Any attempt to catch an early glimpse of the new business on the south side of Broadway, near Tenth Street, is frustrated by butcher paper painted with brightly colored flowers covering the windows.
The only clue to passers-by of what’s to come are small white block letters announcing Poppy Fine Art, the first new art gallery to open in Columbia in several years. It is set to open Sept. 22.
With the closing of Legacy Art in May 2002 and at least six other galleries shuttered in recent years, Columbia artists have struggled to find places to display their art.
Kate Gray, a painter, says the opening of a new gallery will give local art lovers a place to purchase art not only by Columbia artists, but by artists from all over the world.
“I think it will provide us with new ways of looking at things and ourselves,” she says.
Many of the current “galleries” in town are in restaurants, bank lobbies and theaters. These venues rarely produce sales because people don’t visit with the intent to view, let alone purchase, a piece of art. When customers see something they like, making a purchase is not as simple as plucking it from the wall and going to the cash register.
Poppy Fine Art will be dedicated solely to the sale of work by established artists, as well as new artistic voices, says co-owner Jennifer Perlow.
“We hope to connect the artist to the customer,” says Perlow, who owns Poppy with her partner, Barbara McCormick. “With every piece, a little bit of the artist’s soul comes with it.”
Despite the failure of more than a half-dozen local galleries in recent years, Perlow said the city is ready for a new gallery. To encourage more sales, exhibits will be scheduled for a limited time, giving potential costumers an extra incentive to buy and keep the display fresh and new, Perlow says.
But Jim Downey, former owner of Legacy Art and Bookworks, which closed after eight years in business, isn’t so sure. Regular art buyers are making their purchases from out-of-town galleries, he says, because there is a common perception that you can’t get good art in Columbia. Others are convinced they can’t afford fine art and tend to treat a gallery like a museum, he said.
Downey notes that Legacy seemed to have strong local support, with a mailing list of more than 3,000 people, most of them from Boone County. And art prices in Columbia are “phenomenally low,” he says, with many galleries willing to set up payment plans that would allow buyers to purchase a piece of art for $20 to $40 a month — about what many people spend on CDs.
However, a large mailing list and low prices did not translate into sales for Legacy, he says.
“If these people would have spent an average of $100 a year, or eight dollars a month, the gallery’s sales would have doubled,” Downey says.
Poppy Fine Art will offer additional services, including art appraisal and placement advice from decorators. The gallery’s staff can also help customers search for specific pieces of art.
The gallery will host special events, such as artist receptions and charity events that Perlow hopes will bring in new customers.
The gallery’s atmosphere will likely have the same type of atmosphere of its sister business, Poppy, which sells jewelry, housewares and other novelties.
Gray is confident that the success of Poppy will spill over to Poppy Fine Art.
“They understand people: what they want, they wish for, dream of and even need — they know how to make someone feel special,” Gray says of Perlow and McCormick. “Those are the things that make the experience of art really sing and radiate.”