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Artist cooperative opens in Chesterfield

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 9, 2010 - There’s something about walking into a gallery or store that sells art and talking to artists about their craft. Visitors to the new Fusion by Show Me Handmade store in Chesterfield are assured of talking to an artist, and in many cases the artist responsible for a given painting, quilt or pair of earrings.

Fusion is a collective of artists across St. Louis who jointly manage a space where they sell their art, demonstrate their work, offer classes and promote local musicians. Many of the 17 artists who are part of the cooperative also log hours working (sweeping and taking calls; not just producing their art) at the store, which is why you’re bound to get into a conversation at the register about designs and color schemes.

The artists involved in the cooperative all work on handmade items. Along with the paintings, quilts and jewelry are soaps, decorated wine glasses, pottery and novelty items like buttons and magnets. There's even a silver-studded St. Louis Cardinals hat. The items can cost as little as $5 and as much as four figures. The majority are less than $100.

Artists who are part of the cooperative don’t pay a commission. They earn the money that comes in from their art sales, and they also pay a monthly rent. While all the artists are partners, some people involved have more responsibility than others. People on the board of directors handle finances and work more hours at the store (typically about 32 hours a month). Those in the tier below work about half that time. And the artists referred to as "absentee partners" have no work expectations. 

Becky Caspersen, one of the board members, said it’s nice to have this central space to work and show her work rather than always having to search for galleries and other spaces. Other artists said they are glad not to be paying commission rates that can be tough to absorb.

Added Jane Vogl, an artist who does quilts: “There’s a benefit in numbers. We’re not here every hour that the store is open, but it’s nice to know that we have partners taking care of us. Everyone has each other's back.”

Many artists in the cooperative were also a part of the operation when it was located in Crestwood. After roughly a year in that location, the artists decided to move to the Chesterfield Mall. Fusion officially opened in early February but had its grand opening celebration -– including artist demonstrations and short introductory craft classes -- over the weekend.

On Friday afternoon, Caspersen sat near the front window and demonstrated the glass-winding process -– melting glass with a torch to make beads, wine stoppers and other items. She also taught a class on dying silk scarves. She and other artists say they want to make it a habit of showing how they do their work in the front window to attract customers and give each other ideas. 

“It’s good for us as artists to get together,” Caspersen said. “Some of us have even talked about doing collaborative pieces.”

Fusion also will be a place where local musicians can hold shows and CD release parties. The plan is for the store to eventually have listening stations where visitors can hear the local artists' tunes.

There will also be regular classes on everything from wire wrapping to ceramics to soap making.

The store, in the Chesterfield Mall's Artropolis area on the second level, is open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sundays from 12-4 p.m.