. "They've taken paintings and now they've gotten an education and learn to appreciate certain things. As long as you can supply those needs you'll have good customers."

Kobli extends his gallery to a local raptor rehab center every fall. He donates a few paintings, and they sell raffle tickets. At the end of the day, Kobli also matches their sales. In return, they bring in live birds of prey for an educational program with invitations extended to local kids and schools.

So what makes him so successful in the little town of Frenchtown, population 1,500? "There's not another store in the country like this. There's no gallery with the numbers and quality of painters and carvers here. I'm in the luxury business. There's nothing that I sell that you need. You want. Business couldn't be better." And don't forget the service!

908-996-6501, website.

This story was first published: Winter, 2005
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