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Supplying an Arts Community

Sarah and Jeff Bradley greet customers of Artists Guild with a warm smile and supreme knowledge of the arts supplies they carry. Photo by Len Villano.

This past summer, the owners of the Artists Guild, Sarah and Jeff Bradley, moved their stock of art supplies – easels, paintbrushes, acrylics, glosses, pastels, watercolors, canvases and more – down the street and took up residence in 215 N. Third Avenue in Sturgeon Bay, a humongous space. Opened in 2005, the Artists Guild has already called two spaces in downtown Sturgeon Bay home, “But we quickly outgrew them,” says Sarah.

“We are now the largest independent arts supply store in size in Wisconsin at this point,” says Jeff, sitting beside his wife and business partner in the facility’s top floor, a wide-open space equipped to host large-scale art classes. “We basically have 10,000 square feet per floor, which is real exciting.”

The building, originally constructed in 1903 as a hardware store, features a maze of rooms – used over the years for various purposes. In 1955, the facility was renovated and utilized as the Bank of Sturgeon Bay until 1975 when the bank relocated across the street under the new name of Baylake Bank. The Harmanns then purchased the building, opened a photography studio – Harmann Studios – then vacated the space about three years ago.

“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.”

An obvious convenience of the new space was the ability to host workshops and classes in the same facility as the arts supply store. At the previous location, “We did not have the space of offer workshops and classes on site,” explains Sarah, “so it was very confusing for the public and a bit of a struggle for me as an instructor because I needed to be two places at once and that was really tough.”

The new facility features a large upstairs studio space. Photo by Len Villano.

The extra space also allows an opportunity for instructors and students to teach and create art without constraint. “The drawing group can draw around a person or object 360 degrees,” explains Jeff. “We didn’t have that ability in the other facility.”

Fellow instructor and well-known artist Craig Blietz also saw the numerous possibilities the space carried. “[Blietz] was extremely excited,” says Jeff. “He saw the potential for doing a lot more here in Sturgeon Bay. He felt, and we feel also, that Sturgeon Bay really needs more of an arts community, more of a place for classes to occur at all different levels, and this space affords us the ability to do that.”

Currently, Jeff and Sarah are in the process of touching up a few of the rooms, “aesthetics,” says Sarah, “taking out some of that ‘70s paneling,” preparing them to host a series of classes and workshops.

“We are expanding classes to include all of the mediums: pastels – both soft and oil – drawing, painting with acrylics, oil paints, and watercolors,” says Sarah. “Slowly but surely we are bringing outside instructors in by invitation. And we have our drawing cooperative – that’s been going strong for six years.”

According to Jeff, Blietz also recognizes the sheer convenience the facility offers: “What a gift to this community,” Blietz said, “to be able to teach upstairs and have a full, complete arts supply store downstairs.”

The Artists Guild features an extensive stock of art supplies. Photo by Len Villano.

The arts supply store includes anything and everything an artist – whether novice or professional – could possible 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, who was the mere 134th individual to become certified in the world. 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.”

“We are now the largest independents arts supply store in size in Wisconsin,” says Jeff. Photo by Len Villano.

The staff is also equipped and able to professionally frame “anything and everything,” says Sarah, “from beaded purses to children’s artwork.” The Frame Station features state-of-the-art equipment – glasscutters and matt cutters – in a room surrounded by large windows, which allows customers to watch framing taking place. Customers can also feel safe leaving their art behind, as the bank outfitted the facility with seven vaults – ideal for storing priceless pieces.

“When you walk in for a framing job, there’s a level of confidence that we know what we’re doing,” says Jeff. “We know materials. We know pigments. We know colors. We can get the job done very nicely.”

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 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.”

With a quick and easy smile, the couple offers this thriving arts community more than supplies – education and excitement in all that goes into creating art.

“We know art,” smiles Jeff.

The Artists Guild, open daily, is located at 215 N Third Avenue in Sturgeon Bay. For more information call 920.743.9900 or visit http://www.artistsguildonline.com.

Small World Market, owned by Sarah and Jeff Bradley, also moved from its previous location and took up residence beside the Artists Guild. The store features a variety of fair trade items created by artists and artisans from around the globe.