[Part 1: An Interview with the Creative Shop Owners of Block 8]
Story by Shauna Lynn, Fargo Social
Photography by Meg Spielman Studio, Fargo Social (gofargosocial.com)
“Block 8” is the newest destination of one of the oldest districts of Downtown Fargo, made up of the shops, boutiques and services that line 8th Street, just south of Main Avenue. For those seeking all things artisan, this is your FOMO, nouveau, go-to hashtag #Block8. In this two-part series, we interviewed three of the Block 8 businesses that bring their unique character to this uptown-influenced neighborhood. Enjoy the tour as we get to know the owners and artists at Dakota Fine Art Gallery, Violet Vintage and Reed & Taylor Antiques.
If Broadway is Downtown, Block 8 is Uptown.
Shop #1: Dakota Fine Art Gallery
[ An Artist-Run Gallery]
The Dakota Fine Art Gallery burst onto the Downtown Fargo scene in late spring of 2018. As a collective, one or more of the nine resident artists can be found in the gallery whenever it’s open. Bringing a wide range of styles and diversity of mediums, the artists at Dakota Fine Art thrive on the energy of downtown's new uptown, especially the artistic vibe of Block 8.
Q: How did Dakota Fine Art Gallery find its home on Block 8?
Meg Spielman Peldo: Three of us got together to explore creating an artist-run gallery and have always loved the uniqueness of 8th Street, south of Main Avenue. Lee Watkins, owner of the historic Dakota Business College, has been a supporter of artists and small businesses for many years and invited us to locate there. The wonderful building had the perfect gallery space with its high ceilings, wood floors and classic charm.
We recruited six accomplished artists to join us, and together we spent many long days and weeks renovating the space and working out the details of operating a collectively-owned business. Our grand opening, May 31, 2018, was a huge success, with hundreds of people stopping by and welcoming us to the community. Along with myself, the other artist partners are Dale Cook, Janet Flom, Eric Johnson, Annette Marchand, Susan Morrissey, Jon Offutt and Steve Revland. The gallery will also have works by artists Karen Bakke, Zhimin Guan and Jacque Stamatopolous. A reception for March-May's Featured Guest Artist, Mitchel Hoffart, will be Thursday, March 14th from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and
Andrew Stark will be featured June-Aug.
There was a need for another original art gallery in Fargo. People here value natural materials and they want to surround themselves with original, authentic and handmade things. It’s like the farm-to-table movement, going organic in both food and products, and what better way than to meet the artists actually working in the gallery when you visit!
Q: How do you or how do others describe your work?
Susan Morrissey: I generally describe my work as a narrative in metaphor, referencing my comings and goings, and what comes to mind, utilizing imagery I like to work with.
Janet Flom: Traditional/representative watercolors, but with a personal viewpoint or narrative. I guess I would say the same of my sculptural or mosaic works.
Meg Spielman Peldo: I am a photographer (and recovering ceramic artist). What I hear most is “What is this... a drawing, painting?”. I am always surprised by that, but take it as a compliment that my work is not typical. My still life’s are described as fun and whimsical, while my other work is about noticing details and the beauty around us.
Q: What is your vision for the gallery?
Janet Flom: A place where people can browse and perhaps become connected with a piece they want to bring into their environment and make their own. A comfortable place to find authentic and original artwork.
Susan Morrissey: A place where people gather, bring their friends, talk about art and become inspired. We encourage people to ask questions, bring their kids, recommend the gallery to others and always expect excellence. If you're at Nichole's for lunch, stop in and visit with the tending artists.
Q: What do you wish people knew about the gallery or about its collection?
Q: What do you wish people knew about your art?
Janet Flom: Most of my art has been exhibited and sold in national venues, so I am thrilled to be a part of a local endeavor like Dakota Fine Art.
Meg Spielman Peldo: All of us have working studios in addition to the gallery and we all have additional pieces you can inquire about or even commission something special. Many of us sell artwork all over the country in galleries and juried shows and fine art fairs. I work with designer Kriss LeCocq Home in Naples, Florida, and provide large canvases of beach scenes for her clients there.
Q: While the Vietnam Conflict catalyzed a new genre of protest music and #MeToo challenges the corporate climate, how have cultural events shaped your art?
Susan Morrissey: I love art that has a message, and art history is filled with artists whose statements have inspired me. I am fond of doing and submitting work that addresses issues. These exhibits tend to be shows sponsored by universities, museums and art centers, rather than commercial galleries.
Janet Flom: I am an art history junkie. I love learning about what has shaped other artists and try to view those influences in a contemporary way as relates to what I might make.
Eric Johnson: I have always loved music, and so some of my biggest influences as a visual artist are actually musicians. One of my favorite artists was Prince; he was incredible. Plus, as a kid growing up and someone who was born in Minnesota, it was so inspiring to see that he chose to stay in Minneapolis and create there.
Q: Is there a signature element of your art that admirers might notice?
Susan Morrissey: Most are layered, complex, figurative and will most likely have a drawing aspect. More recently some have a humorous twist.
Janet Flom: Surface quality is what interests me, rather than content or context. These things appear in my art, but never take priority over surface quality of line, paint, stone or wood grain.
Q: How has your art or art philosophy changed over the years?
Janet Flom: Like most artists, I have traveled a path concerned first with technique and imagery, and then later to become more involved in process and personal statement.
Meg Spielman Peldo: I’m not as concerned about what other artists or jurors think of me and my work. I traveled for 20-plus years from the Florida Keys, to Southern California, to Chicago doing juried Fine Art Fairs. I took a lot of criticism for being too diverse and not focusing on one thing, but my work reflects me and who I am. I’m interested in many different things and if you know me and my art, there is a common thread in most of it. I often combine elements and sew photographic pieces together the same way my ceramic work was pieced together to create a more interesting whole.
Eric Johnson: I think my technical skills have improved. I’m at the point now where I believe I could do just about anything with my reduction relief prints.
Q: Henry Matisse once said, “Creativity takes courage.” How did your artistic journey or how does your art itself require, reveal or embody courage?
Susan Morrissey: Obliterating beautiful parts of a work when they don’t seem to work with other aspects.
Eric Johnson: I’ve been at this for a long time; I decided to be an artist in 1993, so that’s over 25 years! About 14 years ago walked away from one of my two full-time jobs and slowly have gotten to the point where I earn my living from my art and teaching art.
Q: While some artists believe in evoking emotion and others in portraying their reality, does your art come from the inside out or the outside in?
Eric Johnson: I would definitely say almost everything I do comes from the inside.
Susan Morrissey: Whatever I take in has to pass through my psyche and is altered by it.
Janet Flom: Both are correct in saying that ultimately, the artist’s job is to invite viewers to see and feel as the artist does.
Q: What is the responsibility of the artist for the impression of the viewer?
Susan Morrissey: I attempt to engage a viewer with color, line, or composition; hoping they might choose to discover how it all fits together. I want them to find certain elements that are interesting in them, even though the general motif might not be of interest to them. As a viewer of art, this is what pulls me in and satisfies.
Q: Is there an artistic highlight or moment in your career which exemplifies your quest as an artist?
Janet Flom: Being selected to create large scale mosaics for the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport and Sanford Hospitals in Fargo and Sioux Falls.
Susan Morrissey: Because I’ve spent about 50 years as an artist, there are lots of steps that seemed momentous at the time; like receiving awards, or selling a piece, or securing a commission or getting into a gallery of distinction. These things do happen when on a quest, there are lots of highlights when something happens the first time. What exemplifies my quest ...my passion... is that it keeps on giving to me; it hasn’t let me down. Each time I’m in the studio, it’s there as well.
Q: How does the gallery benefit from its new home on Block 8?
Susan Morrissey: I’m seeing many small, unique shops, galleries and studios forced to leave Broadway. I look on with dread - a city, rapidly changing. I wonder what will be left there to engage people when only offices, taverns and restaurants exist. Block 8 has charm. The Dakota Business College building is a treasure, the gallery is a jewel, the neighboring shops are unique and interesting, and Nichole’s is a renowned pastry shop; I think we are situated in a very good place. It’s reminiscent of the gallery districts in Chicago when I lived there - lots of small galleries, often artist-run, artists’ lofts and studios, ethnic cafes and non-profits; all started in run-down areas of the city where rent was cheap. Their presence brought people, which in turn brought developers. The areas became refined, the rents increased, the artists and their spaces had to leave. And the cycle repeats itself.
Meg Spielman Peldo: We love the creative energy downtown and Block 8 is filled with like-minded businesses that complement each other.
Shop #2: Violet Vintage - Pam Kinslow
Q: What will we find in your store?
Kinslow: Mostly higher-end international designers – separates and jackets, coats, hats and accessories of decades of the 1900s until about the ’70s. I have a few pieces from the ’80s but much of my inventory is '20s through '60s. I do have some items from the late 1800s - I have a day dress or suit; a long black skirt with a train and a fitted jacket with banana sleeves. I have a beaded shawl that is part of a Mourning Suit. I also carry jewelry, handbags, hats and scarves from a range of time periods
Q: How did you come to own a vintage store?
Kinslow: I got into vintage in college; my friend and I were the only girls on campus sporting vintage outfits from Gypsy Red. I’ve always had my own sense of style and am a visual person. I started working in specialty retail like Little Women, Laurie’s, the Red Shoe and later other downtown shops like O’Day Cache, which still thrives on Broadway. After years of experience, I wanted to express myself and develop my own creative outlet. The vibe of downtown got into my heart, and that’s when I opened Violet Vintage.
Q: Where do you find your pieces
Kinslow: I have really good friends in Canada and I go every spring and fall to Winnipeg. It’s a multicultural city with international influences; I love the items I find and they are often in mint or excellent condition. I also have a sister in Minneapolis, so we connect with buyers and sellers there too. We go to estate sales and warehouses that buyers have. Now that I’m established I also have people who call me who inherit estates or farms and they have an abundance of things they would like me to buy.
Q: Do your customers share your sense of history with your pieces?
Kinslow: Some are interested to know the background of items – and sometimes I have that background and sometimes I don’t. I do have regular customers who appreciate a “good find” and are looking for a great story.
Q: What do the people say who bring goods for you to buy?
Kinslow: Almost everyone who brings something to me instead of a thrift store says the same thing, like a woman recently who brought in her mother’s going away suit from her wedding, she said, "I just want this to go to a good home." Or they will bring their mother’s mink coat in, for example, and say they want it to go "somewhere where someone will appreciate it.'" And I feel good buying those things because I believe I have customers who will, in fact, appreciate the pieces and give them very good homes.
Q: Do you have a favorite fashion period or fashion icon
Kinslow: I would have to say Audrey Hepburn, Katherine Hepburn and Jackie O. I love the '40s with the hourglass suits and beautiful pocket and shoulder and waist details. I love anything with brocade or velvet-like long, formal gowns. To learn more about each piece, I research and I have a good friend at a local university who is a fashion history expert, so we have a lot of fun
Shop the collection on Etsy or find them on Facebook
Shop #3: Reed and Taylor Antiques - Donna Ormiston
Q: When and where did you first start selling antiques?
Ormiston: Well, I was a collector first and it was a hobby. Then I left corporate America and my husband told me he didn’t want to pay for my antique storage any more! So I called my landlord and asked if I could rent a storefront for the weekend, and he said, "no". So I had to rent the storefront for the whole month. I took everything out of storage and made $12,000 and became an antique dealer. My husband said at least I was doing something healthy with my compulsion.
Q: Has art always been a part of your collection?
Ormiston: Yes, I’ve always been a patron of the arts and had artistic friends. I decorated with art and antiques with my personal collection and have always believed it’s a better investment to buy originals than prints. I grew up with the expression, "Quality is economy".
Q: How do you find your pieces?
Ormiston: I lived for many years in California and still go back every year to buy at estate sales. I find people around here respect their heritage and hold on to things much more than people on the coasts, so I travel to buy, but I also buy locally and in Minneapolis.
Q: Do the pieces in your collection have personal meaning to you?
Ormiston: Memories. I think about where I found them, that they are family heirlooms. My mom was actually raised in an orphanage so she made her own memories for our family and I feel I am doing the same
Q: How is your antique shop different than others?
Ormiston: It’s nice that I don’t feel we compete – we network. We all have a different style in our choices and in our display. We all do what we love and express ourselves through our pieces.
Q: How would you describe your style or aesthetic?
Ormiston: In California, I remember one comment about my style that struck me: a customer said, “You were Ralph Lauren before Ralph Lauren.” I like to think of my style as simple and elegant with interesting textures and colors.
Q: What time periods are represented in your shop, and do you have favorites?
Ormiston: Mostly 19th century to the present, with a preference for French. I have a piece from the late 1700s – a butler’s cupboard with a marble top that I just love. It would be perfect as a bar for today. That’s something I love about young people who come in; they are so good at re-imagining pieces.
Reed & Taylor Antiques
Find them on Facebook - Reed & Taylor Antiques
Reed & Taylor housed in the Watkins Building:
For more information regarding Block 8, contact:
Midwest Nest loves the culture from the upper midwest, and we are excited to share stories from around the area.