Where the “Norm” is Absent

“Wallace and Tabetha” by Jennifer Zoellner, Florida, Sewing.

When interviewing artists, it’s not uncommon for many to tell you that they’ve wanted to be an artist for as long as they can remember – but how many tell you that they’ve wanted to own a gallery since they were young?

“I’ve been wanting to open a gallery since I was eight or nine years old,” laughs Sarah Elizabeth Condon, owner of The Eclipse Gallery in downtown Algoma. Her first “gallery” was a tiny art shop in what had been the kitchen pantry in her childhood home. “It was called the ‘Mango Jam Art Shop,’” Condon says. “I even had an ‘Artist Weekly Newsletter’ that I would print out every week on our family’s computer. It had coupons for artwork, and I would hand it out to every kid in my neighborhood!”

Recently, all of the items in the Mango Jam Art Shop were unearthed – complete with artwork with price tags still hanging from them.

“I was a pretty inventive child,” Condon says.

“Misfold” by Matthew Shlian, Michigan, Paper.

When Condon tells you about her childhood, this inventiveness makes complete sense. Homeschooled until sixth grade, Condon has played the violin since the age of three and was introduced to art at an early age.

“My days were very unstructured. If I wanted to draw for an entire school day, that’s exactly what I did,” she says. Growing up in the small town of Broadhead, Wisconsin, Condon and her family were just short rides away from the larger cities of Madison and Janesville and would often spend entire days in those cities, soaking up the rich performing and visual arts culture.

After graduating from high school, while life and motherhood made other plans for her, Condon never let go of her goal to create and display art for a living. She and her husband Brandon Hemm decided to move to Algoma so Condon could attend school for Gallery/Museum Practices at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

“Brandon’s parents recently moved to Algoma full-time after having a vacation home here for 17 years. We’ve always been in love with this area, and I really saw potential here in terms of an art gallery.” Condon and her husband purchased the building on Fourth Street in September 2008, and she curated her first exhibit at the gallery shortly afterward.

She chose the name Eclipse because to her, the word meant “eclipsing the norm” or “eclipsing expectations.” Condon was true to that meaning from the very beginning. In crafting the look of the gallery, Condon says she learned much of what to do from Stephen Perkins, one of her professors at UWGB.

“He has taught me so much about exhibitions and curating,” Condon says. “He made me realize that my dream had some legs professionally.”

“Arc” by Mark Sauter, Wisconsin, Reclaimed Wood.

Condon had a very specific vision for the gallery – primarily that the gallery space should be divided into two parts – one part would house a specific curated exhibition, with the other side being a small retail spot.

“I had visited a lot of galleries and knew that I wanted to have some things for sale,” she says. “I always like having little trinkets to take home from places.” Many of the items that Condon sells in the gallery are from local artists, with reasonably priced handmade jewelry, ceramics, wallets, dolls, and other eclectic pieces that are perfectly sized to take home.

The other aspect of the vision – one that seemed to be discovered while Condon was putting the pieces of the gallery together – was of having exhibits and retail items that made gallery-goers aware of the huge independent craft movement that abounds throughout the United States. Condon credits working at UWGB’s Lawton Gallery with her discovery of this movement.

“TOWEL towel” by Kathie Roig, North Carolina, Weaving.

“I had met Faythe Levine [a prominent figure in the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) indie craft movement who recently produced and directed Handmade Nation, a documentary that details the rise of DIY art, craft, and design] when she was helping with an exhibit at the Lawton, and I really became aware of the huge craft movement that’s going on right now. Supporting these artists and crafters just makes so much sense – you get a high-quality, unique work of art that’s been made by love from someone.”

Having thrown herself into the DIY craft movement, Condon attempted her hardest exhibition – “50 Artists, 50 Mediums, 50 States.” The premise of the exhibition is simple – 50 different artists that work with 50 different mediums from 50 different states – but Condon laughingly refers to it as “trying to do something as hard as I could possibly think of.”

“Many of these artists had never been in a gallery or a curatorial situation,” she says. “I found many of them online, and the fact that none of the variables could overlap made the exhibit a little tougher to put together than I expected.” In total, eight months of organization was put into the exhibit, but Condon says it was very much worth it.

“It’s been very well received,” she says. “In my opinion, the coolest thing about the exhibit is that most of the artists seemed to break the barriers of the craft that might be expected to come out of their state.”

Katy Bergman Cassell, South Carolina, Enamel on Copper.

The “50-50-50” exhibit runs through the end of December, and Condon says that planning for Eclipse’s 2010 shows are already in full swing. “Ethereal Views: Environments in Contemporary Art” is planned for January through March of next year and will focus on artwork that is characterized by the qualities of lightness, intangibility, and delicateness.

“We have a great combination of artists and mediums for this show,” says Condon. “A. Bill Miller, a professor at MIAD [Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design], is planning to do this great multimedia installation.”

Other shows for 2010 include “Food as Art,” featuring artwork relating food to contemporary issues including hunger, starvation, politics, consumerism, and more; and a solo show featuring the work of Green Bay artist Andrew Linsken’s new work.

“Just because I’m in a small town doesn’t mean that I’m not holding myself to a standard, or that I won’t be inventive,” Condon says, looking around her gallery space. “I think these kind of intimate spaces are exactly where people can connect with the artwork on a more tangible level.”

The Eclipse Gallery is located at 507 4th Street in downtown Algoma. The “50 Artists, 50 States, 50 Mediums” exhibit runs through December 31, 2009. The gallery is closed Monday and Tuesday through the winter months, and is open Wednesday and Thursday from noon – 5 pm, Friday and Saturday from 11 am – 7 pm, and Sunday from 11 am – 5 pm. For more information on the gallery, visit