Owning an original piece of art created by one of your favorite local artists is cool.
But buying that piece of art straight off the artist’s living room wall, just feet from the artist’s home studio, while munching on a cookie baked in the artist’s kitchen – that’s extra cool.
Local art collectors are getting more opportunities lately to participate in very personal buying experiences at sales that Wichita artists are staging in their own homes. The events offer buyers a chance to meet the artists, learn the stories behind the pieces and see where they were created. And they offer artists a no-hassle, convenient way to raise money or clear out their studios without hauling their pieces to a gallery and haggling over commission.
Several well-known Wichita artists, including Wade Hampton and Charlotte Martin, put on sales just before Christmas. Several others have banded together to make their home sales bi-annual events. And others are busy creating or identifying art to sell at in-home events in the near future.
It’s a practice that’s been going on for years, pioneered locally by artists like Lee Shiney and Curt Clonts, but has gained notoriety with some recent high-profile sales that were widely publicized – and documented – via Facebook.
Christopher Gulick, whose hanging mobile sculptures are well known throughout Wichita, joined the fray and put on a sale this weekend at his home at 2704 Julianne in the Indian Hills neighborhood. His sale, which features more than 40 of his own creations plus about 20 pieces made by other artists, continues from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday. (Assuming he hasn’t sold out.)
Gulick’s sale has one purpose: To clear his home and studio of an overabundance of artwork that he’s created, bought or acquired through trades. For him, it’s about survival.
“Part of it is because of the lack of room in my studio,” said Gulick, who creates his sculptures in a basement space filled with tools and decorated with pieces by most of Wichita’s most recognized artists. “At this point, I need to add on or move to a bigger place.”
Or have a sale.
Though this will be Gulick’s first sale, it’s an idea he’s thought about for years. He remembers hearing about one of Shiney’s sales in 2011 and liked the idea. He could clear out some space and make a few dollars without loading up his multi-piece sculptures and reassembling them in someone else’s space.
“There’s more of an interaction with your customer base,” said Gulick, who planned to offer shoppers cups of coffee and snacks from his kitchen this weekend – as well as a peek into his studio. “And buyers are getting a better deal because they’re getting the art below wholesale.”
Hampton said he was taken off guard by the overwhelming success of his sale, which he put on in early December in his College Hill home.
He’d always wanted to do a home show and sale, but his previous house just didn’t have the space. His new one did, and Hampton needed to raise money to cover some recent medical bills, he said. He worked feverishly for three months creating pieces for the show, producing 135 8 1/2-by-11-inch drawings, which he priced at $95 apiece, and 14 full-sized paintings. Hampton advertised the sale on Facebook, then hung the show as though he was putting it in a gallery.
He tidied up the Christmas decorations, put out snacks, opened a few bottles of wine, and waited for people to come. Within the first hour-and-a-half, he’d sold 80 percent of the art. By the end of the second night, he’d sold nearly all of it. Hampton estimates that 150 people passed through his house.
“I did four times what I thought I’d do,” said Hampton, who now hopes to make his home sale an annual event.
Attendees were friends, acquaintances and people Hampton had never met. They wanted face time with him, and several mentioned how strange in a good way it was to see where the person who created the piece slept, ate and worked.
“It’s just more intimate,” Hampton said. “Final Friday is fantastic, but it can get a little unruly at times. These things seem to be the back-to-the-basics, intimate side of shows. And the nice thing about my show was the people were there to have a good time, but they were really there for the art. They weren’t just going out to see and be seen. They were there to see the art.”
Hampton has done all kinds of shows, he said, but his home show had so many advantages, from convenience for him to lower prices for his customers, who didn’t have to absorb a gallery markup. He was humbled by the people who were so excited to meet him.
“I never mean any disrespect to galleries,” Hampton said. “I would like to see more nice galleries succeed in Wichita. But as an artist, you get the most bang for your buck when you’re not having to pay a commission or rely on galleries to do what they say they’re going to do. I’m a big fan of being able to have control over the success or absolute failure of my projects.”
In Riverside, a group of artists have found success over the past three years by banding together for home sales.
The Porter Street Artists are a group of about 20 painters, jewelry makers, furniture makers and sculptors who mostly live in the neighborhood and who, since 2012, have been putting on twice-a-year shows and sales.
The shows are spread out among several houses in the 900 block of Porter, and each artist sets up shop in different spaces inside and outside. (The next one is scheduled for April 18.)
Joann Ryan came up with the idea when she realized how many of her neighbors had artistic hobbies. Ryan makes “Metal Mammas,” which are yard sculptures made out of everyday metal objects. The first sales were at her house only and now have expanded through the neighborhood. The event has grown so much that at the last sale filled up five neighboring houses, and the artists invited a food truck to park on Porter and serve the crowds.
The shows are successful, Ryan said, because people like to see new art. But they also like to see where art is made.
“If you go to too many shows where you see the same people doing the same thing, it’s really refreshing to see something new,” she said. “And part of it, too, is going to an artist’s house. We did notice that some people were more house looking than art looking.”
Painter Charlotte Martin had two shows last year in her Delano home and partnered with friends around town who were doing the same. She coordinated her last sale to coincide with a home sale at friend and fellow artist Kim Lister’s house. Artist Barbara Vogt set up at Lister’s house, too, and glass artist Chad Droegemeier opened up his house at 1568 N. Charles on the same day. The artists promoted the sales as an “Art Trek” and encouraged shoppers to hop from one house to the other.
Martin said she’s had several sales at home over the years, some more successful than others. Some she put on to raise money. Others she just wanted to make room in her house.
But all have been worth it, she said.
“It’s like having a little party at your house and there aren’t so many legal things to worry about,” she said. “I think people kind of like to see the artists’ personal space, to see what their surroundings look like.”