Amid Life Challenges, Algoma Couple Opens New Gallery

Kendra Bulgrin at the James May Gallery in Algoma. Kendra and her husband, Jimmy Eddings, opened the gallery May 1.

Behind every major artistic endeavor is a story of inspiration and perseverance. So is the case for one Algoma couple who, when faced with seemingly insurmountable personal and professional challenges, sought out the silver lining – a silver lining that, earlier this month, presented itself as the city’s newest arts space, the James May Gallery.

Kendra Bulgrin, an oil and watercolor painter, and her husband Jimmy Eddings, whose focus is functional pottery and large-scale sculptures, are Wisconsin natives who have long dreamed of breaking into the world of academia. With Master of Fine Arts degrees in hand, they have spent most of the past decade taking on various teaching positions at universities across the country with hopes of landing permanent gigs.

“We were close but never quite made it,” Jimmy says. “We were doing all the things we were recommended to do and everybody was like, ‘Oh, you’re going to get a job.’”

While living and working at another short-term job in Kansas four-and-a-half years ago, Kendra gave birth to the couple’s first son, Everett. A week later he was diagnosed with a heart defect that would eventually require open-heart surgery. They packed up once more to return to their home state and be closer to family.

Once here, Kendra picked up a one-year teaching job at the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay and Jimmy got a residency at Clay on Steele in Algoma, prompting the couple to move to Kewaunee. But the hardships and relocations continued.

After Kendra’s job and Jimmy’s residency ended, the couple both got teaching jobs at UW-Whitewater, where they hoped to secure the increasingly elusive permanent positions. While there, their second child, Forrest, was born with a cleft lip and palette, and Everett was diagnosed with autism. Jimmy was a finalist for a teaching position at UW-Whitewater that he ultimately didn’t get.

Jimmy calls it the family’s “rock bottom.”

The James May Gallery on Steele Street in Algoma.

But it was that rock bottom that the couple used as a launching pad for regaining control of their lives. Conversations about owning a studio/gallery/residency had often cropped up during their professional pursuits, but little came of it.

When desperate times called for desperate measures, those conversations became their focal point. There was a silver lining to all of this and they were determined to find it.

“Kendra and I are not the kind of people to sit back and not do anything so we just decided, we’ve got to pick ourselves up and start putting energy and effort into something that we’re going to see the result,” Jimmy says. “With academia you just pour out every ounce of energy that you possibly have and you have no control over the result.”

They elected to leave behind their dreams for academia, and the instability that came with it, and grab hold of their gallery idea. They were in love with Kewaunee County and when a friend suggested they look at a long-vacant building for sale in Algoma, Jimmy and Kendra went for it. It was only a matter of time before the building was theirs.

The past year has been a blur of activity for the two – gutting and renovating the Steele Street building and scheduling out two years’ worth of exhibitions. Even with ever-growing “to do” lists and renovation projects, Kendra points out that this is the most stability the couple has had in the past decade.

“There was no stability to our life whatsoever, so in a way this is less stress,” Kendra says. “It gives us some stability, some roots and we’re really committed to the Algoma area.”

The James May Gallery will include a living space, gallery and studio on the first floor, while the upper floor will contain two apartments the couple will rent out. The couple has done 90 percent of the renovation work.

Kendra and Jimmy have two main goals with the James May Gallery: to present contemporary works of art and craft by regional and national artists and artisans, and to help first-time art buyers as well as collectors start or expand their collection in a friendly, knowledgeable atmosphere.

Art on display at the James May Gallery.

The couple’s heavy emphasis on ceramics, as well as their backgrounds in academia, is how they hope to achieve these goals.

“It was really important to show challenging work, to show contemporary work, but to have a goal where anybody who walks into our gallery can buy something,” Kendra says. “We might have a painting for a thousand dollars but we’ll also have a cup or a mug for $20. Our goal is to have a really wide range so people don’t feel intimidated. I think the easiest way for people to start collecting art is through ceramics. It’s a really good way to get started because it’s relatively inexpensive and it’s really gaining momentum in the art world as well. It’s very accessible for people because it’s a functional item that they can actually use.”

Along with showing contemporary art (they both see themselves as contemporary artists) at the gallery, they hope to become a resource for homeowners interested in renovating or redesigning their homes. They also hope to educate people who may be intimidated by contemporary art and provide a warm, welcoming space.

“Sometimes [contemporary art] is difficult to understand and sometimes galleries can feel unapproachable,” Kendra says. “I don’t want people to feel like that. I want them to feel like they can come in, have a cup of tea with me, and talk.”

The James May Gallery’s inaugural exhibition, which runs through May 31, will feature a variety of work, from installation art, painting and sculpture to ceramics and wearable art jewelry by artists Amy Kligman, Greg Cochenet, Jennifer Turnage and Lindsay Locatelli.

James May Gallery is located at 213 Steele St. in Algoma. The gallery is open Thursday through Saturday, 10am – 7pm, Sunday and Monday, 10am – 1pm, and by appointment. For more information, call 262.753.3130, visit, or