Stepping Stones Print
News/Features - Arts News
Written by Johanna Welzenbach-Hilliard   
Tuesday, 24 May 2005 18:00
On a Saturday morning, if I were suddenly inspired to seek out work by local artists, I could go to a gym and catch a really good show while working out on the treadmill. Then I could treat myself to breakfast at my favorite café and see another wonderful exhibit while drinking my coffee. Later that evening, I could go out dancing and get to the nightclub in time for the artist’s opening reception. This might sound farfetched, but all these alternative artistic venues really do exist.

Executive Square Fitness Club (E2) and Mentality/Affinity Hair Salon on the corner of Fourth and Main streets in downtown Davenport both opened up last autumn. E2’s Director, Jenny Raabe, wanted to display local artists’ work on the club’s walls, but she didn’t know how to locate the artists. Then, in walked Loren Shaw Hellige, a muralist and portrait painter. The two women discussed Raabe’s idea, and Hellige took over recruiting the talent and arranging the shows in exchange for a membership to the club. She calls this “my little hobby on the side.”

Local small-business owners and even some large corporations have been filling a need here in the Quad Cities – the need for more venues where artists can display their work. MidCoast Fine Arts and Quad City Arts are the two major exhibitors in the area, and they do a wonderful job displaying local artists at numerous venues throughout the community.

But MidCoast and Quad City Arts are the only large-scale arts organizations that jury and accept artists’ work on a regular basis, and jurying is a time-consuming process that creates a waiting list for prospective artists. Considering the large quantity of local talent, the number of professional art venues is small and cannot keep up with artists eager to exhibit their work. So cafés, bars, and even gyms and hair salons, such as E2 and Mentality/Affinity, are helping to fill in the gaps.

Beverly Walker was the first artist to exhibit her work at Executive Square. Hellige said she loves her “big, floral, vibrant oils.” After the success of the fitness center’s first show, Mentality/Affinity next door decided it, too, would like to display artwork – specifically ceramics and small sculptures. Akiko Koiso’s breathtakingly beautiful Japanese ceramics are on display there now. They blend in perfectly with the salon’s décor.

Hellige went to artists she thought the public would want to see, such as well-known floral painter Caroline England. She went to art fairs and asked artists if they would be interested in displaying their work at a local business. “I’ve taken a real eclectic sense of taste, and I’m just trying to show it the public,” she said.

Larry DeVilbiss is currently showing at E2. He paints colorful poster art of graceful aquatic animals, such as whales and dolphins, and plant life. In addition, he has several humorous pieces that cheekily combine two famous paintings into a quirky new one. Perhaps the most easily recognizable is American Scream – Munch’s screaming figure standing next to Grant Wood in Wood’s American Gothic. I chuckled at the juxtaposition of German angst with American folk art.

Hellige rotates the artists every two months and hosts an opening reception on the first Friday of the month, schedules permitting. She is excited about artist Camille Sant Amour of Rock Island (also of Sant Amour’s Café Espresso on 30th Street in Rock Island), whose work, Hellige said, is abstract and fresh. Sant Amour will be showing her paintings in the November/December slot. A black-and-white photography exhibit is scheduled for this summer in July and August. In fact, E2 is booked through January of next year.

Not only do artists enjoy displaying their work at the club, but the club members also enjoy seeing the artwork and often buy it on the spur of the moment. As Raabe pointed out, people see the art every day and get used to seeing it. After artist Cindy Lathrop’s show came down, one client missed seeing one particular painting so much that she sought out Lathrop at an art fair and then bought the painting from her. Altogether, Lathrop sold six pieces at E2.

What sweetens the deal even more is that the businesses at Executive Square take no commission whatsoever on the sales. Hellige recruits the artists and helps them hang their work. A price list is left at the front desk, and clients contact the artists directly to purchase their work.

Across the river at Sant Amour’s Café Espresso, Camille Sant Amour and her mother and father, Jeanine and John Sant Amour (the owners of the café), display artwork on a six-week rotation. “We want to introduce art to people who don’t go looking for art at galleries,” Camille said. When the café first opened a year-and-a-half ago, she had to ask artists to put art on its walls. Now artists come to Sant Amour’s with portfolios in hand.

The art to be displayed is chosen by Camille, her husband, and her father, although she said that 90 percent of the work they receive goes up on the walls. Artists who have shown at Sant Amour’s include Beth Peters (art coordinator for the Quad City Botanical Center), Kathleen Cox, and Bruce Carter, who sold a large painting for $1,000. The café is currently exhibiting artwork by children who attend the Jordan Catholic School preschool in Rock Island.

Again, art sales result from a regular clientele. Customers get used to seeing a particular piece and decide to buy it. Jeanine said the café also gets quite a few out-of-town visitors who come in with local friends specifically to see the art. She feels that customers enjoy viewing the art at their leisure over a cup of coffee and one of Camille’s delicious cinnamon rolls, rather than making a special trip to an art gallery. They come in several times to decide if they like a painting, then make a purchase. Camille said that the café sells at least two pieces, and often more, from each show. Sant Amour’s does take a commission, but only 20 percent; galleries sometimes take 40 percent.

Dean Schroeder of MidCoast Fine Arts is enthusiastic about the growing number of alternative venues. “They bring art to where people are,” he said. “I want to believe it’s a team effort – the common layperson realizes that this is an artistic community with quality art.”

Davenport’s Chad Hambright, a young artist trying to break into the gallery scene, currently has several paintings on display at the Davenport YMCA West (annexed to West High School). “I enjoy the idea of a non-artistic venue because art gets out there to people who may not take the time to go to a gallery,” Hambright said.

Local artist Mardi Howell added: “I’ve sold a lot at alternative venues. I love ’em. This last year I’ve done really well at these alternative venues. I sold seven paintings at the Botanical Center last year.” Howell considers alternative venues to be a stepping stone for emerging artists who are gallery-bound. “At an alternative venue they can show their work and develop their style. It’s a testing ground to learn about displaying and hanging your art. You learn a lot about being able to hang in those spaces.”

Howell has shown at E2 and is currently the first artist to be exhibited at the Genesis Medical Center Illini Campus, thanks to the encouragement of Jodi Yeggy, director of the foundation at the hospital. Hospital CEO Chuck Bruhn, having worked in another hospital where local art was exhibited, decided that Illini should do the same, and he asked Yeggy to spearhead the project.

Yeggy, a friend of E2’s Raabe, met Howell at her opening reception and loved her bright, cheerful paintings. Howell was more than happy to hang 40 paintings in the hospital’s lobby and hallways. She’s already sold four of them.

“Hospital employees, patients, and visitors all love the artwork,” Yeggy said. For interested buyers, signs are posted in the hallway with arrows pointing to her office, where the paintings can be purchased. The foundation takes a 20-percent commission on sales, which goes toward the funding of the hospital.

Yeggy said that she and Bruhn have discussed the idea of starting a private art collection for Illini hospital, possibly buying a piece from each artist that exhibits there. Yeggy is actively seeking artists for future exhibits and can be contacted at 792-6395.

The only drawback to consider in this otherwise win/win situation for local artists and business owners is the lack of insurance and, in some cases, security at these venues. Howell also mentioned that restaurants are not a good place for art, especially if they have a deep fryer, because the smoke and grease can ruin paintings.

Other alternative venues include: libraries in Bettendorf, Moline, and Rock Island; the Pulse Ultra Lounge & Café in Moline; the Blue Cat Brew Pub and Jody’s Bar & Gallery in Rock Island; and Peabody’s Coffee Shop in downtown Davenport.

To have an alternative art venue included in the Reader calendar, send events and exhibits to ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ).
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