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Random Gallery Spotlight: Harper Gallery

Tara Margaret Plath

Harper Gallery

Work by Mr Walters of Nerfect

Harper Gallery, located at 1915 S. Michigan Avenue in the South Loop, cannot be described as conventional. Its walls are filled from floor to ceiling, in clusters of contrasting bodies of work. One section, the Scarlett Children’s Gallery, is entirely devoted to the child art collector. Vitrines showcase small sculptures and jewelry for sale.

“It’s been an evolution of figuring out what people like. We figured out that we have to have a diverse body of work,” says Colleen Harper, the owner. Harper has created a gallery based on filling the artistic and decorative needs of the average person, even children. “We’re not looking for the elite,” says Harper. The term used on the Harper Gallery website is “approachable art.” Harper herself had never been to an art opening before her own gallery opened in February of last year. The gallery has developed as Harper’s own knowledge of running a gallery developed. Using her skills from a career as a real estate agent, and self-professed “good taste” Harper aims to please.

Work by Clay Hamilton

Work by Clay Hamilton

Her most prominently displayed artist, painter Clay Hamilton, has an entire wall filled with bold and organic paintings treated with a glossy resin surface. The colorful abstract paintings are incredibly popular; “You see the look on people’s faces,” says Harper. “Everyone has a favorite color.”

Harper Gallery shows many artists at all times. When it first opened, it had a more traditional approach of white walls and fewer artworks but it was decided that the work didn’t sell and there wasn’t enough diversity to accommodate a wide range of tastes. Now there are openings in which the gallery is rearranged to spotlight the single artist, but the rest of the work stays up.

During my visit Harper beckoned a man inside who had his face nearly pressed against the glass. “It’s incredible!” he exclaimed once in front of Hamilton’s paintings. The two delved into conversation focused on art and community, an aspect obviously important to the gallery’s mission. The space also hosts a variety of non-art related events such as yoga, workshops for kids, beer night and minglers. It can be used for showers and rehearsals as well.

Work by John Kurtz

Work by John Kurtz

Harper’s goal is to make those who might not usually visit an art gallery or buy a work for their home to feel comfortable viewing art. “I’ve always admired art from outside of a gallery and never felt inclined to walk through the gallery,” Harper said of herself. She hopes to break that barrier for others who feel the same way. In order to reach a wider audience all of the work is priced under 2,000 dollars. The Scarlett Children’s Gallery offers an opportunity for children to try their hand at art collecting, from graffiti-like monster paintings and a mustache plush toy.

Under Harper is a team of interns who plan events and manage the website. Harper wants to give people an opportunity to create businesses under the umbrella of the larger gallery operations. Her commitment to the Chicago community is also evident in the work she sells. She shops locally for artists to show. Almost, if not all the artists shown in the gallery are based in Chicago. And in the back of the gallery an additional room displays a community art show, curated by the interns.

Harper hopes to attract “people looking to decorate their homes or plan an event, or those looking for a gift for a friend or baby shower.”

The gallery is open 1:00pm-7:00pm, Tuesday through Saturday at 1915 South Michigan Avenue (312-617-3456).