A co-op for artists in Menominee

Cooperation is defined by one dictionary as “an act or instance of working or acting together for a common purpose or benefit; joint action.” The First Street Art Gallery in Menominee put that definition into action. 

An intrepid group of artists has banded together to showcase a truly stunning display of art in this southernmost point of the Upper Peninsula. The gallery began its current operation in 2019 and usually numbers between 18 to 25 members. 

“We operate as a co-op, which means each member is an equal partner in the business. There have always been artists in our community but there wasn’t a venue for them to show their artwork,” says Karen Brabender, a member. “There’s no one owner; we have a board of directors. The members of the gallery take care of the day-to-day workings of the gallery, including working with customers, scheduling, cleaning, etc. In a sole proprietorship, all the responsibilities of the gallery would fall on the owner and/or staff of that gallery.” 

The First Street Art Gallery in Menominee.
The precursor to the First Street Art Gallery was the Shades of Green Artist's Gallery in Menominee. Now closed, that gallery ran “as a sort of cooperative. Members paid a membership fee and clerked so many hours at the gallery,” says Ross Wolfe, a First Street co-op member and photographer.

“None of the members wanted to own a business so we followed the advice of Ken Marsden, which was to model ourselves after the East Ludington Art Gallery in Escanaba of which he was a member. They have operated as a co-op for 40 years. They generously offered their structural documents to us and here we are,” Wolfe adds. 

Linda Schroeder Golding, gallery president, explains that Menominee’s gallery differs from East Ludington’s.

“Their set-up is more compartmentalized. Each artist has a set number of square feet to display their work. Here, in Menominee, the various artists’ work is integrated to show how it looks together. It’s a curated approach,” she says. 

The artwork on display covers a wide range. Examples include watercolor, oil, acrylic, oil and cold wax, pastel, mosaic art, metal sculpture, jewelry, woodworked pieces, pottery, and ceramic wall art. Collage and mixed media pieces as well as photography, wire work, greeting cards, and graphite drawings round out the offerings.

On offer are pieces that might be considered unusual offerings for the Upper Peninsula. Schroeder Golding’s healing sticks are a prime example.

Linda Schroeder Golding’s healing sticks.
“Beavers have consumed the cambium layer on each of these sticks, leaving me a ‘blank canvas’ on which to work. I embellish them with wood burned images, enhanced with watercolor. I finish each work by applying a sealant. 

“I worked as a clinical social worker and did crisis mental health work. Creating these pieces was my way of processing the trauma inherent in this line of work. The healing is mine, and I pass it on to others. As a process it was healing for me and gave me a sense of calm,” she says.

Mosaics on display at First Street Art Gallery.Other unusual pieces include Brabender’s mosaic pieces, Julie Huebner’s ceramic flowers and porcelain art, Jim LaMalfa’s iron sculptures, and Tammy Gleisner’s pencil drawings created using graphite pencils and sometimes charcoal. Gleisner also does commission portraits.

The recent pandemic led to more downtime, more time at home to create — a boon for the active artist. In the gallery’s case, it also benefited from a grant awarded by the state of Michigan.

“Those monies afforded us to do a remodel of our gallery and to purchase wonderful display walls and pedestals which totally updated the look of our gallery,” says Diane Erickson, a gallery member and artist.

No need to suffer from cabin fever in the Menominee area as a variety of classes are on offer at the gallery. The roster includes watercolor, pastel, basic drawing, mosaic, printmaking, charcuterie and collage. The goal is to offer two classes each month. 

“We want to bring more local people into the gallery,” adds photographer Nancy Pierce. “The gallery offers dual opportunities: to try something new and to purchase art at an affordable price. Classes appeal to both young and older adults. A popular offering was a ‘make and take’ bracelet class.

“We are always interested in bringing in new artists especially dealing in mediums that we don’t currently have on site. We are also looking for ways to be more involved in our community and to teach more classes,” according to Gleisner and Schroeder Golding.

As the gallery’s reputation grows, so do its visitors. 

“Although our visitors come from all over the United States, most come from the Midwest — Chicago, Milwaukee, Traverse City, Minneapolis and all points in between. Also, with our beautiful marina across the street from the gallery, we get a lot of guests who sail the Great Lakes,” Brabender explains. 

“One of the main benefits of the gallery is the opportunity to be around other artists. It’s how you learn. For instance, I’ve talked about lighting (re. her pencil drawings) with Nancy,” Gleisner adds. 

“As an artist, you gain support by being around other artists. You’re not in a vacuum. When I moved to the Menominee area from Idaho, one of the first things I looked at were the area’s cultural events because that speaks to the kind of people I’ll find,” Schroeder Golding says. “The folks of the U.P. are a special breed and I have felt very welcomed here. It is a delight to be back home.”

Echoing this is gallery member and photographer Nancy Pierce. “The gallery is our home base. It gives me a chance to show people my work.” 

Current officers/board of directors are Schroeder Golding, president; Huebner, vice president; Della Cardella, treasurer; and Gleisner, secretary. Officers fill a one-year term and may hold consecutive terms. 

Membership varies. There are different levels of membership and responsibilities. Consignment pieces are also accepted. The gallery holds open houses at Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and as tie-ins with the community-wide summer Art for All event and winter’s Polar Plunge. 

The gallery is located at 601 1st St., Menominee. Current hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Summer hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Ann Dallman has lifelong roots in Michigan’s UP. She started out as a newspaper reporter/photographer and returned to journalism after retiring from teaching. Her first Middle Grade novel, Cady and the Bear Necklace, received a State History Award (Books/Youth) from the Historical Society of Michigan as well as a Midwest Book Award, New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, was a Next Generation Indie Book Award Finalist and a UP Notable Book. Her second book, Cady and the Birchbark Box, also received the Historical Society of Michigan State Award and is also a UP Notable Book.
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