Following in the footsteps of a successful Minnesota farming tradition, a group of rural artists have formed a cooperative and have opened a new gallery in New London.
Called Kaleidoscope, the gallery features the work of 11 local artists, including potters, painters, a jewelry maker, quilter, furniture maker, basket weaver and stained glass artist.
The artists share the cost of renting the space and take turns working in the gallery -- putting in about 2½ days a month.
In exchange, the coop members have a place they can call their own to display and sell their works of art.
Like the name implies, the different artists and their work displayed at Kaleidoscope present a constantly changing pattern, with the work of one artist complementing the work of another.
The gallery is located on Central Avenue where Craig Edwards' Banner Oak Pottery studio is located.
Edwards and his wife, painter Lynn Edwards, used the space to showcase their own work during special events throughout the year. But the gallery was under-utilized, said Craig Edwards. "We really knew how to build a gallery but we didn't know how to run a gallery," said Edwards, with a laugh.
That realization came at the same time the Willmar Area Arts Council's efforts to secure a vacant building in Willmar to house an artists' cooperative fell through, said Janet Olney, coordinator for the council.
Edwards' gallery was ready to move into, with ample space for a variety of artwork, said Susan Mattson, president of the Willmar Area Arts Council.
"It was so nice to find a place -- a very nice place -- that we didn't need to fix up" that was still affordable to the artists, she said.
Edwards still uses most of the building for his pottery production but the gallery is reserved for the coop, which is functioning under the umbrella of the Willmar Area Arts Council.
"Kaleidoscope was one of our dreams for at least two years," said Mattson, adding that the group is eager to emphasize the word "area" in Willmar Area Arts Council.
With the annual music festival, popular Little Theater and a winery that features music and art just down the road, Mattson said New London is the "perfect place to have a gallery like this." The artists in the coop come from New London, Spicer and Willmar.
A Legacy Grant the council obtained helped launch the gallery, which opened July 1. A grand opening will be held 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 24, during New London's Water Day celebration.
Many of the artists -- who have endured blazing heat and torrential downpours at summer art shows to display and sell their work -- like having a permanent gallery.
Paul Reller of rural New London loads up his handmade willow chairs, tables and bookcases and treks to places like Grand Marais and Ely each year for art shows. Having an established gallery location just a few miles from his rural studio is a nice alternative.
"Hopefully it'll be a little easier, instead of hauling the furniture around to different places," Reller said.
For those who like what they see at art fairs but aren't prepared to make a purchase that day, the gallery provides "a place to come back to," added Reller.
Other than the area's Studio Hop or occasional local art event like Celebrate Art! Celebrate Coffee! in Willmar, most of the coop members didn't have an outlet or local gallery for their art until they joined the Kaleidoscope cooperative.
They are "very excited" to finally have a place to show their work, said Olney, who typically spent 20-22 summer weekends at art shows to sell her hand-woven baskets. She's now cut back to about five shows.
Olney said she's more than happy to work her share of days at Kaleidoscope, where her baskets are scattered throughout the gallery. "It is a true cooperative," she said.
Unlike a consignment shop, where artists give the store owner a percentage of profits when their art is sold, a cooperative requires the artists to take full ownership of everything that goes in the gallery.
The coop members sign up to work shifts. Not only do they turn on the lights and sweep the floor, they are able to talk about the different art work to potential customers.
The artists have spent time getting to know each other and the intricacies of their different mediums.
Even though her craft is basket weaving, Olney said she's now able to talk about the differences between pottery that's been in a wood-fired kiln or an electric kiln and can point out the different flowers that Gayle Martens uses to make her unique jewelry.
Edwards said his conversations with artist Laura Welle about the layered meanings of her "Global Village" pieces has made him more well-versed about Welle's artwork that he's eager to pass along to others.
Having an artist in the gallery during hours of operation should enhance the experience for customers, said Olney. As a show of support for the coop, board members of the arts council are also taking turns working in the gallery, she said.
When the idea for a cooperative was starting, Olney sent letters to nearly 50 artists in a 50-mile radius of Willmar. She admits she was surprised that more didn't respond, but suspects the necessary commitment to work in the shop may have turned away some prospects.
The gallery's walls and shelves are chock full of an eclectic collection, but Olney said the cooperative would have room for one or two more artists, depending on what the art is.