If the Bell Gallery is “quite possibly the nicest little shop,” as the tagline at the front entrance reads, then the garden behind the shop is “quite possibly the best little hidden garden” in town. An oasis of flowering shrubs and plants, lawn chairs and wooden benches, ornamental art, birdhouses, wind chimes and a gazebo, the garden is an extension of the nature-inspired shop, where neighbors have been known to drop by and chat and gallery shoppers have paused to enjoy the natural setting.
Ten years ago artisan Joanne Bell and her photographer husband Bill purchased the historic downtown building that once housed the Odd Fellows fraternity lodge and is known for its hardwood construction, its old-time stacked wood walls, and a large mirror mantel that is said to have been part of the old Brame Hotel. Busy working the craft show circuit, raising the last of their four kids, and “running on Floyd time,” the Bells gave the building’s previous tenet (Rite Print Shop) five years notice before remodeling the space in preparation to open their business, adding a porch and transforming a gravel parking lot into the backyard garden.
“I like having a store,” said Joanne Bell, who seemed destined to be an art and craft shop owner since she was a young girl. A chickadee nesting in the garden fluttered by as Bell described how she grew up on a Wisconsin farm with a long driveway. “I’d drag things down the end of the driveway and sell them. I would paint empty ketchup bottles and put flowers in them. I raised chickens and sold them. I sold eggs and painted pictures.”
Bell’s pressed floral sun catchers and jewelry that she’s been making for more than two decades are one item featured in the shop. She grows many of the plants used in the arrangements at her home garden just outside town and refers to the hand-soldered beveled glass pieces as “sun catchers with a little view of nature.” The couple also has a cabin in the woods further out in the county where they share a large community garden with neighbors.
Bell’s husband Bill’s large format landscape photography, displayed throughout the shop “is very popular.” Bill, who prints his work on canvas in the workshop located over the shop, goes to about 20 arts and craft shows a year. “He’s really made a name for himself. People buy his work because they want to bring the peace of nature into their homes,” noted Bell, who is the shop buyer and bookkeeper.
Joanne and Bill Bell’s daughter Darcy Luster is the gallery shop manager. Luster makes jewelry for sale and is an active member of the Humane Society, providing care to kittens waiting for adoption. One of those cats meowed from its hutch as Joanne Bell explained that the shop carries original artwork, pottery, fiber arts, baskets, sculpture, glassworks and more from local and regional artists, as well as from those from all over the country. The artists are “people we know whose studios we have visited,” Bell said, adding that she sometimes goes to craft shows with Bill to find new work for the shop.
A strong believer in the practice of shopping locally, Bell credits the shop’s wide variety of affordable gift items and its loyal customers for helping the business weather the recent recession. “We had a great year last year,” she said, commenting on the improvements she has noticed in the economy.
There were only a couple of other art venues in town when the Bell’s opened their gallery. Since then more have opened up and Bell is happy about that. “Floyd is really getting known as an art and craft community,” she said. “More and more people will come for that reason. I see it as a win-win situation.”
Bell Gallery and Garden is celebrating its fifth year anniversary the first of May. The entrance is being spruced up and the apartment upstairs, where Darcy and her husband Chris used to live, is being prepared to be a weekend hotel rental. Bell, who enjoys meeting and talking to customers, looks back over the past five years with gratitude. “I’m really thankful to the people of Floyd and all our customers,” she said. “Everyone has been very supportive.” ~ Colleen Redman
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