Dan Cross remembers vividly the day he would go from private fine artist to future gallery owner. It was April of 2016 and he was traveling the countryside of West Jacksonport when he came upon a renovation-in-progress on an old building at the corner of county roads T and V, less than a mile from his home.
He stopped to chat with the contractor working on the two-story building, who explained it would be converted into a rental property. But when Cross walked in the door of the stripped down building, he had another vision: a gallery and studio space.
A little more than a year later, that vision would become a reality as Cross – a digital painter, photographer and graphic designer – opened the doors to one of the peninsula’s newest art venues: the Idea Gallery.
Standing out against Jacksonport’s countryside with a bold navy blue and corrugated metal façade, the Idea Gallery is now home to the contemporary artwork of 24 nationally recognized artists working in a variety of media, from photography to glass. Cross is among that group.
A lifelong artist who grew up in Brillion, Wisconsin, Cross recalls a childhood of summertime visits to the peninsula where his artistic leanings first came to light.
“Abraham Cohn was the one that I first was influenced by,” Cross said of the master potter who, with his wife Ginka, founded the Door County Potters Guild in the 1970s. “My dad was in education and we actually camped at the last homestead…in Peninsula State Park by Weborg campground. We were pretty much up here the whole summer. Every Wednesday my mom would take me over to watch Abe Cohn and I had never thrown before but I took all my paper route money when we got back home at the end of the year and I bought a Brent wheel and a kiln, and I started throwing just by watching him. Then I started firing and sold my works just as a high schooler.”
That experience inspired Cross to pursue an art education degree (with an emphasis on ceramics and painting) at the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay. He points to this education, through which he studied contemporary art and various types of media, along with his subsequent career in graphic design and marketing as fundamental to his decision to open a gallery.
“All of that gave me a further understanding of what good art is,” Cross said. “I’ve always felt that because I went into education, I took at least two of every class, from jewelry to drawing to life drawing, 12 courses of art history…all of that has played into what I consider a broad understanding of art.”
For the past three decades, he has owned Idea Studio, a graphic design marketing business in Green Bay through which he has worked with a number of Door County galleries. In 2004 he moved to Door County and in the years since, has had his work exhibited locally at Miller Art Museum, Hardy Gallery, Blue Dolphin House and Chez Cheryl Artspace.
Working with those galleries and exhibitions has sharpened Cross’s resolve to spread the gospel of contemporary art, which he admits can be challenging to understand. But through education, conversation, opening receptions and artist demos – along with working studio space for artists to rent – it’s a challenge he’s excited to take on.
“I like to look at things differently, from a different perspective and to take things out of the context that we may normally see them and make them into something else that’s beyond what a normal perception would be,” Cross said. “That’s one of the taglines that we have: Beyond the boundaries, beyond distinctive.”