Practical Art gallery and boutique celebrates 6th anniversary with free art demonstrations

Photos by Courtney Pedroza

The gallery and boutique Practical Art reminded the neighborhood to shop local and give back to the community by celebrating its sixth year on Saturday.

Owners Lisa Olson and Kara Roschi invited Phoenix to join the party from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at their midtown store. Free demos were set up around the gallery to show the public how artists make some of their pieces which included woodturning, ceramics, glass art, and knitting and spinning, Olson said.

“This is the first time we’ve had multiple demos going on at once,” Olson said. “We thought it was a great way to overwhelm people with the greatness of art.”

The anniversary was a way for some of the artists to interact with the people that support them, Roschi said.
Gwynne Sullivan, Cora Blouch and Karen Berkman run the knitting business Bewilderknits and have worked with Practical Art for about five years because of how local it is.

“There are a lot of people who walk here on foot. It’s giving people in the neighborhood a place to go and things to do and a place for people to gather,” Sullivan said. “We do our knitting classes here and they have a lot of projects here like book clubs and things like that.”

They said they have had interesting conversations with people from all over Phoenix because of Practical Art. The gallery also encourages people to participate in the crafts because it’s so accessible, Berkman said.

“It allows the everyday person to come experience crafting and art being made,” Blouch said. “I think it’s cool that when you’re coming in here to shop you have the opportunity to meet the artists.”

Practical Art represents only Arizona artists that work in all different mediums, Olson and Roschi said.

When the shop opened in 2008, there were only about 20 artists in the 2,500 square feet of gallery space, but that number has changed, Roschi said.

“We actually have about 115 artists who are making functional, useful art like rolling pins, jewelry, coffee mugs, bowls, everyday use kind of stuff,” Olson said.

Besides commemorating six years, Olson and Roschi wanted to spread the message that shopping local is a great way to help the city flourish.

“It’s kind of the main crux of the shop, which is that appreciation for handmade crafts from the artisans in the community,” Roschi said. “These things in the shop are made by these people. Look at them, and look at what goes into this kind of stuff.”

Both Roschi and Olson are artists and ASU alumnae who came to the shop with original owner Jane Reddin. Reddin was a lawyer for over 20 years and traveled quite a bit. Through her travels she would see places that represented their local artists and their neighborhood, Roschi said.

“Phoenix didn’t really have that, not a place that exclusively represented local folks,” Roschi said. “When she retired from law, this is what she wanted to do for the city, and she was always involved in the arts,” Roschi said.

Reddin passed away about three years ago after her battle with leukemia and passed down the shop to them, Roschi said.

The most obvious struggle they’ve experienced was losing Reddin, Olson said.

“She got sick and moved to the hospital in Texas but neither of us thought she wouldn’t come back,” Olson said. “So to deal with that loss on a personal level and also on the grand scale of a community level, figuring out how to honor her through the store but also making it our own, it definitely took a couple years to sort it out.”

A way they made the gallery their own over the years was by adding a charity element to some of the events they put on, Olson said.

To personally honor Reddin’s passion for art, they do a recycling drive every year, complete with a dinner and an art auction, Olson said. The gallery raised somewhere around $2,500 to $3,000 for the Phoenix Art Museum this year, at least triple the amount from previous years, Olson said.

Nowadays, the shop does more events. A charity pie night is held every fourth Friday of the month, where they help a local organization or charity. Ten percent of the proceeds go to different charities, Olson said.

“One part I’m really proud of is the community hub aspect of what we do. The pie nights allow us to really engage with different sub-networks that are going on in town,” Roschi said. “Through them we find out about different people who are also maintaining missions like we are that are just passionate about seeing the city get better.”

The biggest accomplishment by far is keeping the doors open for six years, Olson and Roschi said.

“I feel like we’ve really honed in on the quality level that I’m really proud of in terms of the work that we regularly carry as well as our wall shows,” Olson said. “There are a lot of people who come each month to see what we’ve put on the walls.”

Over the years, there have been many changes to the shop, but the one thing that will never change is the importance of representing the local art scene, Olson and Roschi said.

“We’re right in the neighborhood. The more independent, eclectic local businesses that pop up, the better it is,” Roschi said. “It offers variety, uniqueness and personality. It goes to further that personality that Phoenix is working on and could have now more than it ever has.”

Clarification: April 21, 2014:

A previous version of this article referred to Lisa Olson as both Olson and Olsen. It has been corrected to reflect the correct spelling of her name.

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