Beautiful and intriguing artwork, crafts and architecture serve as formidable distractions on the way to Wendie Garber's office. The front entrance alone can keep you a few minutes as you look through fliers for local artists and events.
A rectangular winding staircase leads to the second floor, where two front rooms, lined with an eclectic mix of expensive and affordable paintings, prints and drawings, and handmade jewelry, lead the way to Garber. She sits at a computer in her back office, tucked away and surrounded by piles of art, papers and boxes.
A colorful "30-minute" painting by Jessica Miller of Garber's face draws your attention more than the real woman sitting in front of you, who is most likely offering an enthusiastic and friendly greeting.
Garber has been the gallery director of the Flat Iron Gallery in Peekskill's Flat Iron building, owned by Matt Kelly and Teresa Ahlstrand, for the last 16 years. The gallery and six artist studios fill the second and third floor of the trademark building, which houses the Peekskill Coffee House on the first floor.
Like artists nation-wide, Garber and the building’s artists had to make changes because of the recession, but they have survived essentially unscathed, Garber said. Establishing community, learning about social media, smart business decisions and optimism helped Garber and the gallery sustain their success and evolve into a 21st Century organization.
“If you become a grouch it is not going to work out,” Garber said, emphasizing the importance of a positive attitude. While optimism helped, Garber knew she needed to make smart business decisions to carry the gallery and its artists through the recession. One of those decisions was to learn how to use the Internet for business. The gallery director explained she “would not have survived” if she had not become Internet savvy.
Since she started utilizing LinkedIn, Constant Contact and Facebook, Garber says she has seen a difference. The Internet allows her to easily keep in touch with clients, customers and artists and she appreciates the interconnectedness it offers.
“Social media is important for businesses because it is a relatively inexpensive form of communication,” Director Deb Milone said of the marketing classes, similar to ones Garber participated in at the Chamber.
“In this day and age when budgets are so tight, if you can effectively work social media your message organically grows. So it is viewed by hundreds of people and a lot of times it is viewed by people outside of your own group.”
For Garber, if she had not kept up with technology she would have failed, she said. But in addition to staying business savvy, Garber also continued to cultivate a sense of community within the city’s Flat Iron building, and to take part in the larger community within Peekskill and the Hudson Valley. She also works with quality artists who have decades of experience selling art and adjusting to the market.
Pliskin transitioned from traditional painting to silk painting several years ago and has sold more than 80 paintings, some of which cost thousands of dollars, out of the Flat Iron. Over the last few years, she has been selling less of the larger, more expensive artwork, and more prints of the larger paintings for about $350.
Nadine Gordon-Taylor, whose studio is caddy corner to Pliskin’s, has two series displayed - her more traditional Shadow Series paintings and her more intuitive symbolic prints that she started selling seriously two years ago.
“I try to make art that everyone can afford,” Gordon-Talyor explained showing her $5 postcards, which are prints of paintings priced at 100 times that much. The artist, who lives in Cortlandt Manor and works as a teacher in Scarsdale, creates paintings with significant symbols like ladybugs, flowers and eyes and includes a description of what the symbols mean with the artwork
“I found that people need something to help give them meaning. It brings beauty and balance into life and makes people feel peaceful.”
Gordon-Taylor, a trained fine artist, had never thought she would be displaying her work at art and craft fairs, but she has been asked to show at some and found the experience to be worthwhile in this economy.
Both Pliskin and Gordon-Taylor have had work displayed in the Katonah Museum and are award winning artists. The Flat Iron’s Anne Johann is also an award-winning artist whose work has been purchased and is on display in the lobby of the
“The people who land here are pleasantly surprised,” Garber said of visitors.
Artist Lavinia Wiggins, whose studio is filled with her mixed media pieces and landscapes of local areas, explained that there is “never a dull moment here.”
On a late Sunday afternoon the Flat Iron felt like a sanctuary, with each artist in her studio calmly closing up shop for the day with a smile on her face. Although many have day jobs and keep non-regular hours at their studios, Garber is in almost every afternoon and by appointment and will gladly show any visitor what the artists have to offer.
“This is a great thing. It is a little community,” Garber said of the Flat Iron. After she shows a visitor Pliskin’s silk paintings, Gordon-Taylor’s symbolic prints or Wiggins mixed media, she will direct them to local restaurants and stores, urging them to explore Peekskill.
“I don’t make this up. We work together we are very friendly neighbors. It is a wonderful thing. We send customers to each other. It is a win-win for everyone.”
Other artists who have studios at the Flat Iron building are Brook Maher and Bob Pliskin.
Visit Thursday through Sundays after 12 p.m. until 6 p.m. and by appointment.
Editor's Note: The article has been corrected to reflect that the Flat Iron Gallery is a for profit gallery.