The aptly named show “Perseverance” opens this week at the Kobo Gallery on Barnard Street.
As the press release says, “By definition, perseverance means persevering in achieving success. Over the past 15 years, in its exact founding location, Kobo Gallery and its army of local contemporary artists have persevered.
On Friday, May 6, partners will celebrate their journey with a reception from 5-8 p.m.
As they put it, “The past two years have tested not only the tenacity of individual Kobo Gallery artists, but also the business model of selling art. ‘Perseverance – Kobo at 15’ is a landmark show, a bastion of art, concept, design and visual proof in any medium, symbolizing that Kobo is here to stay.
I sit down with Daniel E. Smith, David Kaminsky, Doris Grieder, and Dicky Stone, four of Kobo’s most experienced members, to hear their thoughts on perseverance and, indeed, prosperity.
Long-time Savannahians will remember the fabulous Chroma Gallery that stood on the corner of Barnard and W. Congress streets, overlooking Ellis Square. The city’s premier contemporary art venue, partners Lori Keith Robinson and Jan Clayton Pagratis represented highly acclaimed Southern artists like Betsy Cain, her husband David Kaminsky, Daniel L. Smith and Cedric Smith.
Jeweller, Heather Lindsey Stewart. sublet a small space overlooking the street at the front of Chroma and when she became pregnant, Pagratis suggested she start a co-op so she wouldn’t have to give up her business. Following his advice, Stewart, who embraces a Japanese aesthetic in his work, recruited Christi Reiterman, Kristi Jilson, and Rachel Ormison, and the Kobo Gallery was born.
The name means workshop or workshop in Japanese.
Carpenter Dicky Stone joined the women the following month, and textile artist Doris Grieder joined soon after.
“When we started, we sublet to Chroma. We weren’t allowed to have painters. So for the first few years, they were just jewelers, 3D artists and a photographer,” he said. Stone recalls. But then Chroma sold and “We had the opportunity to take over the back space of their gallery that had been used for framing. David (Kaminsky), Daniel (Smith), Betsy (Cain) and Jan (Pagratis) all came in April 2012.”
Kobo flourished and over the years featured the work of such talented Savannah artists as Ikeda Feingold, Tobia Makeover, Melinda Borysevicz, Mary Hartman, Dana Richardson, Peter Roberts and Matt Toole.
Today, 14 partners commit to working in the gallery two or three days a month, attending a monthly meeting and serving on a membership, finance, maintenance or public relations committee. You need an army.
Kaminsky shares that they are looking for two other artists to join them.
“When people apply, the committee does the initial vetting, but then all members will meet to review their work, and the decision to accept must be unanimous.”
Grieder adds: “Now it’s easier. We can see their work online. But first, they should come in and hang it in the bathroom!
Candidates always bring five or six pieces to leave for a month so each member can see the physical work in person.
“What drives us is the fact that not only does art have to be of a certain quality, but also that personalities matter,” says Stone.
“We are all family and we all have to get along. Our verification process requires a unanimous decision. If someone has a problem with a particular candidate, it won’t work.
We talk about the pandemic and how so many small businesses have closed during the mandatory shutdown. Kobo closed for two or three months, but, says Stone, “we have an incredibly understanding owner. When we were faced with COVID we asked all gallery members to commit to staying at least until the end of this year (2020) and we went to him and told him we had Need help. He said, ‘Tell me what you need.’ We made an offer and he accepted. We couldn’t be luckier in the owners department. During the shutdown, the partners have been busy setting up a stronger online presence and a store attached to their website. “2020 and 2021 ended up being incredibly good,” adds Stone.
Now that life has returned to normal, Kobo Gallery is open seven days a week.
I appreciate how it is constantly reconfigured and refreshed. The work is done in rotation on a regular schedule so that every two months the gallery looks new and different.
Dicky Stone uses local woods to transform his unique pieces which often incorporate intricately carved undulating tendrils. He talks about his partnerships with other gallery members and shows me a collaborative piece he created with jeweler Nancy Boyd. “That’s part of the wonderful thing about the cooperative aspect of the gallery. We feed off each other. I hope to do a piece with the other jewelers – Gillian Trask and Susana Guerrero. Stone often works on the sidewalk to engage passers-by, and kids especially enjoy watching him spin wood and learn about the process.
Likewise, textile artist Doris Grieder can create while performing her duties as a gallery keeper and is rarely seen without knitting or crocheting needles in her hands. Originally from Basel, Switzerland, she moved here from Cincinnati fifteen years ago and wanted to be in a gallery. Chroma intimidated him.
“I was more of an artisan,” she says, “but I saw Dicky on the sidewalk and walked into this little artisan gallery. I thought, ‘I’m a good craftsman but I don’t know how to be an artist.’ Jan Pagratis took me under his wing and said: “A craftsman can see something and copy it, an artist sees an idea, takes it and goes in another direction. That’s what she taught me: to experiment.
As mentioned above, painter Daniel E. Smith was originally at the Chroma Gallery. His work is featured in collections around the world, with 12 architectural abstracts and two abstract landscapes in the permanent collection of the Telfair Museums of Savannah.
Today, he has his own workspace and gallery on nearby Jefferson Street, but stays in Kobo because “it’s very visible. I encourage visitors here to come to my studio to see my larger work and more architectural subject matter. Most of the time I sell low country swamps in Kobo, usually on a smaller scale. »
Smith recently returned to ceramics and began selling pieces at the gallery.
I have known Smith for many years and respect the work he has done to put Savannah on the world map as an artistic destination. Savannah’s art scene is so much more than SCAD, and I think the city, chamber, and SEDA all need to step up their efforts to support artists and foster arts tourism. Smith left Kobo for two years to work on this assignment when he was president of the ARC (Art Resource Collective). finance.
David Kaminsky also originally showed in Chroma. He has an MA in photography and is the owner of Savannah Color Separations on Broughton Street, which offers high resolution digital photography and giclee prints to local and regional artists. His work at Kobo is very distinctive – involving a “stretching” of the underlying image, separating it into horizontal bands of color.
The initial photography is often inspired by views of the swampside home he shares with painter Betsy Cain.
Besides Stone, Grieder, Smith and Kaminsky, current members are painters, jewellers, photographers and mixed media artists Morgan Adler, Nancy Boyd, Susanne Carmack, Antoine De Villiers, Joy Dunigan, Susana Guerrero, Marta McWhorter, Jessica People, Gillian Trask and Teake Zuidema.
The Kobo Gallery is located at 33 Barnard St. and their 15th anniversary opens Friday, May 6 from 5-9 p.m. and runs through May 31. For more information, visit kobogallery.com or Instagram @kobogallery