Cheap Art

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(HOST) December is the best time of year to buy art in Vermont – whether you’re playing secret Santa or indulging your own passion for painting, photography, lithography or sculpture. Commentator Anne Galloway explains why.

(GALLOWAY) Some years ago, my husband and I made two crucial decisions about our home decor: We decided to paint our interior walls white and to hang original art. No fake reproductions in fancy frames. We’d have the real thing, thank you, or nothing at all.

And since we also had no money, that meant we went with white walls for a while until my husband came up with the family gallery concept. That is to say, we framed works by the most influential artists in our lives – the insightful scribblings of our children.

We’ve bought a few pieces of art over the years, including a $5 “cheap art” painting of three abstract, satyr-like males on a strip of corrugated cardboard. We also have a $30 GRACE painting of a red house planted in a spring green landscape that symbolizes home for us.

Our “cheap” pieces are as meaningful to us as the paintings we’ve acquired from family and friends, largely because they’ve become fixtures in our lives, part of a body of personal effects. And while “cheap art” sounds like a derogative term, it’s really a slogan – shorthand for real art for the masses, made by real people.

The concept of “cheap art” is the brainchild of Bread & Puppet Theater founder Peter Schumann. He started selling paintings for next to nothing in 1980. Other artists latched onto the idea of using cheap materials – cardboard, house paint and the like to create multiples of the same painting – and until the early 1990s, the Cheap Art Store, housed in temporary spaces in Montpelier, sold paintings for a buck to $25.

Barbara Leber, a real estate agent, artist and prime mover behind the store, brought the concept back for the holiday season at Christ Church in Montpelier last year. The store is open again this December at the church, and prices range from $1 to $100. The local artists in the show include Anne Davis, Cheryl Day Dick and David Smith.

These days, the Cheap Art Store isn’t the only venue for reasonably priced local art. Nonprofit galleries and artists’ cooperatives around the state are also banking on the holidays. The Chandler Gallery in Randolph, the Alliance for the Visual Arts in Lebanon, N.H., Studio Place Arts in Barre, the GRACE Firehouse Gallery in Hardwick and Two Rivers Printmaking Studio in White River Junction are all selling artwork this month.

Shopping at these annual art sales is a kind of alternative retail therapy – an antidote to the Christmas shopping blahs, a chance to shop for meaningful, one-of-a-kind things virtually guilt-free and to give local artists and nonprofits a financial boost as part of the bargain. For me, though, it’s all about covering up those stark white walls in our house.

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