Collecting art for love or money
Gallery owners offer their views
By Ben Silverman
Photos by Billie Jean Plaster
In recent years, Sandpoint has enjoyed the status of being one of the premier arts communities in the Northwest. However, like a finely rendered illusion created by a master artist, there is more that meets the eye.
Behind the dozen or so galleries in the city that sell everything from art glass and ceramics to original paintings, reproductions and sculpture, there lies a group of dedicated individuals who make their livings selling art.
One such person traveled halfway around the world to become part of the Sandpoint art scene. Greg Smith and his wife, Pat, purchased the Selkirk Gallery last February from long-time owner Ellen Klein. Smith moved from Sydney, Australia to Sandpoint last September to begin a new life with Pat, who he met on the Internet. Now he says hes keen on establishing himself as Sandpoints resident portrait artist.
Despite his hectic schedule running the gallery, Smith tries to make time for his own artwork, which he said, is not an easy task for most newcomers the scenery can be distracting enough.
I do love it here in Sandpoint, he said. The newness and beauty of the region have already begun to add fuel to the inspiration Ive felt since arriving.
Creating art and selling it, however, are two different things. The elements that power the sales of art in Sandpoint can be as varied as the opinions of the gallery owners, but in most cases it boils down to the simple fact of marketing.
It is a huge part of what art is, said Jeff Poole, co-owner of the Lyman Gallery on First Avenue in downtown Sandpoint. But what really sells any art is the emotional response people have. You can market cars, computers and anything else, but with art there is ultimately a deep emotional connection that speaks to people.
Poole also said its not necessarily the medium that attracts collectors, its the subject matter, and people like to take a little piece of Sandpoint with them when they go back home.
Long-time Sandpoint resident and artist Janeen Schissler recently opened a gallery, tucked away at the back of the Artworks Cooperative on First Avenue, that focuses on her wildlife paintings. She agreed with Poole about the desire for many to own a keepsake of something they cherish.
I think that people more than ever are into natural resources, and wildlife is an important part of that, she said. People want to hang on to nature as much as possible.
Though its most common for art lovers to collect their favorite artists work for aesthetic reasons, on the other side of the coin are those who collect art as an investment, a practice that some say is the antithesis of what art is about.
I try to discourage that, said Karen Smith, owner of the Artistic Impressions Gallery, also on First Avenue. You should buy art that you like so you can enjoy it. There are no guarantees that art is a good investment. Its like the stock market it goes up and down.
Nationally known artist David Kraisler and his wife, Chris, moved to Sandpoint in 1999 and opened the Chris Kraisler Contemporary Fine Arts Gallery last spring. Chris said her experience with those who invest in art is somewhat different. She has seen some patrons collect art as an investment and become as serious and passionate as those who collect for aesthetic reasons.
This is definitely true, she said. Some collectors not only buy pieces for their homes, but they also store some of their art in climate controlled warehouses as an investment. For them its exactly like the stock market with its ups and downs. They love the game and the process, and theyre willing to wait it out.
To collect art that brightens your day and fills your home with color doesnt have to take thousands of dollars though. Catering to those who collect art for fun more than anything else is the Olivetree Gallery, another recent addition to the First Avenue arts corridor. Owners Matt and Pamela Elbaum have a more simple approach to collectibles.
The average person can walk into our gallery and afford what they see. The art we carry is also fun. Were after the whimsical and the funky, said Matt with a big, hearty laugh that reveals his Texas origins.
The Olivetree is a gallery one can also visit to see art in the making. Sitting quietly in a cove at The Olivetree is a potters wheel where Pamela spins out her own ceramic creations. Though the bulk of their wares have a price tag that averages $100, Matt says most of what the Olivetree carries is individually crafted, not reproduced.
A stones throw from the Olivetree Gallery is The Hens Tooth Gallery, owned by Sandpoints native son and artist Ward Tollbom. The Hens Tooth mostly features Tollboms originals and reproductions, though to purchase a Tollbom original you might have to wait. With a price upwards of $4,000 and a pre-sold waiting list of three years, his paintings are truly rarer than a hens tooth.
For those who just cant wait for or cant afford an original, Tollbom has reproduced some of his work in small editions and offers them at reasonable prices. Tollboms philosophy on collecting art is as simple and straightforward as the wildlife he meticulously paints.
I hope people buy it because they like it, he said with a mischievous grin.But personally I dont collect anywhere near the amount I would like to. Im an artist; I cant afford to collect art. He did, however, reveal that he owns and enjoys some works of other Sandpoint artists.
Beg, borrow or steal, collecting and owning art can be a rewarding experience whether for financial or aesthetic gain. While browsing the many downtown galleries and searching for that perfect creation you have always wanted, and when you finally get it home and hung, remember this: You havent just bought a work of art, you now own a little piece of Sandpoint.