Daily Archives: April 7, 2016

Time Out for Art: the Business

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by Katey, at six years old, while at the gallery with me. “You can sell it, I don’t mind,” she told me…as if I ever would!

Yesterday, I noted that while living on Johnson Mill Road, I opened a gallery in Lapeer. Look at me, almost flawlessly combining my address posts with my “time out for art” posts!

My sister Brenda and I were discussing, last week, various patterns in each of our lives, from the perspective of our sixty-some years, looking back.

Brenda, for instance, has – more often than could be considered “normal” or “just coincidence” – been left in a position of cleaning up  other people’s messes. When we were just kids, planning hikes through the field to build forts or create mischief, Mom would always be able to convince Brenda to stay inside, to clean the oven or scrub the floors. “My good helper,” Mom would say…and Brenda was lost to whatever game was at hand.

As teen-agers, when we were all taking on  baby-sitting jobs to earn money for school clothes and little luxuries, Brenda ended up, instead, being a housekeeper for Mrs Linahan, down the road. As young mothers, she and I both signed up for training and some simple social work, in order to earn money for Christmas. I was assigned two tutoring jobs, for a couple young girls in foster care. Brenda was directed to a woman who had lost her children because her housekeeping was so far below the standard as to be unsafe. It was my sister’s job to help her clean house, and teach her how to maintain it. The list goes on and on, right up to the present day. If there’s a messy house, Brenda will most likely be called upon to clean it. Uncanny!

In my life, I’ve had an unusually large number of cars with no brakes. Well beyond what a person would run into in life, even if they were negligent about auto maintenance. Seriously.

I have also gained a short list of failed businesses. Perhaps a better term would be unsuccessful. Definitely. I think I’d make a great entrepreneur. I have a million good ideas. I am a hard worker, and throw myself wholeheartedly into a project. I am perfectly willing to take on partners, to share in the profits for helping with the business. In fact, that seems to be my modus operandi.

The first of these endeavors was the art gallery I opened in Lapeer. I had just spent several years studying the fine arts, how better to use my education?

First, I took on the young man that had worked at the gallery that had formerly occupied the space as a partner, in exchange for him teaching me the business. That was my first mistake. He was a nice young man, and a good worker. I couldn’t afford employees. It seemed sensible. When we started to see profits, he was a full partner!

Unfortunately, in the year or two that we ran the business, we never got to the point of seeing profit. That wasn’t bad for me…I had a working husband. My partner had a young wife, and they were expecting their first child. Difficult, even, to ask for assistance when your name is listed as a full partner in what appeared to be a thriving downtown business! Eventually, he took a side job and most of the work of running the business fell to me alone.

I worked business hours Monday through Saturday, and put in extra hours to change the art display. On evenings and weekends, I’d bring my daughters in with me. They’d make drawings on the mat board scraps and pieces, and do their homework at my desk.

We did appear to be thriving. Customers came in and out daily. We put in long hours matting and framing. I employed several cost-cutting and money-saving measures, without sacrificing any quality. In addition, I brought in a new artist every month for a show of their work. We sent out hand-lettered invitations and hosted an after-hours reception with wine and snacks.

Despite all my efforts to bring in new and exciting artists, as a gallery we fizzled. Our busiest time of year was when senior pictures came out, and parents wanted nice frames. Though I refused to put them on our walls, I kept catalogues of posters – tigers on black velvet, waterfalls in iridescent tones, large-eyed children – for customers to order from, because they would then have us do the framing.

We always managed to pay the bills: materials, rent and utilities. All of our income came from matting and framing. We never sold a single piece of art. We never drew a single paycheck. When we sold the business, I think my partner and I each received $200.00. He was hired as an employee for the new owners; I bowed out. I have often said that I never felt so distant from the arts as I did when I was there, “working in the arts.”