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Somewhere between the smothering clutter of a gift shop and the white space of an austere gallery is a welcoming sweet spot.
That’s where Deb Chelowicki lovingly positioned East Lansing’s Grove Gallery.
Sunday, the gallery celebrates its tenth anniversary — and its final December.
The lease is up in March. With a year and a half of construction left on a massive highrise development a block away, Chelowicki decided it would be a good time to wrap up the enterprise.
“I’d rather go on top,” she said. “It’s bittersweet, but it’s a celebration.”
The open house will feature the gallery’s biggest array of artists yet — seven “core artists,” 24 exhibiting artists and 11 invited guest artists.
It’s hard to believe the gallery started with only six artists, as an annex to Woven Art next door.
“Deb has been the driving force behind everything,” artist Barb Hranilovich said. “We have survived multiple bouts of construction, each one worse than the one before.”
Chelowicki is the kind of person — no, the only person — who keeps an electric saw in the trunk of her car, in case she spots a dangling vine that “speaks” to her.
She moved to the United States 10 years ago from Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, where she obsessively gathered natural objects on long walks.
“If a funky piece of driftwood spoke to me, I collected it, even if I didn’t know what I was going to do with it at that moment,” she said.
In Canada, she was a social worker specializing in sexual abuse treatment, but she jumped whole-heartedly into art when she and her husband, Jacek, moved to Connecticut.
The couple planned to return to Canada, but 10 years ago, MSU recruited Jacek and Chelowicki found herself in East Lansing.
Nancy McCray, owner of Woven Art next door, was looking for a group of artists to use an idle space next to Woven Art.
For the first year, six working artists occupied the studio, using a small front room as an exhibit space. The space evolved into a full-blown gallery with three exhibit rooms, a teaching space and Chelowicki’s studio.
By now, the gallery has exhibited over 60 artists —about 30 at any particular time.
Hranilovich is one of the gallery’s core artists.
“Deb deserves a medal,” Hranilovich said.
“East Lansing needs the few small and personal businesses is has to keep it from looking like every other medium town in the country. These are the business that people remember and make an effort to visit.”
The vibe inside is earthy, with plenty of ceramics, fiber art and funky clusters of natural materials. But Chelowicki curates and juxtaposes the pieces with extreme care. She took two weeks to put the current front room display together.
Shamelessly lumpy and bumpy things of all sorts, including a wall-hanging pollen grain that looks like a medieval mace, await discovery among more subtly decorated ceramics, prints and watercolors.
A lot of the work is highly idiosyncratic.
An interior gallery features two contrasting pieces by one of the most popular Grove Gallery artists and teachers, watercolor master Michelle Dietering.
On the left is a rooster made of thousands of tiny magazine shreds; on the right is an owl, minimally limned in black washes.
What other gallery would feature an array of enigmatic little canvases dotted with magnified (yet still tiny) pollen grains? There’s something almost subversive about putting high-concept art like Kate McNenly’s “Ode to Pollen” in a “Gifts Under 50 Dollars” room.
But the idiosyncrasy prize clearly goes to a set of metal steampunk sculptures by Virgina England of Kalamazoo, mesmerizing objects crafted from thousands of recycled gears, bolts, metal mesh, bottle brushes, tinplate, tools and countless other bits.
Always on the alert for something different, Chelowicki found out about England’s work from another artist, and had to persuade England that her work was good enough to go into a gallery.
Most of the artists are from Greater Lansing, but there are outliers like South Haven’s Sue Hale, a nationally known fiber artist who creates intricate, unclassifiable objects with multiple excrescences made of finely turned threads.
Visitors will also spot some familiar names. The front room features big and small Japanese raku sculptures by Doug DeLind, a mainstay at the gallery for eight years.
DeLind’s wife, Laura DeLind, is a printmaker who runs popular printmaking classes at Grove Gallery.
And there are all kinds of art by one of the area’s most successful multi-media artists, Barb Hranilovich. “She’s my right hand person and our No. 1 seller here,” Chelowicki said of Hranilovich.
When a founding member died, Hranilovich even took on the role of bookkeeper.
“That’s a huge job, but that’s how our artists are,” Chelowicki said. “They step up when something is needed. I know it’s corny, but I think of the gallery as a family.”
Grove Gallery and Studios
10 th Anniversary Open House Noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2 325 Grove St. A, East Lansing (517) 333-7180 email@example.com