A little bit off the First Friday beaten path, right on what might be considered the cusp of downtown, sits a real gem. Nestled on the corner of 27th and Minnesota is Piper Custom Framing and Fine Art Gallery. As a custom frame shop foremost, it’s possible that it might not even be on your radar as a gallery to stop in and visit. Living only a few blocks north, I have driven past the storefront countless times. Each time curiously eyeing it. Done the same? Save yourself prolonged wonderment. Go in.
The gallery is cozy, and full of carefully selected, beautiful art from Midwest artists – print to sculpture and everything in-between. Not only that, the framing selection makes Hobby Lobby’s wall o’ frame look like a cheap floozy, and the staff are incredibly welcoming, experienced and wonderful to talk to. They welcome local artists with open arms, and are always willing to sit down and have a chat with them.
You can feel that this is a place where quality, and the individual customer experience is the top priority. They care immensely about what they do, and that passion shows the minute you walk in the door. Reaffirming, once again, that there is really nothing better than small business, and really nothing better than buying local art.
With the sound of John busy finishing up a project in the basement, I first sat down with Stacey Bautista, Piper’s new art consultant.
Tell me a bit about your gallery as a business, and what sets it apart from other galleries.
Stacey: I suppose because we work with so many local artists, that’s the main thing. Artwork nowadays is [often sought] on Amazon or eBay – something that’s so easily accessible. This is more from local artists, and is distinguishable because it’s mainly the Midwest. It’s also great, because it’s a local business. He [John Piper] started this all by himself, and to me that’s really impressive.
What is the goal of your gallery as a space and organization?
S: I think right now we are trying to just get more marketing out online. We just opened up our Instagram account. So, that’s new. That’s mainly our new focus. Trying to reach out to more artists, of course, is another goal. Trying to get more business here. We know that there are a lot of local businesses that look at artwork, but they are more focused on going on online websites, instead of taking a look at really great Midwestern art that is right here. It’s amazing to always support local artists, too.
So, you said you have a lot of Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota artists? Do you have a lot of Sioux Falls artists?
S: As far as I am aware, we do have a few. Like we have Gerry Punt, Paul Schiller. Not sure how many more there are, since I’m so new, but yeah we have a few from here. I think we could always use some more, of course. I know there are so many other talented artists out there.
How can artists or designers reach out to exhibit or become involved with your gallery?
S: They can always set up an appointment with me. I’m the new art consultant. They can either call, and we can schedule an appointment a week from there, or they can come in. After that, if we do set up an appointment, they just have to bring in about 5 pieces, depending on what kind of work they do. If it’s ceramics, we usually ask for a little bit more. The pieces have to be recent, too, just because we want to make sure that they are continuously working on their stuff.
How many artists are you currently working with?
S: That’s a good question, and I am not 100% sure. We have a long list, actually. So, that’s probably a John question.
What advice do you have for artists who have yet to find gallery representation?
S: To not be afraid to come in, and ask us to look at their work. I am a new artist myself, just having graduated from Augustana. I think just trying to get out there, really trying to market yourself, and not being afraid to do that, that’s the most important thing.
All they can say is no. They could say yes.
S: Yeah, either way. If you get a rejection, it’s just a critique.
What is it that makes an artist and their work stand out as something you would have in your gallery?
S: I think we’re looking for more really great, abstract, modern art. I shouldn’t say mainly abstract. We will pretty much take anything that’s really developed. If you have a really good reason why you’re making artwork, and if there’s a reason why it motivates you in some way, I think that’s always a great thing. It just gives it so much more meaning. I guess that’s my short answer. If you have a really good reason why you continuously make art, you will see it. That just makes you stand out so much more as an artist.
How can artists contact you?
S: Email, phone, or our website, too. There are multiple ways. If you want to stop in, too, and just chat, we will definitely chat with you.
[John joins the interview.]
I asked Stacey this question, as well. How many artists do you have?
John: I haven’t even taken count.
I noticed there’s a lot online.
J: There could be a couple online that aren’t even here anymore, by no particular reason. Maybe they just didn’t have anything new to show. Artist-wise, I’ve never stopped to count how many it is. The ones that I find that want to work here with us, I just invite. It’s never been about having a quantity of 1 or 20. [It’s about] the quality of the talent, the ability.
Usually there’s a possibility for commissions. Some people have never done commissions before. It’s hard to give a chance to somebody who has never done a commission to a customer, because I have to answer that customer. They might look at me and go, “well, you really failed on that one.” And that’s not to be hurtful toward the artist, either. It’s a whole different ballgame when you get into commission work. You have to please the customer, because they are the one that’s paying for it.
So, I look for artists who have those capabilities. It’s not whether they have been here a long time or not. Some coming out of college might have that ability. There are just some that rise above the rest.
And you’ve been around for over 20 years?
J: I’m 39 forever, I don’t know what you’re talking about.
I’ve been in the business probably 30+ years, probably approaching that 36th year. I started when I was going to community college, working for a gallery in Des Moines. It was one of the largest in the Midwest. I had a rare opportunity. You can’t find galleries like that to get the experience I did. We had three in Des Moines and one in Tampa, Florida, and I helped open or move them all. They were never just a frame job. I mean, we had 3,000 framed pieces of art on the floor. I got to work with Peter Max, meet Peter Max, do a show with Peter Max. Back in the day, P. Buckley Moss was a very collectible artist. I did 10 shows with her, and she was a national artist (not just in America, either).
We had 10 people framing at times. You keep 10 framers busy, and you have a lot of artwork that you are framing. I got to start out working with Salvador Dali pieces, Picasso pieces. So, I gained a lot of experience from being able to do that. Like I said, it was always in a gallery setting.
What inspired you to start your own then?
J: Being crazy. You can say that when you start your own business in anything. I’ve always had a dream of doing this, and it’s not just to make money, it’s a passion of mine. I care about what I’m doing. Stacey coming on board, I think she has the same outlook.
J: I know she’s very business-oriented, so she’s going to keep me on my toes. I want that. I need to answer to her, as well as her to me. It’s teamwork, and trying to do the best for Sioux Falls and surrounding areas.
Any advice for artists getting into a gallery or working with a gallery?
J: They have got to work at it, that’s the number one thing. As a gallery who is selling artwork – not only to the personal customer, but also the corporate customer – don’t bring your college show. You have to bring new work. You have to work at it. There are a lot of people who can paint and draw. I can’t. I can see it though, and I can feel it.
As an artist, you have to be willing and able, and comfortable enough to sell a piece. You [also] can’t come out expecting to sell it for $8000. Everybody deserves to make something, but you are not always going to get paid what you think you deserve to get paid. I don’t in what I do. Not everybody is Picasso, and not everybody deserves that kind of money.
I’m not the artist, and it’s up to the artist to decide what they want to charge, but you also have to realize this is the Midwest. Even though Sioux Falls is growing, it’s still a conservative community. You’re not in Las Vegas, or California. Those markets, because there is a higher population, will pay more money. Even then, you are still only dealing with 7-9% of the population that buy or collect art. That is a very small figure. That just leaves us room for 92% to educate yet, though. Art is education and appreciation.
Not everybody can pick up the camera and do what he can do. I know this. I have photographers come in all of the time: “well, I want to start selling my work.”
“Have you shown before?”
I know they need an opportunity to show, but you’ve got to pay the dues to get there. You can’t just walk into a gallery, you literally have to do some of the art festivals and stuff. That’s how you get an idea if people are drawn to your work.
So, what does it take to have someone put something up here?
J: I have you call and make an appointment, bring in 3 to 4 of your most recent pieces (not 5 years old). Stacey, in the short time she’s been here, has seen that a little bit already. It’s got to be new work. Yeah, I can sell an older piece…maybe a sold-out piece by a famous artist…that’s art that I can move. Somebody that has never shown that’s got 5-year-old pieces…It’s got to be new work.
Between Stacey and myself, we will look at the work and see if it’s something that fits in the gallery, and is in the best interest of the artist and us, both.
Anything else you can think of?
J: I can go on forever. I just enjoy what I do. It’s not the easiest job, it’s one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done. It’s also the most rewarding. I’ve talked to enough artists, they all have the same answer.
This is a business. If you wanted to do it as a hobby, you likely have another career that’s making money and affording you to be able to do that. Gallery, art – it’s business. It takes a lot of hard work, no matter what side of the fence you’re on. I mean, if I had the money, this gallery would look even more different than it does now.
I support all artists. I just can’t afford them all.
[Make sure to check out Piper’s Concrete Art Show coming up this Monday, October 3rd! Local concrete artisan, Chad Guthmiller, owner of Artisan Concrete Concepts, and several other concrete artists from across the country will be showcasing some of their most unique concrete furniture and decor from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m. Get all the info you need right here!]