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VOL. 123 | NO. 215 | Monday, November 3, 2008

Gallery Owner Prices Art For All Collectors During Downturn

By Tom Wilemon

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WINDOW DRESSING: Ralph Dixon, left, and Kevin Mitchell, owners of Lulalyn Gallery, say their display window at 1859 Madison Ave. is one of the store’s best advertisements. -- PHOTO BY TOM WILEMON
Lulalyn Gallery, Gifts and Interiors
Owners: Kevin Mitchell and Ralph Dixon
Web site: www.lulalyn.com
Address: 1859 Madison Ave.
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday
10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“Even people who are collectors or decorators … they are really thinking about their purchases now. What we’re doing different is just sort of providing options.”
– Kevin Mitchell
Co-owner, Lulalyn Gallery, Gifts and Interiors

Sometimes a gesture of goodwill can bring unexpected rewards.

Lulalyn Gallery, Gifts and Interiors owners Kevin Mitchell and Ralph Dixon, along with the artists they represent, donated items to the WKNO Art and Antiques Auction last year and got lucky.

Myra Stephens was channel surfing when she saw a painting by Cathy Burge.

“We bid on it and got it for $500, which was an amazing price and it thrilled us,” Stephens said.

She and her husband liked the piece so much they went to the gallery and bought a bigger painting by Burge. On follow-up visits, they’ve purchased three paintings by another painter and a piece of raikou pottery. Now, Stephens is selling her handcrafted jewelry at the gallery.

“Kevin has such an eclectic mix and so many things I’d love to buy,” she said. “He has a potter at the gallery named Rachel Ballentine. If you ever talk to her and say, ‘I can’t decide which pot to buy,’ she’ll ask, ‘Did you listen to it?’ She means put it up to your ear and listen. If you put it to your ear, it makes a sound akin to a seashell. And they all sound different. It’s amazing.”

Art on a budget

Stephens admitted that if she had “funds that went on forever” her house would be filled with items from Lulalyn. She also admitted that having looked at her 401(k) statement recently, she knows her funds are far from infinite.

Lulalyn Gallery has been open for only a year. Operating a new business is a challenge, but having one that deals in what some would consider nonessential items when the economy turns cold can be mind numbing.

“Even people who are collectors or decorators – while they might hesitate before – they are really thinking about their purchases now,” Mitchell said. “What we’re doing different is just sort of providing options.”

The owners of this small business are showcasing more emerging artists, displaying small gift items and offering Tennessee-made Christmas ornaments along with the more expensive works of established artists. They’re offering more items at lower prices, And they’re not cutting back on marketing.

“As an old ad guy, I preached so many times that when business is slow, the last thing you cut is your ad budget,” Mitchell said.

The gallery is rolling out two evenings of “Santa Showcases” when it will be paying the sales tax on all purchases of original art. The holiday gift items will include hand-blown ornaments by a Chattanooga, Tenn.-based artist and Christmas spiders by a Memphis jewelry designer.

Bethany Legan, creator of the spider ornaments, said they are inspired by a German folk story about how a Christmas miracle transformed spider webs on a tree into treasures.

“What I like about this story is that while the mother in the story thinks everything is ruined by the spider webs and wonders what the family is going to do, the next thing they wake up and there’s a miracle and everything has been turned into silver and gold,” Legan said.

Not one focus

Lulalyn, which is at 1859 Madison Ave., has only 900 square feet. Mitchell and Dixon have utilized every square foot, even converting half of a storage room into display space.

“You’re probably not going to walk in here and see one person’s art in the whole place simply because of space and that’s just not the concept of this gallery,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got mixed media, photography and assemblages. We’ve got Paul Clements, who is a classic figure painter and studied in France. We have pottery from Rachel Ballentine, who is from Sardis, (Miss.). We’ve got abstract artists who are accomplished. Our emerging artists are very strong artists in their own right and are going places.”

Mitchell, a 1994 graduate of the Memphis College of Art, is also one of the featured artists.

The price of an original work of art ranges from $100 to $6,000, depending on the artist. The handmade jewelry sells for $20 and up.

“You shouldn’t have to drive to a chain store and buy something from China if you want something original,” Mitchell said. “We try to offer that option.”

Dixon said he enjoys the gallery receptions and seeing the reaction when a young artist has his or her first show.

“An opening is a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun too,” Dixon said.

He and Mitchell chose to lease the space, which formerly was used as an office, because of its location in the Gilmore Building at the southeast corner of Madison and McLean Boulevard.

“This is as Midtown as it gets,” Mitchell said. “We’re right next to Fino’s. I don’t know if this is the legal center of Midtown, but it feels like it.”

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RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 95 253 13,695
MORTGAGES 96 261 15,827
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 3 24 2,163
BUILDING PERMITS 250 500 28,258
BANKRUPTCIES 57 178 8,828
BUSINESS LICENSES 31 85 4,650
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 33 93 5,486
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