Talking with Groveland Gallery’s Sally Johnson

The director of the 44-year-old gallery on their “niche” and working inside a landmark

Groveland Gallery is located in the historic Frank B. Long House, built in 1894. Submitted photo
Groveland Gallery is located in the historic Frank B. Long House, built in 1894. Submitted photo

Point your eyes just above the freshly landscaped hillside next to the Walker Art Center and you may spot the granite-walled building with gabled roof that swoops down behind two turrets at a dramatic angle.

That’s the home of 44-year-old Groveland Gallery, a small commercial gallery housed in a locally designated landmark. The Franklin B. Long House, built in 1894 in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, was the personal residence of Minneapolis architect who, as a partner in the firm Long & Kees, also designed Minneapolis City Hall. (Both structures are built of the same rose-tinted Ortonville granite.)

Groveland shows local and regional artists who make representational art in a variety of media, including paintings, drawings and prints. It’s the kind of gallery where it’s not uncommon to come across a familiar scene from rural Minnesota — or downtown Minneapolis.

The Southwest Journal recently sat down with Gallery Director Sally Johnson to talk about the history of Groveland and what the gallery has in store this summer. This interview has been edited and condensed.

Sally Johnson. Submitted photo
Sally Johnson. Submitted photo

Southwest Journal: Tell us about the artists you show at Groveland Gallery.

Johnson: Groveland shows primarily Minnesota artists — and a few general Midwestern people from Iowa, Wisconsin, South Dakota, but mostly we show Minnesota artists. And most of our artists are full-time professional artists. I’d say they could be classified as mid-career or mature artists. We take in new artists from time to time, as well.

Our little niche in the Twin Cities gallery scene is we primarily show representational work. Everything from really tight photorealist work to much more expressionistic work. But, generally speaking, you’ll recognize the subject. A lot of landscape, figurative work, still life — that’s our niche.

 

The gallery was founded in 1973. Has it always been in this building?

Actually, it was down at the corner for the first couple of years. It was founded by a businessman named Al Keith, who also is a neighborhood resident, and he had an office down at the corner. It was a very big office and he didn’t need all the space, and he was very good friends with a bunch of University of Minnesota professors, so, what happened was — well, it’s kind of a long, intertwined story.

The Walker Art Center at the time had a sales and rental gallery, which was quite common at museums. They would represent local artists in this little gallery, and Walker patrons could go in and either rent a painting or buy a painting or rent-to-buy a painting.

Then real estate got too precious inside the Walker and they needed the space for their own programs, so they were going to close the sales and rental gallery. And there were a bunch of these University professors who showed there, and they said to Al Keith: What if we showed this art in your empty office spaces? And he thought that was a great idea.

So, that’s how it was founded, and it was originally called the Art Lending Gallery.

 

Is Al still with us?

Uh huh. He owns this building, so he’s our landlord. He lives upstairs, now.

 

What are the joys and challenges of coming to work in an historic building every day?

Actually, it’s almost all joys — except in the wintertime, because our hill can be daunting.

I think the reason why I love it is I think it’s a great way to show art in a manner that can allow people to envision owning it themselves. Because as much as those big, white box galleries have so much flexibility — and sometimes I long for a space where I didn’t have to consider, ‘Will this painting fit in this spot?’ — and the artists have to keep that in mind, too, when they plan their shows — it’s really a lovely thing to be in this beautiful space, which was built with so much integrity. And the materials are so wonderful.

Like any old space it’s got its quirks. We blow fuses all the time. It’s always got a little something going on. There will be a little roof leak, and it’s a challenging to keep up with the snow and the ice in the wintertime.

The other side of that is, when we have openings, we have this beautiful front porch and it’s just such a great space to be in.

 

You’re a small commercial gallery located right outside the door of one of the region’s most-visited arts institutions. Do you ever feel overlooked, or does that proximity to the Walker bring people through the door?

I think it brings people through the door — and more now since they did their fabulous remodeling. The (Minneapolis Sculpture) Garden, now, it’s like our front yard. I think it’s so fantastic.

You can see us from the interior of the Walker. When you’re in those interior spaces looking out the windows you see this sign that says Groveland Gallery, and we get a lot of people who come up here and say, ‘Gosh, I saw your sign and we thought we’d come up here and see what it was.’

 

What are you looking forward to at the gallery this summer?

We do a lot of special programming in the summer, and for the past seven years we’ve been doing something that’s become kind of its own beast. It’s really popular. I don’t think we could quit doing it if we wanted to.

We have what we call the Plein Air Smackdown, and it’s sort of a tongue-in-cheek version of the plein air competitions that have become so popular in the last 10 years around the country. (This year’s event is Aug. 5.)

The artists go out and they paint from 10 a.m.–4 p.m., and we have a map so interested people can go around the city and watch the artists painting. And then everybody comes back here at the end of the day and we have a big party on the porch. We have hotdogs and beer, and the day’s paintings are for sale.

And because that’s so popular, this year we decided to do an invitational plein air exhibition. We have a show with 17 artists, some Groveland and some guest artists, and all work that was done on-location. That’s our show this summer, and that runs from July 20 through Sept. 1, and it should be a really beautiful show.

In addition to that, we’ve got two artists doing outdoor painting workshops that people can sign up for.

 

All plein air, all the time, this summer.

Exactly. It’s not our normal thing, but we have so much fun we just though we’d expand it this year.

 

For more information on Groveland Gallery and upcoming exhibitions and events, go to grovelandgallery.com.

Groveland Gallery organizes the Plein Air Smackdown, an event that takes place each year in August. Submitted photo
Groveland Gallery organizes the Plein Air Smackdown, an event that takes place each year in August. Submitted photo
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