Well this is a momentous occasion — a blog post by studio manager Elizabeth! Elizabeth has been spearheading our involvement with the Charlottesville Arts Coöperative Gallery and is on the blog to share a little more about her experiences there. — Jenn
Heller and Heller has continued to evolve since its inception. Initially every item made was custom made for a client. I’ll leave the discussion for another day on why Dave now makes a significant number of items artisanal items for customers we have yet to discover. Beautiful end grain chopping boards, end tables, trays, shaker boxes, marquetry boxes and pictures have all become part of the product offering. A necessary evil once you start down this path is that in order to make sales you need to have inventory. Rule of thumb is that you sell 1/3 of what you have on hand when you do a show. So, once you have inventory you need to sell it in order to make more stuff. This is the challenge. If you do arts and crafts shows then you need to pay the fees, travel to wherever it is, spend the time at the show, spend money to eat (and stay), take everything down and drive home. If you sell on the internet no one can touch or feel your items, you are essentially selling a picture, you are competing with mass produced items and heavy items like chopping boards have a not insignificant postage cost associated with them.
Enter the Charlottesville Arts Coöperative Gallery — this is a store full of art and artisanal goods created by artisans who share a storefront space and operating costs and labour. Heller and Heller joined and set up our space there at the beginning of March. (Readers of the blog will remember that Dave was in San Diego the second half of February at the American School of French Marquetry)
So we now have 2 months experience at the co-op. The store is open 7 days a week and working members share the store hours — there are no paid employees. In order to keep Dave in his studio making more items, I volunteered to work the store hours. So here I am, post retirement from the corporate world, working retail for the first time in my life. Based on H&H April sales, the hours I worked and the difference in commission for a working and non working member — I earned $1.52/hour. But it’s really not that bad! I spend my time in the store surrounded by beautiful things. There are roughly 50 different artisans working in 20 art forms from clay to wood! Every artist is located here in Virginia, making the store perfect for visitors looking for something special to take home.
My favourite so far was the lovely English lady buying herself a leather handbag. She mentioned she was performing at the Paramount that evening so I checked the paper when I got home and figured out she was with St Martin’s in the Field performing with Joshua Bell! (probably a good thing I didn’t know or I would have been swooning at her feet!)
There are another kind of customer as well — those who live in the area and are very familiar with what’s available — the man who came in to buy a hand held wooden cross to take to his mother the day his father died, the couple who bought a lovely stained glass for a wedding present wrote the card they bought while we were packaging and ringing up the sale.
While the appreciative customers are a real plus for spending time at the co-op, sharing the space with other artisans and their spouses is also a big benefit. Everyone seems happy to share their experiences and creative ideas. After all, the dream of every artist is to spend time doing the thing they love and create something that others will value enough to spend money on. Fellow artists are wonderful critics because they have both an aesthetic appreciation and an understanding of what the public appreciates. The intent of the co-op is there in its name — working together to sell everyone’s work. The jurying process is key to making sure that the quality is high and that offerings from each artist are different enough from each other to prevent competition.
So far I’ve been working weekends — busier days so the store has two people working. You’ll find me there twice a month among the ceramics, glass, jewelry, silk scarves, artisanal lotions, oil paintings, ink drawings, scenic photographs, knitted goods, copper bird feeders, pewter ornaments, leather bags and of course the wood!
If you’re in the neighborhood, enjoying the beautiful downtown mall in Charlottesville, don’t be shy — stop in and see us!