by OLIVIA DORFMAN
When By Hand Gallery celebrates 40 years of offering downtown Bloomington shoppers original, handcrafted art, the festivities will include demonstrations in stone carving, scarf tying, and pottery making. And there’s a good chance there will be cake to mark the occasion. “I’m sure we’ll have cake,” says Linda Knudsen, 64, an artist who hand-dyes silk scarves and one of 12 individuals who owns the cooperative gallery, located at 101 W. Kirkwood inside Fountain Square Mall. The festivities will be held September 21.
Started in 1979, By Hand’s eclectic group of owner/artists today includes potters, jewelry makers, fiber artists, glass artists, limestone carvers, blacksmiths, knitters, and weavers. From its beginning, the gallery has provided artists with a venue for their work and, just as importantly, creative collaborators and friends. “Our kids have grown up together,” notes goldsmith Marian Vorgang-Forney, 70. “Our grandkids are friends.” She and her husband, Jack Forney, 69, have been part of the co-op for 38 years.
Many of By Hand’s members were drawn to Bloomington because of Indiana University—to study, teach, or as a trailing spouse—then detoured into the arts. “It’s basically a calling,” says Lee Cohn. Originally from Chicago, the former psychology student is a silver- and goldsmith. British-born member Ruth Conway, 76, a member of the co-op for 35 years, trained as a nurse, but says she “took a class in clay and thought, ‘This is it!’”
Suzanne Halvorson, 67, is originally from Kalamazoo, Michigan. She came to Bloomington to set up a studio and teach. She and Cohn are the only original members still active in the cooperative.
The owners meet monthly to manage the operation, accepting about one in four of the consignment artists who apply to show their work in the shop. Consigners include renowned printmaker Rudy Pozzatti and sculptor Dale Enochs. The gallery currently displays work by 85 artists, many of them local.
Stable membership over the years means the group is aging. The newest member is limestone carver Sidney Bolam, 36, who joined in October 2018.
“We need to generate interest for the next generation,” Halvorson adds. “We want a younger clientele as well.”
For more information and a schedule of events, visit byhandgallery.com.