Amy Grant, Art in Bloom
artGuide Magazine sat down with Wilmingtaon art gallery owner Amy Grant of Art in Bloom. Amy discussed her history and life in art.
1. What was your introduction to art?
My mother, Hannah Barr Grant was a classically trained artist with a wonderful sense of humor and an eye for composition and color. She made sure my sister and I had paint, clay, pastels, paper, pencils, ink, watercolors, and whatever materials we needed to create art. Some of my first memories are of my mother drawing cats meandering from the back to the front of the paper with the cats becoming smaller as they faded into the distance. When I asked her what you could see from an airplane window, my mother drew a picture. She literally and creatively taught me about perspective. Years later when I learned about the art and science of perspective in art class, I realized my mother had taught me about art by doing. What a gift.
My mother also made sure we visited museums and galleries in our hometown, Fayetteville, NC and out of town often traveling an hour or two if she wanted us to see a special exhibit in Raleigh or Chapel Hill. Both of my parents loved to travel and had a sense of adventure and were open minded and eclectic in their taste for art. They made an effort to show us different areas of the country and different cultures through art each summer on our family vacation.
I remember hearing someone make a negative comment about a work of art when we visited the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. My mother used the moment to emphasize that people have different opinions about art. There is no right and wrong answer. However, if you study art, history, and technique, you have a better chance of seeing each work of art and the story that the art might tell. I took art classes in college and learned from my sister's experience at art school. I trust my response to art work after such an eclectic and creative childhood. I also respect when other people have different responses to art.
My mother found great art teachers for me starting when I was 8 years old through High School. One art teacher, Susan Manning, had a major impact on me during my high school years. I loved oil painting, drawing, and working with pastel crayons in Susan's studio and how she brought out the best in my artistic abilities. Susan's art and her teaching helped me realize that classical training is a beginning, a launching place. She created beautiful pastel portraits using paper bags as the base for the pastels. She would use bits of cloth or ribbon to accent certain parts of the portrait. Susan helped me develop my love of texture and the combination of the old, classical approach with new and creative experiments. Susan Manning collaborated with other great artists such as Janet Parks. It was a lesson for me that working together and having a good attitude contribute to the practice of art and benefit everyone. My childish ideas of artists working alone and in isolation were replace by a more practical and sustainable way of working.
2. What brought you to owning your own gallery?
I studied and created art during my childhood and for a few years after college. I went into science as a career in the biopharmaceutical industry but would visit art galleries, studios, and museums around the world and US when my company would send me to London, Copenhagen, and other parts of the world on business. I love how Art and Science are connected and planned to open an art gallery when I was ready to leave the biopharmaceutical industry. Midway during my science career, 2006-2009, I set up an art gallery in the bottom floor of my 90 year-old house in the Historic district of Kennett Square, PA near Philadelphia. I still had my full-time science job but worked with friends to run the gallery as an experiment and to see if I truly wanted to open a gallery one day. In 2014, I thought I would change careers in about 10-20 years and open an art gallery. I had been visiting Wilmington, NC for many years during vacations with family and had been scouting for a building in a good location to purchase. The plan was to use the building for rental income until I was ready to change careers, move to Wilmington, and open the art gallery. During my visits to Wilmington, I also noticed the positive transformation of the economy and the artists' community in Wilmington. I had a feeling that there was a lot more to Wilmington than meets the eye.
A large company bought the smaller biotech company where I was working in December 2014. This created an opportunity to leave the biopharmaceutical industry and to open the gallery earlier than planned. The timing seemed right. I laugh at all the wonderful things that have happened that I could have never planned. I am such a planner and a dreamer. The dream of owning an art gallery came to life through years of preparation and trial and error. The timing, materials, and money to start the gallery came together in more of a serendipitous and circuitous way. I'd like to think that all of the mistakes and disappointments in life made the dream possible, too.
I had trouble finding the right location in Wilmington for the art gallery. Every time, I thought I found the place, someone else with more money would buy the building. My brother, Neil Grant, is a successful commercial real estate broker. He owns Grant-Murray Real Estate based in Fayetteville, NC. Neil is a great person and has the knack for talking with people, finding buildings and seeing the potential when most people only see problems. Neil suggested that I consider making an offer on 210 Princess Street. The building was over 100 years old and in a great location in historic downtown Wilmington, NC. The location and building turned out to be a wonderful gem with a beautiful Cherry Laurel Tree in the back. After a year of restoration, the building revealed the original heart-pine ceiling and brick of 1910. After removing layers of walls, floors, and ceilings from over the decades, we found ballast stones under the floor that are now incorporated into the new brick wall in the courtyard in the back and into the bench around the Cherry Laurel tree. The owners (Four generations of farriers from the Quinlivan family) and builders in 1910 kept the tree-hewn walls from 1858 and the boards from 1891 as the framing of the building. During the restoration in 2015, the builders left cut outs in Art in Bloom Gallery's walls, so you can still see the wooden framing and the original 1910 brick exterior built over the wood. The physical structure of mixing the best of the old and the new is similar to the art showing in Art in Bloom Gallery. There is a mixture of traditional and modern art, of established and emerging artists, and of artists who have practiced over 50 years each showing brand new work.
The renovation of 210 Princess Street had a big impact on my attitude of gratitude when I discovered that the Quinlivan family of farriers (Four generations from county Limerick Ireland) had done such a great job in building and maintaining our building (c. 1905 – 1920). I had time to research the Quinlivan family’s story during the year when the building was being renovated. We found a cache of their well-preserved papers buried in a wooden grate about four feet under the floor. The receipts, letters, bills, checks, pharmacy lists, membership cards, World War I donation cards, etc. showed that the family interacted with everyone in town. You can tell from the original heart pine ceiling and brick from 1910 that the family cared about what they did. Their craftsmanship speaks for itself. When I try to put Art in Bloom Gallery’s goals into words, I remember the Quinlivan family and look at the building, today. I would like for all of our customers to have that same timeless experience when they find art to take home with them. Every day when I am in the gallery, it strikes me how the Quinlivan family collaborated with architects, builders, and other community members to build something that lasts over time. In the spring of 2016, Dumay Gorham III, an extraordinary sculptor, created an original sculpted gate for the brick wall and entrance to the courtyard in the back. I believe the Quinlivan family would have approved and applauded the fine addition to the property
3. Art in Bloom has a incredible portfolio of artists; what is your vision for the gallery?
Our focus is to show only original art by international and national artists and to serve as a crossroad for creativity and other connections that happen when people explore art and exchange ideas.
My great-grandparents and grandparents on my mother’s side of the family taught me from an early age to use whatever we have to help the community. In turn, a strong community helps your business continue to thrive. Also, a variety of events brings new people to the gallery to continue to get the word out about the art and artists.
An important goal is to use the Art in Bloom Gallery space to benefit the community. For example, any 501(c)3 non-profit may apply to use the gallery space first-come-first served, especially on Sunday and Monday when we are closed. For example, Public Archaeology Corps (PAC) held a fundraiser and information session on a Sunday. And, teen curators at DREAMS of Wilmington produced a DREAMS in Bloom Show with an art opening and a closing reception. We are working on providing a permanent display area in Gallery 2 for DREAMS artists.
We hold a fundraiser art raffle for Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, an emergency food pantry each December. As a fundraiser, the Temple of Israel is selling original jewelry hand-crafted from broken glass from a 400 year-old stained glass window this fall at Art in Bloom Gallery. And, the gallery is participating in a Corned Beef Sandwich fundraiser on Sept 15th for the Temple of Israel. The first 15 people to visit the gallery will receive a corned beef sandwich take-out lunch.
In addition, Art in Bloom Gallery benefits from being a good neighbor and actively participating in Historic Downtown events such as the American Craft Walk Wilmington (Oct 15th, Saturday) and the Holly Jolly Holiday Stroll (Dec 9-10, Fri-Sat). Art in Bloom is located on the 200 Block of Princess Street between Thalian Hall and the River in historic downtown Wilmington, NC. We are also close to the hotels, convention center, and the new Wilson Center at Cape Fear Community College.
As a good neighbor, we contribute whenever possible to downtown festivals either with sponsorships or in-kind donations to use our space, e.g., the NC Jazz Festival, Thalian Hall, the Port City Music Festival, the Cucalorus Film Festival, etc. Art in Bloom Gallery works with our fellow business owners on the 200 Block of Princess Street to co-promote our area via a “Rediscover Princess Street” campaign. Art in Bloom Gallery is participating in this year's WILMA Expo at the Convention Center and is excited about being nominated in the Arts Category for the WILMA WOMEN to WATCH Awards.
Art in Bloom Gallery benefits from our memberships in the Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County and as an underwriter for WHQR, 91.3 FM, our Public Radio Station. We enjoy participating in Arts in Wilmington (AIW) led by Craig Stinson and ArtsNow NC, a digital home for North Carolina Art from the Mountains to the Sea (led by Mike Williams of the Raleigh News and Observer).
Art in Bloom Gallery collaborates with groups helping to restore and maintain historic downtown Wilmington, e.g., the Historic Wilmington Foundation, Residents of Old Wilmington, and Wilmington Development Incorporated.
4. How do you select the artists you choose to represent?
I already had several artists willing to display their art before I opened the gallery with an emphasis on international and national artists.
During my childhood, college days, and science career, I visited many artist's studios, galleries, and museums. Especially during my science career, I had a chance to talk with artists and see art internationally. I started collecting small art works about 35 years ago and over the years followed the careers and art of some of my favorite artists. I had some artists in mind when I dreamed of opening an art gallery. Fortunately, those artists agreed to show in the gallery. From that core group, I branched out and had the good fortune to be introduced to a few other extraordinary artists. For example, I had looked at many types of ceramics and spoken with artists but could not find what I was looking for to show in the gallery. One of our artists who paints introduced me to a master ceramic artist. And, I learned a lesson that patience is important. I am glad that I waited to find the right ceramics for the gallery. This same "hurry up and wait" situation happened with some of the other mediums, art, and artists. For example, I waited for an introduction to the right blown-glass artist, fine-art photographers, and artists creating digital images and printing the images on fine art paper. Each step has been a lesson in the power of not rushing.
I have scheduled featured artists and exhibits through 2019 at 210 Princess Street, Wilmington, NC at this time. I still look at new art and enjoy meeting new artists on my day off (Monday). I especially enjoy visiting art studios to see the art in person. I jury art formally once a year in January. Art in Bloom has a website at www.aibgallery.com. And, we show art in other venues and work to place art in public and private venues. So, even though, the building at 210 Princess Street is limited, I believe the potential to show the art is expansive. The space at 210 Princess Street has movable walls from Japan in the center of Gallery 1 and a variety of display possibilities on the walls. Gallery 2 is smaller and ideal for certain types of art. The courtyard displays original sculpture and serves as an oasis and peaceful place thanks to the Cherry Laurel Tree.
5. How do you see Art in Bloom in 5 years?
As a start up business owner, I still hope to make my mistakes early and often now, so I may continue to learn, refine, and grow the business. The first anniversary of Art in Bloom Gallery is Oct 1, 2016. By Oct 2020, I see Art in Bloom Gallery benefiting from experience but still creating a dynamic, ever-changing space for art, artists, customers, and others in the community. I see our community involvement continuing. In five years, I believe things will be somewhat the same in that the gallery is ever changing, i.e., new art, events, community service, and technology.
I am fortunate to have a niece who graduated in Art History from the University of Wisconsin (Madison). She has worked for art museums as well as for virtual fine-art galleries such as 1stdibs.com and the Tappen Collective. I aim to expand our virtual gallery. My mother was a classically-trained artist, and my sister continues to be a working artist. Plus, I am fortunate to be surrounded by extraordinary artists at Art in Bloom Gallery. As you can imagine, I learn and see something new every day. I find my niece, especially helpful, since she knows so much about the art world that I have never experienced.