“I hope the community sees the opportunity and just flocks in here.”
The two featured artists reflect different approaches to art, both in terms of media and marketing.
Russell’s mother, Ellen Groves, was a well-known watercolor artist in the McPherson area for some 30 years. For a time, before her death about 21?2 years ago, she sold her work in a gallery she opened in McPherson as well as at numerous art shows.
Four of her pieces were part of a traveling exhibit in Europe featuring Kansas artists.
“My mom worked in watercolor, but she liked to incorporate other things,” Russell said.
For example, one of her works on sale in the gallery incorporates peacock feathers against a watercolor background.
“She just had an eye, and she liked having that extra texture,” Russell said.
Meanwhile, Jim Baxter, Jeanne’s father, didn’t start wood carving until his later years—and he never expected to sell it.
“My dad was always such a funny, generous guy,” Jeanne said. “He loved doing this work, but he never wanted to sell it. He gave so much of it away. His pieces are with friends and family, so this is just another opportunity to share the fun he had doing all the carvings that he did.”
Baxter’s carving are both intricately detailed and eclectic in focus. His interests ranged from wildlife to politics.
“Jim never repeated himself,” Russell said. “It was just amazing. We’d go over to his house and it’d be, ‘Well, I’ll do Uncle Sam in an election year, then I’m doing the elephant and the donkey.’
“He did individual carving for awhile while he was kind of learning his trade,” he added. “Then he started doing habitats. Everything here—leaves, birds, branches—it’s all carved. He made everything.
“He worked with local woods as much as he could. He’d gather catalpa and that kind of stuff—anything that he could carve.”
A surprise idea
The idea for the gallery and art sale “sort of dropped out of the sky,” according to Russell.
“We had in mind that this library is crowded, they need more space,” he said. “They’ve got a building fund and they’ve had bake sales and all that kind of stuff.
“We just thought maybe this community is ready for an art sale as a fundraiser for an unquestionably worthy cause. Who can be offended by a library, right?”
The local library board was taken aback by the Groves’ offer.
“We were astounded at their generosity because they had provided the building, too, plus all the artwork,” said Steve Vincent, chair.
Vincent said the need for additional space is real.
“The existing library is way too small,” he said. “We’re having to discard books and other things because it’s just too small, and we don’t see any possibility—unless the fire department moves—of expanding where we are.”
The board has looked at some larger buildings in town, but without sufficient money they could not consider a move. The building fund at this point has barely $1,000.
“This time we’re going to have money, and probably build a new building—because we’re going to have to do something,” Vincent said.
Cathy Fish, library director, said the community could benefit from a larger library in a variety ways.
“My ideas are endless,” she said. “I would first of all like space to display our (book) collection in a creative way and have more shelving than books.
“We would like a large room dedicated for library activities such as story time, guest speakers, community computer training, cooking demonstrations, book club meetings, crafts/knitting/crochet get-togethers—the list goes on.”
Developing the plan
With a green light on the gallery concept, the Russells became aware of the storefront through Delores Dalke, local mayor and real state broker. It turned out to be ideal for their purposes.
“We walked in here and, you know, if you wanted a place that was ready to be a gallery, you couldn’t do much better,” Russell said. “The lighting is perfect, the walls are a nice, neutral color. It’s a beautiful space—it’s just a really classy place.
“A lot of things came together in a hurry and we’re doing it.”
The Groves are pricing Ellen Groves’ watercolors at a reduced rate from her original asking prices. Most works fall between $100 and $300 for originals and $50 to $75 for prints.
Because Jeanne’s father never sold his work, the Groves are pricing his pieces with an eye to the general market.
“I’m not going to sell it cheap, but I am trying to get it to a point where people will open their check books and help the library,” Russell said of their parents’ art.
“As for the carvings, Jim never sold anything, but I can tell you from years of visiting with him and watching him work, if you break down the price per hour, he wasn’t even making minimum wage.”
Russell said his father, who survives, is ready to see his wife’s watercolors sold for a good cause. And Russell and Jeanne are convinced Ellen Groves and Jim Baxter would feel the same way about their plan.
“I know my did would get that funny little grin on his face when he was pleased about something but wasn’t willing to quite say it,” Jeanne said with a laugh.
Added Russell: “I can tell you my mom would be thrilled because this gallery space is the kind of thing she always wanted to be able to show in.
“My dad, who is still living, is just really excited about a chance for all that work to get one more showing and then go to some good homes.”