The Brown County
By Chris Gustin
In 1978, a group of Brown County artists banded together to create a marketplace for their work while encouraging growth in fine craftsmanship. This vision set the stage for a local cooperative gallery which has endured for 25 years.
Although none of those original artists are still involved in the Brown County Craft Gallery, their mission continues.
The gallery is a haven that visitors returning to Nashville seek out for professionally handcrafted works. All of the pieces displayed at the gallery are created by artisans from Brown County and the surrounding area, some with 40 years experience in their craft. The quality of the work remains high because member and consignment artists are admitted to the gallery through a rigorous juried process.
In a stone and wood building on East Main Street that was once an old gas station, 30 artisans fill display units with unique handcrafted baskets, pottery, fiber, leather, jewelry, glass, woodworking and other fine crafts. There are no imports here, only fine arts and crafts made in traditional ways—all by hand, and all by the individual artist. And for many of the artists, this is their way of life.
It is through a delicate balance that this not-for-profit organization has managed to exist for nearly three decades while other businesses come
Members pay monthly dues, donate a percentage of all items sold, and work one or two days per month as a clerk in the store. Consigners pay a larger percentage for items sold, but do not clerk. Janet Cullen, a jeweler who used to have her own store in Nashville, serves as manager of the gallery and works on days not covered by other members. Dues help pay the rent, while commissions from sales pay the utilities and manager’s wages. There is little left for other expenses, so artists donate some items or hold a holiday auction to help through the winter months.
Marla Dawson, a knitter and weaver, serves as current president of the group. She says the gallery is an invaluable part of Nashville because it preserves the tradition of Brown County artisans and promotes the artistic heritage. She notes that the gallery continually seeks out and juries new crafts people in order to keep the shop growing and fresh, and interested artisans are encouraged to contact the manager for an application.
Craig Trent, a woodworker and furniture maker, is one of the newest members. He says he and his wife, Dawn, wanted to be an active part of the craft gallery to insure that it would still be here 10 years down the road.
Peggy Henderson has been involved with the gallery for 17 years, serving many of them as a board member. She says she feels fortunate to be part of the gallery because it has helped her grow as a basket maker. She notes that she was a beginner when she was juried in and “wouldn’t be where I am today” if it weren’t for the support of the gallery and community. She says she has met people at art fairs in other states who say they have bought her work (and work by her husband, Joe) at the gallery in Nashville.
Current member artists are:
Jan Arbogast, pottery
Sally Baldwin, Marla Dawson and Chris Gustin, weaving
George Goehl, copper
Joe Henderson, Craig and Dawn Trent,
Loren and Linda Roberts, woodworking
Peggy Henderson, baskets
Cathy Hendrickson, folk dolls
Paul Hendrickson, painting
Mike Kline and Ruth Suding, leather
David Martin, glass
Judy Rehmel, quilted wall hangings
Sue Westhues, gourds
Janet Cullen and Carrie Foley, jewelry.
In addition, consignment artists contribute miniature pottery, hand-carved birds, ironwork, stained glass, Americana prints, photo cards, handmade soap and paper.
The craft gallery is located at 58 E. Main Street in Nashville, next door to the Brown County Courthouse, and is open 10 to 5 daily, except major holidays. The gallery’s web site is <www.browncountycraftgallery.com> and the phone number is 812-988-7058.