“It all happened really fast and we’ve been going strong ever since.” - Rex Peters, wood turner and carpenter by trade, manager of the Jerome Artists Cooperative Gallery.
In 2006 the Jerome Artists Cooperative celebrated its 10th anniversary. “The Co-op” has been an important outlet for town social behavior and cultural spirit for the past 10 years. Hosting regular “featured artist shows” galas, including a sharing of their show space with Jerome Kids Art Workshop each summer for many years, the gallery is an integral part of the tightly woven art community. “It thrills me we’re successful,” said longtime Jerome resident and classical realist Anne Bassett, “It thrills me the level of competence among all of these flaky artists.”
For those unfamiliar with the concept of a cooperative gallery, it is managed, manned and maintained by artist members who show their work, staff the gallery sales desk, and handle the display, lighting, and jury of artwork.
For those unfamiliar with the Jerome Artists Cooperative Gallery, it is located in the old Hotel Jerome --- a huge poured-concrete structure circa 1917, a cornerstone of the town anchoring the bottom half of the business district where Highway 89A is cleft in two by the Flatiron Café. Our story begins in February of 1996, when space became available in the old building, which the town owns. The idea of a cooperative gallery had been fermenting for some time among the town artists. The available space was a sudden catalyst, as was a local accountant named Norrie Benjamin, who was “basically a driving force and got the business organized…and capital raised”, said Peters.
“Everyone who was interested put in $100 and was immediately a partner.” Though not all partners were exhibiting artists. When the Jerome Artists Cooperative opened its doors in May of 1996 there were 20 members, though only 12 artists were on display. Some of the original members included well respected local artists like manager Peters, Rick Lovelace, Jim Rome, Brice Wood, Diane Bell, Berta King, Deni Rapp, Patty May, Aletha King, Joann Garay, Anne Bassett and Bassett’s father Don, a regionally renowned found object sculptor who celebrated his 82nd birthday the month the co-op opened.
When the co-op opened its doors Anne Bassett says the town reacted with “a lot of curiosity and community support. It took us a great deal of courage to sign the documents to form this thing, to commit to a lawyer, hire an accountant…It took a lot, and I’m very proud of us.”
“It grew pretty fast,” continued Peters, “Pretty soon we were had about 20 people displaying, which at the time maxed us out because the gallery was about half the size it is now.” Expansion in 1999 which burst into a previously walled-off space increased the gallery to its current 2500 square feet. It’s a big bright feel, very open and welcoming to visitors who pour into the tiny town year ‘round. Trivia tidbit: Because the gallery maintains one set of the town’s public rest rooms, traffic is non-stop, bringing in 1,000s of visitors a year who always leave something behind, but also frequently take something with them before they exit. Sales are strong, and the gallery is always thinking ahead towards the future. Forward thinking, the gallery is managed by a series of elected committees, and monthly meetings give all members a chance to voice their opinions. New featured artist shows open every 6 weeks, always with music, food and drink, and every 6 months the display committee coordinates a “rotation” based on a lottery, to keep the gallery looking its freshest.
Birgitta Lapides, textile and mixed media artist, said “I have learned so much, working with so many different kinds of artists.” Birgitta is a native of Sweden, and as common in Arizona, most of the artists are native to another place, East Coast, West Coast and all points in between. Jewelry and clothing designer Christy Fisher grew up in Florida but spent years on the rock n’ roll circuit designing clothing for rockers like Wings, and Frank Zappa. Rick Lovelace came from Oakland, Cal., where he owned a silk screening company and threw wild parties starring the Church of the SubGenius. Wayne Saint John was a career Air Force pilot and Blake O’Neil a life long Navy man. Patrick Lincoln has traveled the world as a cowpuncher, poet, and registered nurse. Raina Gentry, a skilled rock climber, was born in L.A. Mary Jardine worked for the National Park Service. Judy Yescalis is a teacher of romance languages. Husain Abdul Alim was a chemistry teacher in Philadelphia PA. It is an eccentric blend of personalities held together by a common purpose.
Currently featuring about 33 exhibiting artists and always accepting applications for more, there is a wide range of different media and subject matter on display. Artists come from as far away as Prescott and Sedona, but the majority reside in Jerome, and the outlying Verde Valley. At the Jerome Artists Cooperative on any given day you can find: recycled jewelry, funky fresh knitwear, “atomic age” surrealism, Scandinavian flavored watercolors, gourd art, ceramics, amusing visions of the west, colorful titanium jewelry (colored with electricity! Ask Professor Boothe how!), incredible lithographs, paintings in oil, acrylic, watercolor, pastels, mixed-media, digital age photo-madness, calligraphy, fabric arts, found object art, handmade dolls, batik, stained glass, gorgeous wood-turned bowls and vases, African masks, blown glass, portraits of the Jerome and portraits of Chihuahuas and other small dogs…The list goes on. And while the artists sometimes change, as people come and go through this odd little burg, one can be certain of seeing some of the freshest artwork in town, straight from the artist. “Contact with the customers…meeting the people who buy the artwork, that’s great,” said Bassett. “There’s never a dull moment,” concurs Peters.
Ellen Jo Roberts lives in Clarkdale, and has been a member of the Jerome Artists Cooperative Gallery since 1997.