Tag Archives: gallery

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.”




Johnson Mill Road

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Jennifer, in front of the house on Johnson Mill Road

I almost never liked this house.

It wasn’t a bad house. It was a three bedroom, ranch style home with an attached garage. It looked normal. Too normal, I thought. Too hemmed-in, predictable, suburban.

Yet not the neat, orderly suburbs that some of my sisters lived in, with similar houses, incomes, families and lifestyles. This road was in disarray. At the corner was a double wide mobile home with a tidy yard, set on the diagonal. Next, a small older house on an unkempt lot, then a field, our house, then a mobile home set so far back from the road, it was my view from all of my rear windows. Across the road was an old farmhouse.

The only neighbors I got to know were the ones in the trailer next door…and I didn’t like them. He was quiet, and went to work each day. She was extremely overweight, and read romance novels all day long. They had three or four children, whose names all began with J. They weren’t bad or unkind, just uninteresting. That was enough.

Our yard was a field overgrown after some excavation (perhaps for placing the foundation of the house) that left unexpected ridges and steep hills that were difficult to mow. There were a couple tiny trees and a wild shrub or two, but no landscaping.

The house itself was pretty standard. An entry through the garage led to the eat in kitchen. I think I remember a sliding glass door behind the dining space, to get to the back yard…but maybe it was just a window. Vinyl wallpaper in a blue and green floral pattern covered the walls. The floor was vinyl tiles in a pattern that looked like red brick. Dark brown, Mediterranean style cupboards had antiqued brass knobs and pulls. A closet near the doorway to the living room hid the furnace.

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Terry, pretending to give Katey a birthday spanking

In the living room, a red brick (“real red brick,” I complained, “I suppose to match the fake red brick floor?”) corner hearth held a cast iron wood burning stove that we never used, except to hang Christmas stocking near. White walls, burnt red carpet, a picture window and front door, then a hallway down to the bedrooms and bath.

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Me, in the kitchen that I hated

Things that  happened while we lived there:

  • We started purchasing a piece of property on Beaver Island. It was financed on a five year land contract, so we made the sensible decision to pay it off first, then make decisions about putting up a house there and moving back to the island, or just using it for vacations and eventual retirement.
  • I opened an Art Gallery in downtown Lapeer. It was on the main street, Nepessing Street, on the block that used to have Looney’s Restaurant, and on the very site of a recently closed but always successful gallery. I negotiated with the owner to lower the rent for the space; I took on the young man that worked there as full partner, in exchange for teaching me the business of matting and framing. I brought all of my own good ideas for enlivening the art scene in Lapeer, Michigan, my knowledge of art and artists, and my full enthusiasm. How could I fail?
  • I took the last of the money I’d been saving – for moving back to Beaver Island – and bought my husband a new sofa for his birthday. The large bed/sofa he had built for our last place did not work in this one. It felt like a good investment in our lives here.

So that’s how it was…until things changed again.


One More Crazy Day



This is me, as interpreted by my granddaughter, Madeline.

This is exactly the look I have on my face today.

I can feel the tension in my jaw, the wild eyes, the grimace.

Deadlines loom, in the Spring of the year.

The need to do  too many things immediately has me stopped, unable to move in any direction, because I can’t go in all directions at once.

It’s my own fault, of course. I have taken on too much, set my sights too high, let in too many diversions and wasted too  much time.

Yesterday was a bonus day off, that I was going to use to catch up on everything. I had to go to town in the morning, to attend a meeting with my aunt. Afterward, I stopped at the little gallery  that carries my work in the summertime, to help repair a couple frames. I picked up mail, and went to the grocery store to stock my kitchen cupboards. Home, then, with the best of intentions. After greeting the dogs, I unloaded the car and put away groceries. I changed into gardening clothes. I made lunch: energy for the work ahead. I grabbed a beer, and headed out. It was too hot (TOO HOT! In May! On Beaver Island!)to work outside in the middle of the day.

That couldn’t be true.

I emptied the wheelbarrow. I pulled a few weeds.

No, really, too hot.

The dogs were languishing in holes they’d made in one shady corner of the flower bed.


I put the drip hose in the flower bed, grabbed a book, loaded the dogs in the car and went to the lake.

The public access to Fox Lake is about two miles from my house. There is an array of rental boats on the shore, a little spot for a tent or two, a campfire circle and a picnic table.  Snapping turtles and loons can often be seen in the water.

While the dogs, wagging tails, checked out the new smells and tried out the water, I finished my book and my beer. There was a nice little breeze in the shade of the trees that line the shore. Birds were singing and dragonflies were flitting around. It was a lovely way to spend the afternoon.

I’m paying for it today.

Today was my day to get the lawn mowed. It still is. But, added to that is my almost entire list of outdoor  work I was planning to do yesterday. The list was too long anyway, and it was unreasonable to believe I could finish it all, even if I’d devoted the entire day to it.


There is only so much time, in the Spring of the year, to get everything done, before I just have to give it up. I can’t plant seeds in July and have any hope of a harvest. I can’t transplant anything once their blossoms have started showing. I can’t mow my tall grass if it’s wet from a rain…and I’ve heard it might rain tonight. I’ve cut back on my garden plan, adjusted my goals for this year, and still I’m behind. I’m almost ready to cry “Uncle”! But not quite yet.

I’ll see how today pans out.