Artist Cooperative Works Together To Make Sales

Jan 7, 2016

Gloria Badiner (left) and David Smallcombe help customer Lisa Huff check out at the counter at the Signature Artist Gallery. The gallery is only open during the month of December.
Credit Rebecca Thiele, WMUK

At some point in their lives, every artist has probably heard someone say something like, “That’s a nice hobby, but you’ll never make a living.” Sometimes they’re right - with lots of competition and not as much financial support for artists, it can be hard to make ends meet. 

But that’s not necessarily true for members of the Signature Artist Cooperative. Artists in the group teach each other the business of selling art.

Last week marked the end of the Signature Artist Gallery - the cooperative’s month-long holiday sale. During December, the 31 artists in the group took turns working the cash register. Gloria Badiner is a glass artist in the co-op. She says before they open the gallery, they try to learn as much about each other’s work as possible.

“Each person speaks about the work - how it’s made, how to be cared for. And that is a study not only on the material itself, but how it’s supposed to be handled so that can be communicated to the customer. And it’s really neat when you sell people’s work. It’s great. It doesn’t have to be my work, you know, it’s just that somebody is interested in the work that we offer here.”  

Badiner says knowing the story of a piece helps it sell.

Badiner has an interesting story too. She used to be a research scientist for a pharmaceutical company, until she took a workshop at Brown University. There she got hooked on fused glass and the science behind it. Badiner points out one of her fused glass tiles as an example.

“It was actually the silver - when it was heating - outgassed and it caused that kind of stripy, moody look to it,” she explains.

The Signature Artist Cooperative has been around for almost 40 years. David Smallcombe is one of its founding members. He makes metal jewelry and - like about half of the co-op’s members - he’s a full-time artist.

Smallcombe says he had help getting where he is today. Now he can do the same for other members of the group - like teaching them how to talk about their work.

“The people who actually make it through art fairs, they talk to the public all the time. And others, who don’t talk to the public, don’t know how to the public because they haven’t talking to the public. And so just to be…and they’re standing next to somebody who’s more comfortable, you learn just from being in that environment.”

Another member, Melody Allen does pastels. Allen says she actually got her degree in graphic design. But after she had kids, she just wasn’t as happy with the medium.

“I stayed home with the kids for number of years and then when I wanted to get back into art, the graphic art field had switched over from doing everything manually to everything on the computer. And I really didn’t want to work on the computer all day and so…but I wanted to get back into art somehow."

So she started taking - and teaching - classes at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts. Now she draws calming landscapes, mostly of Michigan beaches.

“I don’t spend as much time there as I’d like to, but I do like the beach. I just find it very calming to walk along the water, and listen to the waves and feel my feet in the sand,” says Allen.

Allen says being part of the cooperative means she gets more feedback on her work. Gloria Badiner says that’s something every artist can use.

“I think every artist that’s serious about their work needs critique and they also have questions along the way. You know they need information and feedback and by having different disciplines be able to look at your work, it creates a format for discussion. So we have a lot to offer each other within the group,” says Badiner.

Badiner says the Signature Artist Cooperative is not accepting new members at this time.