Meet the Maker: Cville Arts Co-Op!

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

Charlottesville Arts | A cooperative gallery | Charllottesville Artisans

Pho­to Cred­it — Kear­by Chen via Google Plus

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.

Charlottesville Arts | A cooperative gallery | Charllottesville Artisans

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.

Charlottesville Arts | A cooperative gallery | Charllottesville Artisans

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.

Charlottesville Arts | A cooperative gallery | Charllottesville Artisans

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!

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