Art galleries have definitely gotten a bad rap, and sometimes deservedly so. Oftentimes, us regular folks feel a little out of our element in them. They are the realm of people in the know with money to burn. And the owners are just expensively bespectacled gatekeepers to a place to which you might as well have worn your “Ignorant Hick” t-shirt.
Walk into The Brigantine Gallery in Downer’s Grove, Illinois and you’ll see what you might expect to see, beautiful paintings lining every square inch of wall space, sculpture, and decorative art. But, stay a while and you’ll find, perhaps, something that you did not expect, handmade jewelry and crafts, high-quality pieces produced by children and teens, and a happening neighborhood destination where people gather to learn about art, take lessons, show their own handiwork, listen to music and have fun with family and friends, with not a drop of pretentiousness to be found. Put away that t-shirt, Ma. These people are nice.
For two and a half years, gallery owner Joan Ramp has been providing a place for local artists and craftspeople to be promoted and supported as they build or nurture their careers. I asked her how she came to Downer’s Grove Main Street and what her reception has been like. “Prior to moving to this location we’d been in LaGrange Park for seventeen years, so we’re not really new kids, just new on this block. We looked at eleven different locations and just loved the community involvement we found here. All the festivals, the hometown feel, the close knit community. We decided this was the place and we love promoting the local artists. One of our favorites is C. L. Smith who is a long-time Downer’s Grove resident. His amazing paintings of trains have garnered quite a following.”
Joan comes from a family of gallery owners. Her father opened the first gallery and now she and all of her siblings own their own galleries. “We started out with just one artist, Charles Vickery, who is just the premier seascape artist, world reknown. But we realized that there were many talented people out there, who just needed to be given a chance.” Not the least of which is Joan’s long time friend and resident framer, Noel Grabbow. Noel handcrafts every frame and has been doing so for years. He has a wonderful artistic eye and has helped discover many new artists. He’s also very passionate about fine art and craft. “Out of the seven million people in Chicago, probably about 100,000 claim to be artists,” Noel states. “Let’s just say, not all of them are marketable. But sometimes a new talent will show up and just blow you away.”
“People need to learn what is really valuable,” Noel declares. “They scoff at paying $600 for a painting, but not at paying that for a factory made table or sofa.” Joan explains the reason, “Most people don’t realize that artists and craftspeople sometimes spend years on a single piece. They don’t know that the painter was spending $75 per tube for paint and gave two years of his life to completing that painting, and is only asking $600 for it. We have forgotten what true value is. A table that is produced in a matter of minutes by a machine cannot even begin to compare in value to art and craft that is produced by real human beings.”
The gallery hosts Paint and Play Fun Night on Friday nights. Joan is very enthusiastic about the community’s response, “The gallery is a place for the townspeople to mingle, paint, and make friends. It costs $15 and it includes materials, two and a half hours of instruction, food, drinks, music and good times. It’s great and people love it. Whole families show up. Singles. Couples. They get to try out the teachers, and the teachers love it because they just love to paint and get to know their clients and neighbors. We’re happy to be able to act as hub for the community to come together in this way.”
New artists and craftspeople bring their work to Joan every day, hoping for a chance to exhibit at Brigantine. Some are children. “We get submissions from art students at the local high schools. Did you see the eggs? Those were done by a twelve year old.”
Handmade jewelry and crafts abound, from hair accessories to notecards, to puzzles, to birdhouses. Joan speaks animatedly and with obvious admiration for the craftspeople she promotes. “I find them online and invite them to the gallery. And the community also lets us know who and what they’d like to see. I love it when someone comes in and says will you look at my work? Great work is always welcome!”
“We have two goals really,” Joan concludes. “To educate people about art and how to make it affordable and reachable as an investment. And to nurture new artists and help established ones. Our job is to make art lovers.”
The Brigantine Gallery, 5149 Main Street, Downers Grove, IL, 60515, USA.
On the web: http://www.vickeryart.com
Keep an eye on their webpage for forthcoming dates for their 3rd Annual Meet The Artist coming up in mid-March.