Making A Mark: Signature Gallery annually supports local artists

Holiday parades and pre-Black Friday sales signal the start of the holiday shopping season. But for people who seek locally made works of art, the opening of Signature Gallery in Kalamazoo is their sign.

Each December, a group of more than 20 artists transform an empty storefront into a vibrant art gallery featuring work in glass, metal, clay, leather, fiber, handmade paper, mixed media, paint photography, pastel and jewelry. This year, the gallery is located at 4602 W. Main St., the same location as last year.

Judith Jansen, one of this year’s 22 participating artists, said the 9,000-square-foot site offers plenty of space to display the artwork. Additionally, the members of the 29-artist cooperative have talked about staying open all year, she said. 

“We have visited that topic a few times, but since we are all full-time artists, we would not have anybody available to work at the gallery,” Jansen said. “On the other hand, if we worked at the gallery, we wouldn’t have time to make our art.”

Signature Gallery is a juried cooperative of professional artists and craftsmen, founded in 1981 with a mission to make art an integral part of Southwest Michigan and to maintain a positive relationship between artists and the community. Because it’s a juried group, anyone interested in joining Signature Gallery can only get into the group by applying, sending photos to be reviewed, and then doing an in-person display and explanation of the art.

David Smallcombe, a local jewelry artist, has been exhibiting and selling his pieces at Signature Gallery since its inception. He said about 20 percent of his annual sales come from time at the gallery, with the remainder coming from art fairs and internet sales. He is one of a handful of artists at Signature Gallery who is able to make a living through artistry.

“The gallery is very important because it’s a local venue and, unlike an art fair, it gives people 30 days to come in and look and come in and look again, so it’s not a quick decision they have to make,” Smallcombe said.

Dawn Edwards, owner of Felt So Right, said Signature Gallery is her largest sales venue. She makes hats and sculptural vessels using primarily felt, and was invited to jury with Signature in 2011.

Edwards’ felt enterprise has taken her to Ireland, Chile, Australia and Canada, in addition to numerous parts of the United States.

“A lot of the artists do shows throughout the year. I combine teaching, making and selling,” Edwards said. “I’m one of the smaller artists in terms of sales because I can’t make things as quickly. One hat will take me a couple of days from start to finish.”

Because of a loyal customer base and the opportunity to buy unique, locally made items, Jansen said the Signature Gallery artists sell pretty well.

“Most of us continue making art during the entire month that the gallery is open. We continue to bring in new pieces every day,” she said.

The gallery officially opened for business on Nov. 26. Regular hours will be 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon-5 p.m. on Sundays, until the gallery closes for the year on Dec. 27.