Columbus, Ohio USA
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Cherry's Art Center
A Wonderfulu, Eclectic, Eccentric Emporium
By Karen Edwards
December 2010 Issue
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Photos © Larry Hamill
Sarah Cherry with her son Richard in their store at 59 E. Spring St. where her father-in-law moved the business after purchasing it in 1962.
There, on Spring Street, not far from the campus of Columbus State Community College, is a nondescript building – one you’ve probably passed a thousand times without so much as a second glance. After all, there’s no glass or chrome or polished steel to impress you, no news headlines crawling across well-lit boards to draw you in. It seems almost a throwback to another era, another downtown, another Columbus – and that’s the point. Because if you would stop and enter the short, squat building, you’d find yourself back in a kinder, gentler time – when shops were a feast for the imagination, featuring a jumble of personally selected merchandise ripe for exploration; when shopkeepers called you by name, greeted you warmly, answered their own phones; and when customer service meant exactly that.
Go ahead, open the door. This is Cherry’s Art Center, 59 E. Spring St., owned by Sarah Cherry and her oldest son Richard. It’s a place of business that has operated in one form or another for more than a century.
Of course, in 1876 when the business started, Cherry’s wasn’t Cherry’s, nor was it an art supply store. The business began as a print shop of one Harry Cole, an entrepreneur who eventually expanded his printing enterprise to New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago after opening the H. Cole Co. in Columbus. Cole originally set up his print shop further north on Spring Street – close to the Columbus State campus – but the site was taken over by eminent domain, so the company was moved downtown to 59 E. Spring Street between High and Third.
“We have no idea how they maneuvered all those heavy presses down to the basement,” says Sarah Cherry, of the move. But she has an idea.
Years ago, she had the carpet in the shop removed so she could restore the old hardwood floor beneath. When the carpet came up, however, secrets came out. She found square patches where the flooring had once been removed and then replaced.
“We think they probably cut holes in the floor then lowered the presses to the basement,” she says. She gave up any thought of refinishing the floor after that discovery. It remains in its original, scuffed and slightly damaged state. Walk in today and you’ll see the square panels. If not, ask about them. The Cherrys are happy to share their shop’s history – including the building’s eccentric peccadilloes.
But back to H. Cole Co., because it’s the only way to understand how a print shop became an art supply store. “You need art materials,” says Sarah, “that’s how the art supply business started. You have to have artists in order to do the printing. Harry had artists who worked for him to make sketches. At that time, material like wedding invitations were designed by printing companies.”
Harry had a daughter named Harriet – an artist who was as ambitious and as entrepreneurial as her father. She wanted to own an art supply store (she would no doubt be her own best customer), so Harry Cole set out to make that happen. He found a small space on the second floor of a building at 82 N. High St. – the old Madison’s building – and leased it for his daughter. Harriet ran her art supply store there for a few years before consolidating it with her dad’s print business on Spring Street.
Now – how did it become Cherry’s Art Center?
From Cole to Cherry
That story begins with Sarah’s father-in-law, L. Byron Cherry, who moved from New York to Columbus in 1962. Cherry was tiring of his job selling light fixtures for a national company. He was moving around too much, and, frankly, for this former business attorney, the sales job was beginning to lose its allure. Cherry decided he wanted to settle down and look for a business to buy. As fate often happens, stars began to align. Byron Cherry’s wife was interested in art and something of an artist herself. Meanwhile, Harriet Cole was 79 years old and ready to retire from her Spring Street shop.
“The shop appealed to both of them because my father-in-law could run the business side and his wife knew enough about art that she could manage the shop on a daily basis,” says Sarah Cherry.
So, a deal was struck, and the Cherrys moved in – with H. Cole Co.’s printing presses in tow. The shop became Cherry’s H. Cole Company to ease the transition of owners, and to capitalize on the printing company’s well known and respected name. Later, the H. Cole was dropped and became simply Cherry’s Art Center – selling primarily art supplies, but also meeting other needs.
“My father-in-law liked to work with screen printers and people who needed signs,” says Sarah. “He’d burn the screens for them.”
Cherry’s Art Center quickly became a fixture in the art community. Students from the Columbus College of Art and Design would drop in for supplies for class, engineers and drafters would come for the foam board from which they’d construct their models, and area artists would stop by to have a picture framed.
Cherry’s was doing well – until 1986, when Byron Cherry was injured badly in an accident. Unable to continue working, his son Richard (Sarah Cherry’s ex-husband) and Sarah took over the business. Two years later, Sarah’s ex-husband wanted to close up shop. Sarah, however, saw potential in the business and bought it from her husband. She has been running the art center since.
Columbus photographer Kojo Kamau, a regular at Cherry’s for over 40 years.
There’s no doubt, upon entering Cherry’s Art Center, that you’re entering a piece of Columbus history. The building is old, and the original owners, the Hennicks, continued ownership up until the mid-1990s, passing it down from one generation to the next. That patched-up wooden floor creaks underfoot, and the long, narrow layout is reminiscent of the shotgun houses popular in the South.
Sarah Cherry recently had the white walls painted a deep forest green – but it’s not the color that attracts attention. It’s the dozens and dozens of framed artworks you’ll find covering nearly every inch of wall space. Some of it is recently framed for customers – awaiting pickup. Others are items Sarah has picked up for a song, framed, and has placed for sale in her $20 bargain section. Others are more expensive items from the Cherrys’ eclectic art collection – while still other pieces on display belong to area artists.
That’s because, for more than 10 years, Sarah Cherry has set aside gallery space in her shop for local artists. As you enter the store, look right. It’s there, up front – photos by Kojo Kamau, acrylics by Andre Jamal Walker, bright graphics done with high-end markers by Vivian Stewart, and other works by Carol Eberly, Jason Brooks and the ceramicist Pepper.
“Cherry’s is my main display space downtown,” says Kojo, who also has work displayed at Spinelli’s Deli through the end of December. “I’ve displayed at Cherry’s for years. They’ve always supported me, and I like to support them.”
Vivian Stewart is new to Cherry’s gallery, an enthusiastic customer before she became an exhibiting Cherry’s artist. “I trusted Sarah with my art,” she says. “She does an amazing job with framing and she’s so gracious about sharing information.” While Stewart has displays of her art elsewhere, she says she wanted to display at Cherry’s because it’s a great shop. And Sarah, she adds, has been nothing but encouraging.
There was a time when the Cherrys would hold gallery shows and openings for their artists. Hundreds would pour into the small space to mix and mingle and marvel at the art. Once, Sarah recalls, she was hosting a show that featured her vendors, set up in small areas around the shop. All the vendors showed up for the show – but none of the help.
“I had to call Richard at the university to come and help me,” says Sarah.
That was also the show that delivers one of the Cherrys’ fondest memories: There was a woman who walked into the show rather late. She glanced around the bustling room, then raised her arms in the air and shouted: “I’m Sister Ann!” The room grew quiet as everyone turned and looked. Both Cherrys still remember the nun’s entrance (though they’re probably not the only ones.) Richard Cherry used to work for Sister Ann, and explains that the flamboyant gallery visitor was Sister Ann Ferguson. “She was known as the ‘Nikon Nun’ because she always had her camera ready,” he says. She was apparently quite a character – and definitely knew how to make an entrance.
The tour continues
Dozens of framed artworks line the walls.
But back to the store tour. While you’re still up front, take a look at the display cases. You’ll find jewelry there, made by local artists – and by Sarah herself in what she laughingly refers to as her “free time.” You’ll also find examples of Russian art – whistles and pottery figures, wooden spoons and even embroidered slippers.
Don’t mind the dust. Stewart laughs. “I tell them they must have dust balls left in there from the ‘60s,” she says.
And don’t mind the jumble. Barb Vogel, another local artist, says she swore the first time she stepped inside Cherry’s she’d never be back. “It was dusty and disorganized,” she says. But it was also the only store in town that carried the wheat paste she needed. Needless to say, she has become a Cherry’s regular.
The dust and disarray are really part of Cherry’s charm. Anyone who ever stepped into a five-and-dime store in the late 1950s or early 1960s met with similar conditions, but there’s no doubt that kind of environment brings out a sense of adventure and exploration. Vogel remembers a gallery she once visited. It was neat and tidy but had a back room containing a jumble of things. “That’s where everyone went,” she recalls. There’s a sense of a treasure hunt, of undiscovered gems and unheard of bargains in that atmosphere. And Cherry’s has it in spades.
So, walk through the dust, the disarray, past the display cases, the gallery space and toward the back of the store. That’s where Domino resides – on a pet pillow large enough for the 13-year old Dalmatian to take an occasional snooze. Don’t worry. You won’t disturb the sleeping dog. Domino is deaf – but friendly and attentive when awake.
This is also where Richard and Sarah conduct much of their business.
Richard with their 13-year-old dalmation Domino, another regular at the store.
Business, these days, is primarily framing. Art supplies are still sold here but Columbus Art and Design students have their own campus store; and engineers and drafters build models online now – no foam board required. And even the most unusual art supplies can be found by resourceful artists online.
“So, we’ve focused on framing over the last few years,” explains Sarah Cherry.
Sarah may be an accountant by study and trade (and so is her son), but she minored in interior design – and her customers all agree she has an excellent eye for color. It’s why Stewart trusts her with her art, and Vogel says she can’t imagine anyone else doing her framing. “She has this unique flair,” says Vogel. She’ll take the time to find out where the art will hang and the colors in that room. She cares and it shows.”
Sarah has done occasional workshops on framing – including a few at the Columbus College of Art and Design. It’s this creative aspect that keeps her work fun, she says.
“Every project is different. There’s not a lot of repetition from project to project” – or day to day.
Richard Cherry, however, likes repetition. He’s the guy to call when there is a lot of framing to do – and that happens more frequently than not. Businesses that want paintings framed the same way; artists preparing their work for a gallery show have dozens – and as many as 200 paintings – that all need a frame.
“It’s as easy to cut 200 mats as it is one,” says Richard. He finds comfort in that repetitive action. Less relaxing are the installations.
“Just try to angle a 22 ½ foot long painting around angles and corners,” he says. Then there were the flags: Independence High School wanted them framed and hung – high in the air. “They had a scaffold that went way up there,” he says. Maneuvering frames while maintaining balance and fighting acrophobia eventually proved a little too daunting for Richard Cherry. Others were found to hang the flags while he supervised below.
A photo of the storefront taken in the ‘90s before the name change to Cherry’s Art Center. The business is located in downtown Columbus on Spring Street between High and Third.
When Sarah and Richard aren’t framing art, or otherwise working in the store, they enjoy what they can of their personal lives. For Richard, that’s riding his bike. He has ridden in the Scioto River Tour several times, and most recently went to Cincinnati to ride in the Great Ghost Ramble. Sarah enjoys visiting with her other sons, Nathan and Clarence, and their families. She has five grandchildren – her newest just 4 months old.
You might think this grandmother might retire from the art business and let Richard take over – but you’d be wrong.
“I have no plans to retire,” she says simply.
What she does plan, however, is adding new, more decorative frames and mats to her store’s inventory. Other than that, she’s happy with the store the way it is.
And so are her customers.
“Cherry’s draws a downtown clientele,” says Kojo.
Sure enough – Cherry’s has framed art for a number of politicians, including Columbus’s mayor and for local television personalities. And concierges at the large, downtown hotels like to send over guests who are looking for something to do nearby.
In 2008, for example, the man who scouted local areas for Senator John McCain, came in and looked around Cherry’s to see if it was someplace the candidate might like to visit while in town. Unfortunately, the senator never made it to the shop – but that didn’t stop the campaign scout from placing a large order with Cherry’s. “He had some canvas transfers done,” Sarah recalls. The Cherrys, of course, were happy to fulfill the politico’s order – just as they’re happy to meet and even exceed the order of any customer who walks through their door.
So, the next time you find yourself on Spring Street, locate a meter, park, and walk into that non-descript building – where art supplies, frames and mats, hand-made jewelry, Russian slippers and whistles and wooden spoons, locally made art and all kinds of creativity mix and mingle in that comfortable, disorganized jumble known as Cherry’s Art Center.
“If you take the time to look in all the nooks and crannies,” says artist Vivian Stewart, “you’ll find a treasure, everywhere you look.”
Cherry’s Art Center, 59 E. Spring St., is open Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 614-221-4487 or visit www.cherrysart.com
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 29, 2011
The article and a photo caption with an earlier version of this story said the store is located between Third and Fourth. It is located between Third and High.
© 2010 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.
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