By Jenny Neyman
“I hate drop ceilings with every fiber of my being,” said Zirrus VanDevere, known to many as Marty, the owner of Art Works gallery in Soldotna.
Sixteen years working under those oppressive ceilings is enough. VanDevere is moving Art Works up the Kenai Spur Highway to the Mooring Plaza, which houses Odie’s Deli, the Tikahtnu Gallery and Ron Moore Real Estate office. The gallery will have a grand opening the next First Thursday, May 7, in conjunction with an opening reception for Pat Lytle’s show of paintings and mixed-media work.
VanDevere said that Linda McClain, who used to own Mooring Plaza, mentioned a vacant warehouse space in the plaza on the side of the building around the corner from the real estate office that had been rented as storage space.
“We thought it would be great to be neighbors. It’s a really funky little space, very industrial on the ceiling, which I’m going to retain a lot of the funkiness. It makes me think of a lot of New York galleries with refurbished industrial spaces,” she said.
The space is about 1,400 square feet, which is similar to Art Works’ current home in the strip mall next to Mykel’s. The new space is already segmented, with a hallway, bathroom and inside room that can be used for an originals exhibition gallery. But it’s got more storage space and parking than the previous location, and the high ceiling — oh, that vaulted, exposed-beam ceiling.
“I’m pretty excited about it,” VanDevere said.
She’s been dreaming of a space like that for years. VanDevere first started working in Art Works’ old home in 1992, when it was Frontier Frame Gallery owned by Jodine and Ed Warfle. She bought the gallery in 2001 and expanded the business to carry local, original artwork. When she bought the building, her intention was to tear it down and turn it into a two-story, post-and-beam, high-ceiling gallery space.
“But lenders really don’t like you to tear down buildings. That’s a tough one to get around,” VanDevere said.
In 2006, she sold the building, moved the frame shop portion of it to her home and reduced her hours somewhat to spend more time at home with her ailing mother, whom VanDevere brought up from New York.
“She was a lot better off than she would have been in a nursing home, so I have absolutely no regrets,” VanDevere said.
Being free of owning the building means she’s free to finally move, which she said is a good thing.
“I never actually really liked this building. I feel I did what I could with it to make it a comfortable, aesthetic gallery space, but it’s really limited because of the drop ceiling,” she said.
Once Art Works moves out, the building’s current owner, Alice Paulson, who owns Mykel’s, the Soldotna Inn and the apartments behind it, said she plans to renovate the space, like she did the other two units when they changed occupants. She expects renovations will take about a month, at which point the space will be ready to rent out again.
“I want it to kind of work with the hotel and restaurant, and the hair salon worked fine, the chiropractor and massage worked fine,” Paulson said. “Something that blends with other ones. Other than that I’m kind of open. There’s nothing pre-planned for it.”
Paulson had a freestanding roof put on the building about two years ago, so interior walls can be reconfigured if need be. She’s also put in new windows, redid the parking lot, added landscaping and plans to add benches and other little touches.
Having Art Works move is a chance to finish renovating the building, but Paulson said it will be a big change to adjust to.
“We wish Marty a ton of good fortune and we’re going to miss her. It’s great she’ll still be around so we can go shop with her,” Paulson said. “I’ve always called it the Art Works building, even though it’s been mine. It will be weird to have to come up with a new name for it.”
Art Works will be closed a week preceding the First Thursday event May 7, but VanDevere said she’ll have her phone number posted on the door of her old location so customers can contact her if they wish to pick up their orders.