Columbus, Ohio USA
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pm gallery turns 25
by Karen Edwards
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See story pm gallery at 35 years
PHOTOS BY GUS BRUNSMAN III
Maria Galloway and husband Michael Secrest.
From the outside, it’s an unassuming place. You may have passed it a dozen times without taking note.
Or maybe, on a warm Gallery Hop evening, you ducked inside, lured by the colorful glass orbs that spin in its window like carnival balloons.
For 25 years, pm gallery, co-owned by Maria and Michael Secrest, has graced the corner of Buttles and North High Street in the Short North – one of the few surviving businesses from the Short North’s 1980s renaissance, when the Columbus arts community discovered its heart, and its home.
In many ways, pm gallery’s story is the Short North’s story.
Consider how many threads run through both tales:
Maria Galloway is on her way to work. She’s a clerk at Health Food Centers, Inc. in German Village, but that’s just a job – a means to an end.
For Maria, that end is art – she’s been creating and selling her art since the age of 14, and like many in the Columbus art community in the 1980s, she’s drawn to the High Street storefronts she passes each day during her bus commute.
Artists are beginning to move into the area, opening galleries and generally improving the streetscape. She dreams of someday opening a gallery of her own, some place to display and sell the free-form candles she crafts, and the paintings produced by her husband Michael.
“I never considered opening a gallery anywhere else,” she says.
Oh, there was a fleeting thought of moving to Mason, Ohio, an historic neighborhood near Cincinnati where Maria and Michael had friends, artists like themselves.
But fate – and a dog – ensured that pm gallery would become a Short North mainstay.
The Short North is dog friendly. Step inside one of maybe a half-dozen Short North shops or galleries and chances are there will be a cold nose and thumping tail of a resident shop dog ready to greet you, even show you around.
The pm gallery has had a dog in residence since its opening, which seems only natural. After all, Sadie, pm gallery’s first resident dog, was the catalyst in the chain of events that would ultimately land Maria and Michael in the Short North.
Tuttle Park, north of campus, is one of those city green spaces that attracts dogs and their owners. Plenty of free space to run, soft grass underfoot. If you’re a dog owner, and you live nearby, you’re there.
Maria and Sadie were there, at Tuttle Park, regularly. So was an architect by the name of Rick Matsa and his dog.
As their canines romped, Maria and Rick struck up one of those easygoing friendships that exist between dog lovers, idle conversation leading to areas of shared interests.
Maria happened to be collecting materials for an art project, so when she spoke of it, Matsa was attentive. They both liked art, and it emboldened Maria to tell him about her dream. Someday, she said, she’d like to open an art gallery along High Street.
Serendipity can be a wonderful thing.
Rick told her it just so happened he managed a High Street building that had a space open. He could let Maria and Michael have it for a reasonable rate. Would they like to come and take a look?
The neighborhood transition
Before the spread of art studios and galleries, High Street was lined with the kind of businesses prevalent in any community, the kind that catered to everyday needs. Like dry-cleaning establishments.
It was, in fact, a dry cleaner that had just vacated the space Maria and Michael came to look at.
“It needed a lot of work,” Maria reflects now.
When the previous tenants left, they pulled out their large, cumbersome equipment, leaving gaping holes in both the floor and ceiling. Plywood paneling covered one of the walls. Snow fencing was strung across others and used to hang copies of Van Goghs and Monets, an urban-outfitters version of an art gallery.
Maria and Michael were not discouraged. They intuitively knew that with enough elbow grease, paint, and repair work on those gaping holes, they could have an art gallery that was virtually at the crossroads of the transitioning community.
The pair had recently come into some unexpected money, so the resources were there. But they knew they wanted to start a family as well. Would a house be a better investment – like the north campus rental house they had talked about buying?
For many couples, the answer would most likely be yes. But Maria and Michael weren’t just any ordinary couple. They were artists. Their friends were artists. And Maria had had enough of bus riding and dreaming to know a perfect opportunity when it presented itself.
Maria and Michael took possession of the shop in January 1980 and opened pm gallery several months later in June.
Initially, their art consisted of Michael’s paintings, Maria’s candles, and the art of a few of their friends, including Columbus artist Susan Sturgill.
“We’ve always carried pottery, from the first day,” says Maria. “We are still carrying our original three potters, Mike Baum, Ulla Merz and Else DeJong.”
But just as the Short North began to explode with art and artists, so, too, did pm gallery. Today, the gallery represents about 250 artists, working in every imaginable medium.
Locating artists, new and old, has become something of an annual ritual for the pair. They pack their car and head for art shows and conventions in Philadelphia, Baltimore and other locations to look for the latest trends, the newest artists.
Ginko is one example of the latter. Of Asian heritage, Ginko is a potter, who has settled into the Texas area, and who draws from both her Eastern background and her adopted home’s Southwestern-Mexican influence for inspiration. She creates striking images in porcelain using a technique called neriage. The porcelain is sliced to create inlays that are then placed into her bowl and tray forms and fired.
“Neriage is similar to the mille Flore technique that’s used in glass,” Maria explains.
Ginko’s work sells well at the gallery. So does art glass, those spinning balls in pm gallery’s window, for example, and the undulating octopi that’s the work of Maria’s latest discovery, Michael Hopko.
“I had no idea whether or not his work would sell,” says Maria, “but I loved it, and his work is popular enough that I had to wait a while to receive my order.”
Now, the Hopko sea creature is among pm gallery’s hottest sellers.
One of the reasons that shopping the Short North is such a unique experience is because every gallery, every place of business is different. There is no generic, cookie-cutter look to the shops, the way there is at shopping malls.
Take pm gallery – a small sliver of space where the décor hasn’t changed much in its 25 years.
Up front is the gallery’s collection, an eclectic mix which ranges from the practical to the sublime. Toward the rear of the gallery is exhibit space, which changes every other month.
It’s a packed-to-the-pressed-tin ceiling space, where newcomers either feel delightfully at home, or slightly intimidated by the sheer quantity of art surrounding them.
“People have walked in and walked right back out, saying they can’t take it,” says Maria with a laugh.
Most pm gallery patrons, however, are pleased by the depth and breadth of pm gallery’s offerings. There is something for every taste and pocketbook: from decorative switch-plates to fine art; from collectible marbles to kaleidoscopes.
Everything that enters the gallery, however, must meet Maria’s three criteria: “Do I like it? Is it good value? Has this been something that people have been asking for?”
There is no typical pm gallery customer. This is a place for everyone – from bargain-hunters to art collectors, from artists to those who live and work in the Short North community.
Doug Ritchey, self-proclaimed Emperor of the Short North,
circa 1984. Photo by Ron Fauver
The Short North neighborhood
Maria stands behind her gallery’s counter on a brisk April morning, patiently reciting her business hours to someone on the phone. Her current “shop dog” Logan, whom Maria rescued years ago from life as a stray wandering Goodale Park, lies curled at her feet.
As already noted, the gallery itself hasn’t changed much since that day in June when Maria and Michael took possession of the space and made it their own.
The neighborhood is different, however. It has changed. For the most part, the changes have been positive. The streets are cleaner, the businesses fresher, more updated. The monthly Gallery Hops have sparked the Short North with a new energy.
There are times, though, when Maria longs for some of her former neighbors, like the Russian restaurant Matrushka’s and the Chinese restaurant Golden City. Before her children, Jacob, now 16, and Eli, 6, came along, she and Michael made a point of being at the opening of each Short North restaurant.
Of all the Short North neighboring businesses, Maria most misses Ritchey’s at 714, a coin exchange shop that opened about the same time as pm gallery.
Owner Doug Ritchey may be one of the area’s most colorful characters. The self-proclaimed Emperor of the Short North, Maria looked on Ritchey not only as a generous and supportive friend, but as the block’s unofficial security guard.
“He was a veteran, and he kept a gun in his shop, which was fine because I didn’t want to. As long as he was there, I knew I was safe,” Maria says.
Eventually, the collapse of the precious metal business did Ritchey in and he closed up shop, like many Short North businesses have done.
It’s why pm gallery’s successful 25-year tenure is so remarkable.
Success depends on so many factors in a business. Location, type of business, even marketing efforts play a role.
“In the early years, we distributed flyers and sent mailings out regularly,” says Maria.
Now that the gallery is more established, Maria and Michael have scaled back their marketing effort, relying on word of mouth and the occasional newspaper ad for visibility. The street corner location is another asset. “It’s what sold us on the location,” says Maria.
Marketing doesn’t always drive customers into stores anyway. The economy does (or doesn’t) depending on its strength.
“We opened during the Reagan recession,” Maria says. “We’ve had our ups and downs.”
But it’s a different downtown now, and a different, more vibrant Short North.
The gallery draws from its own community, of course, as well as from the university just up the road.
“We used to see a lot of poor, starving students in here shopping during Christmas,” says Maria. “Now we see a mix in here year-round.”
The nearby convention center also provides the gallery with a steady stream of customers, as do the activities of the Arena District and other downtown developments.
“The Frozen Four (hockey tournament) was very good for us,” says Maria.
In a place as eclectic as the Short North and pm gallery, it’s not hard to imagine the seamless melding of sports and art.
The Short North continues to grow, develop, and revitalize itself. The innovative Cap project and the creation of new living spaces ensure the area will retain its upscale, bohemian charm for some time to come.
As far as pm gallery, little is likely to change. Why meddle with success?
Occasionally, you may find Ron or Nancy from the Cookware Sorcerer minding the gallery space. Even gallery owners need the occasional break, so a reciprocal arrangement has been worked out “between friends” to watch each other’s stores as needed.
But you can expect the unassuming storefront at 726 N. High St. to continue mesmerizing passersby with its spinning glass balls and waving octopi.
And who knows? Maybe, on one of the buses that rambles past the corner of Warren and High, a young artist on her way to work may glance out the tinted window at the 25-year-old gallery and begin a dream. Someday, she thinks, maybe someday…
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