I had seen Grove Gallery before, because my sister-in-law knits. I have, on many occasions, followed her into Woven Art on Grove Street where she has had conversations about things like “gauges” and “weft” and I have wandered around asking her to make things for me, and looking at the yarn because it comes in really pretty colors.
My assumption was that the Gallery, adjoining Woven Arts, included just the single room visible through the front window. It looked nice enough, but I figured I could already see everything, and unless something really grabbed me, there was no reason to go in. It was also not on any of my regular routes, since it’s tucked away from the main drag, past the 7-11 and across from the Grove Street Ramp.
On the Sunday when I finally went into the Gallery, and met Manager Deborah Cholewicki I remembered that saying about “assumptions” and “asses.”
We stumbled in during a blizzard, during an opening for artists Sharan Egan and Candace Farmer. As I waited to speak to Cholewicki, I met both artists. My husband was immediately drawn to the photographs of Jena McShane who had a showing as part of the Gallery’s “Emerging” program.
As I talked to Farmer about one of her pieces (and the cool purple dye in her hair), and my husband asked McShane about some dramatic lightening photos, I got it: the art on display was more than objects to be admired or purchased. It was work that sprung from the hands of real, live, Michigan artists, some of whom were standing two feet away holding wine glasses.
It is certainly not difficult to find either artists or art in East Lansing, but Grove, Cholewicki explained, is “very ‘organic’ and grassroots” in its approach to art. “We encourage visitors to be ‘hands-on’ and interact with our member and guest artists.”
The feel of the place, Cholewicki says, has "great energy,” and the Gallery’s artist members are “committed to seeing the gallery succeed. Members contribute hours of volunteer time—manning the gallery, bookkeeping, marketing, web design, and so on—to help the gallery prosper. In other words, our gallery is a reflection of the dynamic, devoted, and talented member artists it is made up of.”
Cholewicki herself is a fiber artist whose creations can be found throughout the Gallery. She also has a social work background which, she says, “helps to ‘balance’ the range of perspectives and experiences that each member brings to our artist cooperative.”
As the snow fell outside, I moved through room after room looking at pottery, sculptural fiber weaving and tapestry, wearable art, jewelry, photography, printmaking, metal sculpture, glass, encaustics, mixed media and painting. I noticed a space towards the back of the building where I spied the corner of a loom. I asked Cholewicki, then, what, exactly the place was—it seemed to be both gallery and studio, and she had used the word “cooperative.” She confirmed that it was all of those things.
The Gallery, she said, “is constantly evolving . . . over the past few years, we have transformed our space and have ‘fine-tuned’ our branding/logo.” Despite having “opened at the onset of the nationwide economic collapse in 2008, and enduring on-going street construction for more than two years,” she says the Gallery “has persevered and thrived,” continuing “to offer artists working studio space as well as opportunities to exhibit, teach, and network with other artists in a fun and supportive environment.”
When it was time to return to the tundra, away from the literal and figurative warmth of the Gallery, I felt a little stupid. I’d gone in thinking that, if the place turned out to be interesting, I could write about how I had “discovered” this thriving hive of artistic vitality only blocks away from my house.”
The truth is that I didn’t “discover” it; I just woke up and noticed it.
I wondered what else I might see around here, if I paid attention.
Grove Gallery is located at 325A Grove Street, directly across from the Grove Street Parking Ramp.