Thursday, March 25, 2010

Asparagus and art

I recently discovered that there are actually people who make a living painting pictures of asparagus, so publishing an article about art right after publishing one about asparagus is actually a logical step.



I met Mary Berg at an after hours event that she hosted for the Evanston Chamber of Commerce on St. Patrick’s Day. Mary owns and operates an art gallery on the south side of Evanston called Simply Chicago Art.

Naturally, there were lots of corned beef sandwiches and green cookies at the event, and a local merchant (and Chamber member) WineStyles provided Malbec and Petite Shirah instead of the traditional green beer.

Mary worked a 9 to 5 job in the commodities business in downtown Chicago from 1983 until 2009. Although she enjoyed her work, and was good at it, she kept having recurring dreams about opening an art gallery. Mary is not an artist herself, and has absolutely no background or training in the field, but the dream just wouldn’t go away.

I’ve long been a believer in following your dream (which is why I tried to ride to Hell on my bicycle in the summer of 2007), so people like Mary always bring a smile to my face. It’s also why my wife and I encouraged our daughter to move to China to teach English when she was 22 years old.

On November 1, 2008, she opened up her gallery in a small location that is less then three blocks from where she lives. In order to keep the overhead to a manageable level, her husband Tim (an insurance agent for Farmers Insurance) moved his office into the same location. Since she was still employed at the commodities firm on a full time basis, the gallery was initially open only on weekends, but she has now begun to expand her hours.

In order to generate “foot traffic” for the location, she has hosted classes, workshops, and book signings at the gallery, and has also benefited from a “grassroots movement“ of her neighbors, who appreciate having a gallery nearby instead of in downtown Evanston.

Just as WineStyles advertises itself as a Neighborhood Wine Shop, Mary has taken great pains to make her location a “neighborhood art gallery”, where everyone knows your name



What sets Mary’s place apart from other art galleries is that she invites artists to her gallery before exhibiting their works, so that they become more comfortable with how their art is being displayed.

When she first opened the gallery, she had a grand total of ONE artist on display, who was a woman that she worked with in the commodities business.Strictly by word of mouth, the gallery became known to the broader art community, and she is now fully booked through the balance of this year and all of 2011.

Since she feels that the Chicago area has an enormous amount of art talent, she limits posting opportunities to artists who live in the Chicago area, which is how the name of the business came into being.

She will display as many as six artists during the course of the month, but limits their “time on the wall” to 4 weeks in order to always have a fresh inventory for her customers. In the vast majority of cases, the artists have never had any of their work on display in a gallery before, so Mary’s gallery is an important step in attaining legitimacy in the art field.

Although there are currently some artists who have jewelry on display at the upper level, the current “artist on the wall” is a woman named Chris Heisinger, who uses recycled glass in order to create her art. Her work is currently featured on Mary's website.

I attended the ribbon cutting ceremony at the gallery last night. Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl cut the ribbon, and Evanston Photographic Studios took pictures to commemorate the event. The Malbec was still available on a table at the rear, but the corned beef sandwiches got replaced by a delicious selection of desserts provided by Gourmet Garden Catering.

Mary and her husband Tim have three children, ranging in age from 32 to 38, as well as five grandchildren, but none of them are involved in the art industry. Her younger son comes closest, since he works for a graphic design firm. Her daughter and oldest son both “followed her footsteps” in a different direction, since they work in the commodities business.

I’m generally the only person from our dealership who attends the events of the local Chamber of Commerce, and I’d be the first to admit that I haven’t sold hundreds of cars because I attend the events on a regular basis.

However, the reason that I go as often as I can is because it’s an opportunity to meet people like Mary, who are simply following a dream.

After all, isn’t that what life is all about?

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