Hermantown Middle School art teacher Terri Wingness and her daughter, Chelsey, decided to go into business together. They went into a business each knows and understands well — art.
The two opened On the Rocks art studio in Canal Park. In the ico plaza, an historic 1895 warehouse in the heart of Canal Park and above the Dairy Queen, the space sat empty for 17 years until Terri and Chelsey had a vision of what it could look like.
Plans for the studio include featuring local artists (retired art teacher John Harder’s work is currently on display) and offering art classes to the public.
While the two have been busy with this new business concept, they took some time to answer a few of our questions about the studio.
How did the idea start on doing an art studio in Duluth?
The idea was presented to me by Mary Ludwig, teacher at Hermantown who has watched me teach elementary art in her classroom as a grade five teacher, and we were very involved in staff development together for several years. She went on vacation last spring to Florida with her family. Her sister-in-law made reservations at a paint studio while they were on vacation. She said it was so much fun and brought back the information to me and said, “Terri, this is something you can do. You have taught art to young children for many years and have been very successful teaching adult courses through staff development. It would be a natural fit.”
So my daughters Chelsey and Melanie and I started researching how to start a business in Minnesota, researched options to buy a franchise and looked into possible locations.
My youngest daughter, Chelsey, has a natural artistic ability and is pursuing an art degree. She can easily operate a studio during the day and I can be involved during the evenings and weekends. I have been teaching at Hermantown for 19 years and have felt fortunate I have been able to share art education with students in Hermantown. I enjoy waking up each morning and going to work at Hermantown. I have no intentions of quitting my day job. I’m hoping Chelsey will have a great opportunity in operating and managing the studio in years to come and I can begin exploring my own art endeavors and selling artwork at the gallery.
Did you look at a number of sites or was Canal Park your first choice?
We contacted Jens Torgimson from Atwater commercial real easte company who found 5 different locations for us to look at the beginning of August 2012. I originally wanted to look at the ICO Plaza building but figured it would be out of reach. I knew the studio should be located in the art-orientated downtown area which had several new business start up this fall. I looked at the second floor of the ICO Plaza building it was not what I had envisioned it to be but with a lot of work it had possibilities. It was located closer to street level, but had lower ceilings than the present locations. Jens encouraged me to look at the 3rd floor because he was informed they may be another business that would be interested in the 2nd floor. When I viewed the 3rd floor it had high ceilings with sandblasted original wooden beams and the view was spectacular. I took lots of pictures and started remodeling the space in my mind. I had to make a depiction quickly because other businesses were interested in the two spaces. I came to a tentative agreement at the end of August for the third floor. Mean while Medium Control graphic design business were going to lease the 2nd floor.
How long was the buildout for the new studio? Who all helped with the renovation?
I had a lot of help from my family which was hesitant at first. My husband John has worked construction with Huikka construction for 25 years and my son-in-law Justin Berntson has a construction business of his own. They both said what I wanted to do was almost impossible to do in 4-6 weeks. John even told me he would have no part in the renovating of the space. I’m a very determined individual. John knows when I make my mind up to something I will move forward with or without him. He ended up taking a week off of work to get the place started. The property owners wanted to put in a suspended ceiling which I would lose the open air space I was looking to have. Robin Mötley, a friend and interior designer and landscaper, volunteered a lot of hours painting the interior walls. I would go to work at Hermantown and Robin went to my studio to paint. Gallons and gallons of paint. Sometimes we would be at the studio ’till 1:00 in the morning. I even slept there during the weekends trying to get it ready for a soft opening by Nov. 1. Even I was going to be paying for a lease I needed to have it presentable to customers. We ordered furniture, materials to sew our own pillows, reupholstered a few pieces of furniture. We want a cheerful, creative space. Mid-century modern was the interior design look Robin Mötley and Chelsey were looking for. Chelsey picked out all the colors. As a family we had a great time getting the studio ready. My kids say we don’t have a family cabin on a lake, but we have a family studio steps away from the biggest freshwater lake on the continent. We also had the help of John Harder, we are bartering his talent of sign making for space in the studio to start his longer term drawing and oil painting classes. Perfect match.
What are some of the features of the business? What are some things in the works?
Besides John Harder doing on going 10 weeks lessons for the more serious artist, Chelsey and myself our offering different painting instruction for the noise as well as advanced painters. Open studio is $25, includes 16×20 canvas, paint, brushes, easel and apron to paint on your own in our studio a painting of your choice. An artist will assist you but no formal instruction. Painting events are $35 and includes the same as open studio but it also includes step-by-step instruction for customers to complete a painting in 2-3 hours and you take it home with you that night. Customers can sign up through our website. If you want a private gathering with ten or more guests we will close the studio to the public and you use the space for yourself and guests. We also are looking for new artist wanting to sell their original artworks in the gallery area. We also will have artist receptions to help promote new and upcoming artist. This summer we will offer 4 weeks of art camp for kids ages 8-17. Everyday the young artist will paint an acrylic painting as well as have the opportunity to work in other mediums and explore the beauty of the canal park area. With time we want to bring in other art teachers for ceramics, print making, pastel drawing. We are hoping to make the studio what customers want to explore to bring out their creativity… Therapy in a paint brush.
How did the idea of having John Harder do the first show come about? Where you happy with how the opening went?
A former student of John Harder’s, Travis Melin, had run into each other at an art fair. Travis told me and Chelsey how John was really missing teaching and was thinking about getting something going in his home. Chelsey had John as a high school student and suggested we invite him to the studio when we were first renovating to see the space and see if he would be interested in trying to get something started in our studio. Very excited about the space and the potential he did not hesitate to help us out with the renovation and to put together 8-10 week art lessons. John had the first art reception so individuals could see his talent and have the opportunity to meet. He is a very talented artist and I have never met an art teacher in the area that can bring out talent in almost anyone who has the desire to create.
How has it been working with each other? Have the two of you been able to spend quality time together and your appreciate of art in a variety of ways?
Chelsey is so easy going… She gets it from her father. I’m more head strong….we are both passionate for the visual arts. For both of us it is the way we communicate our messages. So far this has been a positive experience, exciting yet scary. Either build it and they will come, otherwise me and Chelsey will have the most expensive studio to create in forms while. Win-win either way. I believe art education is important to a quality education for all children. Unfortunately many individuals have had no art experiences in their lives other than one course in junior high required by the state. I hope the studio gives many individual a chance to give it a try.
Talk about some of the things that have surprised you with starting a business — the good and the bad.
It is really hard to get business sign in Duluth. I am very naive to the politics in Duluth to starting a business. There are families and business that have been long-standing in the area and have monopolized the area and they are not very welcoming to new ideas. I’m just an individual passionate to what the arts can do for individuals creative outlet. I’m from the little town of Carlton, my parents grew up in northern Minnesota who moved to the Cloquet area when they were first married to find a job at Potlach. They both grew up in rural area with no running water, my dad lived in a log cabin from the time he was 2 until him and my mom were married in 1959. I remember traveling to Shopper’s City in West Duluth and what a big town Duluth was, and swore I would never move to a big town. Now I’m starting a business in Canal Park.
What art do you enjoy the most — making and seeing?
I have always been a visual learner. I contribute it to my dad working at Potlatch. We had all the reams, tablets, and rolls of paper we wanted as kids. My sister was always planning parades, plays and talent shows in the neighborhood when we were growing up. I was the one who created all the sets, props, banners needed to play with all the kids in the neighborhood. My passion is clay, because of the many processes it takes you through to get to the final. From building, designing, firing, glazing and firing again, it’s the process of creating that makes art important. The bonus is when someone actually enjoys it enough to want to buy it.