Two years ago, Artists Guild owners Sarah and Jeff Bradley took a leap of faith and a few harrowing walks with carts full of art supplies down Third Avenue in Sturgeon Bay. “When you ask our neighbors on Third Avenue, they’ll laugh describing how we pushed products down the street, but it worked out with very little damage,” laughs Sarah.
The couple opened their art supply store Artists Guild in 2005, quickly outgrowing two of their past spaces. “We did not have the space to offer workshops and classes on site. It was confusing for the public, I think, and a bit of a struggle for us as instructors because I needed to be in two places at once and that was really tough,” says Sarah.
Outgrowing their current location would be tough as well.
“When this space became available and we looked at it, I was overwhelmed,” admits Sarah. “But, I let the idea ferment, and I felt it had a lot of potential.”
“We’re now the largest independent arts supply store in size in Wisconsin at this point,” says Jeff. “We basically have 10,000 square feet per floor, which is real exciting.” The couple appears to be making the most of the space, offering a wide range of art supplies including easels, paintbrushes, acrylics, glosses, pastels, watercolors as well as hosting classes and demonstrations, and offering framing (by the only certified picture framer north of Appleton – Janine Morse). The store includes anything and everything an artist – whether novice or professional – could possibly need to create visual art in the medium of their choice. The extensive selection can overwhelm even the most experienced of artists, but the Artists Guild is prepared to answer questions and offer advice.
“We are certified as art material professionals,” explains Jeff. The certification requires individuals to pass an exam prepared by the National Art Materials Trade Association distinguishing himself or herself as having superior knowledge of fine arts products. “We are very proud of it because all of our full-time staff are certified as art material professionals.”
Therefore, they are able to communicate and aid the novice, as well as the professional artist. “We do get a lot of novices, or folks who had to put their interests in arts on the back burner. They walk into a fine arts supply store, and it is overwhelming,” says Sarah. “One of the things that the certification offers is the opportunity to educate the public, at that novice’s level, without overwhelming them, leaving them baffled. They can get the information they need, apply it, and come back when they’re ready for more information.”
The art professional is also apt to visit the store with questions. “Sturgeon Bay – Door County in general – is ripe with professional artists. Just yesterday we had one in with his wife; he was purchasing his paints and had a couple of questions about the permanence and transparency of the paint,” recalls Sarah. “So we educated him and on he went.”
The staff also, on an impromptu basis, critiques patrons’ works in progress. “We can help an artist, whether it’s a high school student who’s trying to put together a portfolio or a professional artist who says, ‘You know, I’m working on this piece, and I need just an extra set of eyes,”” says Sarah. “We’re happy to do that; we really are.”
Aside from serving the arts community at Artists Guild, Sarah and Jeff are quick to support the public schools, galleries, and Door County art-related events. “We sponsor the Plein Air Festival with Peninsula School of Art,” says Jeff. “We sponsor the Community Mosaic Project with the Hardy Gallery and donate all the canvases for that event. We work with the Miller Art Museum, the Sturgeon Bay High School art club.” The couple is also reaching out to Big Brothers, Big Sisters and the Boys & Girls Club of Door County.
For those looking to continue to pursue an education in art, Sarah offers a class on building a portfolio and suggests they join the Life Drawing Guild.
“The guild is basically a fancy word for community – it’s a group of people who get together on Tuesdays nights from 6:15 to 8:15 pm and we draw from the nude figure,” she explains. “We welcome high school students who are trying to build a portfolio as they launch into college opportunities and often life drawing is part and parcel of a comprehensive portfolio.”
No matter if you would like to enhance your portfolio, refine drawing/painting skills or begin painting, the Artist Guild offers art advice for all.
The Artists Guild is located at 215 N. Third Avenue in Sturgeon Bay. For more information call 920.743.9900 or visit artistsguildonline.com.