Co-op gallery evolves like art itself

Published 10:15 am Thursday, January 9, 2014

Artist Brian Cooley with some of his work. (Leader photo/JILL McCAUGHAN)

Artist Brian Cooley with some of his work. (Leader photo/JILL McCAUGHAN)

Now in its eighth year, Chartreuse Co-op Art Gallery, located at 304 State St. in St. Joseph, Mich., continues to offer artists a place where their work can grow and change, just as the co-op does.

“I’ve never seen a co-op with such a long history. And, there’s been a lot of turnover at Chartreuse. To me, that’s what has made it successful,” said Dave Smykal, a mixed-media artist who is now starting his fourth year with the co-op. “It’s never stagnant. Even though you could be here for seven years, because of all the changes with everyone else, your work continues to change.”

“Three of the founding members are still active in the co-op today — Jerry Sirk, Molly Moran and Margaret Hogeboom,” said Lynne Tan, a ceramics artists who joined the co-op in 2009.

Chartreuse currently features the work of 21 artists who work in a variety of media, including fiber arts, glass, ceramics, pen and ink, photography, watercolors and beaded jewelry, just to name a few.

Four of the newest members of the co-op are woodworker Larry Erdman and glass artists Cindy Fielding, Carolyn O’Hearn and Lynne Clayton.

Since it operates as a cooperative, Chartreuse provides both members and visitors with some uncommon advantages.

Artists commit to working at the store about 15 hours per month, which provides visitors with the opportunity to talk with them about their art and that of other member artists. At the same time, members of the co-op are able to continue working on other ventures.

One of those artists, Dave Smykal, has found a way to combine both his art and his non-artistic endeavors while helping another artist, Brian Cooley, develop as an artist in his own right.

“I work with Brian Cooley at Gateway, and I’m a job developer, or a job coach,” Smykal explained, referring to his position with the non-profit organization that provides job training to disabled people. “Chartreuse is a nice place to work. And for Brian, who has a disability, he can show people that he is able to work in the community, and his work is wonderful.”

“Brian works with pen and ink, and he’s autistic, so he represents artists as well as people with disabilities. People just love him,” Smykal said.

“Brian had quite a bit of interest in drawing, just because of his autism. It was a form of communication for him,” Smykal explained. “When he was drawing, he should have been working at recycling, which we use to train people at Gateway, and we’d be like, ‘Brian, get back to work.’”

“It’s sad, but it’s a wonderful story because he knew what he wanted to do. He didn’t want to recycle; he wanted to draw. So, now he’s able to do that,” Smykal said.

“Because of Chartreuse being so forward, they juried Brian in, just as anybody else. It didn’t matter that he was autistic,” Smykal said. “Now, Brian tells me everyday, ‘I love my job!’”

“As his job coach, I am his transportation, and I cover the register. He opened the store today, with verbal prompting. So, he’s just like anybody else. He just needs a little help, and I like to give it because then he has a chance to show his art, so that’s important,” Smykal said.

“Brian says, ‘I love coming in to work. I love going to Chartreuse,’ and that makes it worth it. And, that’s what Chartreuse means to him. It gives somebody with autism a chance to be a real person,” Smykal said. “For me, it’s a chance to show my work among other quality work.”

Smykal’s work can be found on what he calls his “crazy wall of craziness” in the gallery. His pieces include greeting cards, magnets and signs that he has painted on driftwood or barn wood. He then paints sayings on them, some that he has culled from his memories of his grandmother, and some that are little edgier and more modern.

“My grandma always said things to us, like ‘Go jump in the lake’ or ‘Wicked chickens lay deviled eggs.’ That was my grandma. People just seem to associate with some of these older sayings,” Smykal said.

“I love it. It just really works for me,” said Smykal, of Chartreuse. “It just makes me want to have a business of my own, and I think that’s what the co-op is good for. It helps promote that.”

Visitors can view and purchase the work of Smykal, Cooley, Tan and the many other talented local artists at Chartreuse on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Samples of their work can also be viewed at

“The aim of the co-op is to connect local artists with the public — to provide local artists with a venue to sell their work, and to give the public (locals and tourists) a one-stop venue to see and to buy local art,” said Tan. “Chartreuse has proved to be a training ground for local talent.”