ARCHIVED  April 1, 1996

Business woes can drive gallery owners up the walls

Speaking passionately, as an artist and art-gallery owner should, Garth Mudge, whose glass-blowing business in Estes Park probably came before family one too many times, uses clich?s more common than the life he’s lived.

“Location, location, location,” Mudge said. “And hard work. And sacrifice. I’ve sacrificed a lot. I got divorced last year, and part of it is due to the fact I work so hard. My wife was always wanting me to take a vacation.”

Most art-gallery owners love art, but they talk about a lot of things besides art. Their worries are those of a small-business person: customer traffic, lack of time and stocking the things people will buy. Most tell a story of sacrifice. All love the beauty of their surroundings.

SPONSORED CONTENT

Care and coverage together for your employees

At Kaiser Permanente, we offer a unique care model. Not only do we provide care and coverage together (i.e. health plans and health care), but we also pioneered value-based care.

Mudge, who runs Glassworks Studio and Gallery, isn’t that interested in discussing the fine points of glass blowing. He’s introspective about what gallery owning has done to his life.

For the last year, the profit for his gallery was $75,000. It’s enough to support two families, and Mudge now has a partner so he can take vacations, but he still doesn’t, he said.

After child-support payments and mortgage payments on his new white-walled building, Mudge lives pretty lean, on about $16,000 a year.

Mudge has been in business in Estes Park for about 10 years and was encouraged by a fellow carpenter friend to get back into glass blowing after showing off some of his high-school creations. Mudge opened shop with a $15,000 loan from the bank, and a little cash from friends and family.

The first year, he dug ditches to supplement his income. The second year, it wasn’t necessary. He just worked in the gallery every day, as many hours as he could.

“It was sure tough,” he said. “It took several years for me to learn to make things good consistently. I lost a lot. And a lot of things fell on the floor. It’s lots more work being an artist and a businessman. It’s washing windows and mopping floors.”

One of the most important pieces of advice he’d give a new gallery owner who is also the artist is to make a lot of whatever it is you make.

“The more things I have to sell, the more I sell,” he said.

For Solveia Lark of Gallery East in Loveland, the business of owning an art gallery is about the emotional response to art.

“You need to have a passion for the art,” she said. “There’s more to it than the financial end of it. If you don’t understand the passion, you won’t make it.”

Tom Green, of Grandpa’s in Estes Park, said variety is important.

“Don’t carry your own work because it may not appeal to the customer,” he said. “Diversify.”

Green doesn’t go so far as to sell rubber tomahawks, but diversity is important enough that besides offering artwork priced as high as several thousand dollars, he sells bow-and-arrow sets to parents and grandparents looking for a trinket for the kids.

Starting out as a frame shop is a common avenue for gallery owners. The 16-year-old Art Erickson Gallery in Loveland began that way. After two years of running a framing business out of his home, Erickson bought a frame shop in Greeley. The gallery opened after a few years of customers asking if they had certain prints available, or if they could get them.

A year ago, Erickson retired and sold the gallery to Norm Toman, who used to teach farm management in North Dakota.

Erickson may not be quite ready to give it up. He still spends time at the gallery but says he’s retired from it because of the conflict between doing what he wants to do — making Shaker-style furniture — and being in business.

Some owners choose business over their own artistic abilities. Scott Lorenz of Max’ims of Greeley began working at the shop just out of high school in 1973. He was a potter who had sold a few pieces and had entered a few shows, but discovered that a day of work and a $50 pot wasn’t what he had in mind for his life. He bought Max’ims after working there two years.

Lorenz doesn’t have any problem saying he’s better in business than as an artist. The company grossed more than $600,000 last year, he said.

The three-story Max’ims sells original paintings, about 95 percent of them from Colorado artists, as well as pottery and jewelry.

Items are displayed using logic more often seen in retail. In a world where galleries often promote an intimidating, museum-like atmosphere with paintings surrounded by blank, white walls, Max’ims’ walls are crammed with the larger percentage of the company’s inventory. This is unheard of in the art scene in larger cities, Lorenz said, where it’s common for more than half of inventory to be tucked away.

“What you do in retail is remove the obstacle to purchase,” he said.

Dealing with the artists is a difficulty unique to the industry, Lorenz said, adding that it takes about a year to develop a new artist.

“It’s a partnership,” he said. “You have to keep a rapport, which I’m good at. But it’s still very difficult. I get beat up by artists all the time who aren’t accepted into the gallery.”

Speaking passionately, as an artist and art-gallery owner should, Garth Mudge, whose glass-blowing business in Estes Park probably came before family one too many times, uses clich?s more common than the life he’s lived.

“Location, location, location,” Mudge said. “And hard work. And sacrifice. I’ve sacrificed a lot. I got divorced last year, and part of it is due to the fact I work so hard. My wife was always wanting me to take a vacation.”

Most art-gallery owners love art, but they talk about a lot of things besides art. Their worries are those of a small-business person: customer traffic, lack…

Categories:
Sign up for BizWest Daily Alerts