Written by Erika L. Block
We inhabit every role from artist to buyer to head chef and bottle washer. Two Fish is an old fashioned home-based business with clay studios in the basement, gallery and kitchen on the main floor, bedroom and paper studio upstairs and the classroom and kilns in the carriage house. The gardens participate by hosting art and growing vegetables and herbs for the opening parties. Even Kuma, the cat, has a job entertaining children and greeting visitors.
Patrick creates much of the gallery’s clay art – both functional and sculptural. He is most often the ‘man behind the counter’ when the gallery is open and he teaches clay classes several nights a week.
Karen is still teaching botany and zoology for the Etude Group in Sheboygan, but does much of the marketing and buying and contributes raku and collage works to the product mix.
What made you want to open a gallery, and in the location you chose?
Patrick wanted to open a gallery in a home setting since he graduated from UWM. His warm organic clay forms belong in living spaces and felt cold in the more typical white walled brightly lit galleries available at the time. A home setting for a gallery also strongly suggests that artwork belongs in our homes as part of our lives not just to visit occasionally at the museum
Elkhart Lake is a destination for families and business groups visiting for holidays and conventions. It has incredible natural beauty, lovely architecture, and a history as a haven for arts and culture. We wanted to be a part of that culture.
What do you feel your gallery has brought to your community that did not exist before? What is your definition of building an art community?
The driving purpose for the gallery has always been “Original Art to Enrich Homes, Gardens, and Lives”. The mix of fine art, fine craft, and fair trade artwork has shifted with the discovery of new artists and materials. We tell the artists’ stories and suggest ways to include their hand made works in our visitors’ homes, gardens, and lives. This is the goal…to enrich life with beauty and stories. We provide a different kind of souvenir. Perhaps a change in perspective. An opening up to ideas and beauty
We chose an existing home to protect and maintain. Keeping its relationship to the neighborhood with the additions of glowing colors and extensive gardens that are open to the community. The gardens have served as the background for many baby pictures, engagement photos, and snapshots for gardener’s inspiration. It is lovely to look out the kitchen windows and see families watching frogs or bees or birds living in the garden.
Most of our exhibitions this year, and on into the future, will include a ‘call for art’ as an opportunity for local artists to show their work in the East Gallery. Each exhibition opens with a party to engage the community with new art, good conversation, and a lively party atmosphere. This is important! The mix of looking and talking, artists and visitors, creates new stories and connections between people .
What are a few of the greatest challenges and successes that you’ve had with your gallery?
Winter! The weather and pattern of seasonal change is both a challenge and an opportunity. Visitors and locals hibernate, so the gallery has seasonal hours. This may tighten our belts but allows a season of discovery. Most of our new artwork, glaze testing, and searching for new artists happens in the cold season. We move into our studios and try something new. This allows us to contribute to the newness of spring when it eventually arrives.
We strive to have high quality fine art and fine craft that is still affordable to people of all ages and life situations. This has led us farther down the fine craft and fair trade paths. The vicissitudes of the economy and fear of buying art are two challenges. We have little control, o.k. no control, over the economy, but we strive to change the ‘fear of art’ mindset. It requires trust and real conversations about what people want to share their homes and lives with.
Reinventing ourselves from a mostly fine art gallery to a mixture of fine art, fine craft, and fair trade gallery surrounded by gardens and a very active Two Fish School has taken 17 years. And will change again.
Two Fish School is a vibrant and inspirational opportunity for students and Patrick. He describes teaching as a continuous cycle of problem solving/testing/refining. It keeps the growing-edge active for everyone involved. Students learn and practice techniques but work on their own designs. A active balance between developing skills, design theory, and creating.
We see a future for our arts community. It isn’t a clear picture. It will change. But it is there. You can see it. Keep working.
All images courtesy of Two Fish Gallery
Erika L. Block is a professional writer, artist and art director working exclusively with the art, publishing and music industries through her company, Creative Studios. Connect with her at facebook.com/elblockcreative.