Between the Powderhouse rotary and McGrath Highway in Somerville MA is an eclectic strip of stores and restaurants frequented by Tufts students and neighbors. Ball Square is a round peg in a square hole. It’s a locale you probably wouldn’t go to unless you had the insider scoop….. brunch at Sound Bites or cakes from Lyndell’s.
I’ve spent a bit of time in Ball Square because my best friend lives there, the Nave Gallery is nearby and it’s where Blue Cloud Gallery is located, at 713 Broadway, on a busy thoroughfare next to a coffee shop and across from 2 excellent eateries. It is run by one of the sweetest most supportive people you will ever meet.
The first time I hung out with Betsy Lenora was at the Trash Bash in Union Square where I was displaying my Hacker Creations. Betsy was set up next to me selling “Memory Stick Men”, little figures made from old computer RAM and pipe cleaners. Having the recycled technology in common, I struck up a conversation only to learn it was the work of an artist she features in her gallery. That is the kind of dedication and generosity Betsy is known for.
Betsy gives emerging artists a break and often says things like “You are under valuing your work! You should charge more!” Last Spring, Betsy hosted a wine tasting event to encourage business during the post holiday slump. She invited 6 of us to demonstrate our craft in the already packed to the gills shop.
Interview with Betsy Lenora of Blue Cloud Gift Gallery
How did you come to be running Blue Cloud Gallery? A long, long time ago…I met and made friends with BCG’s original owner, Patricia Wellenkamp. I was working at the time at Cambridge Artists’ Cooperative, the award-winning craft gallery in Harvard SQ on Church St. I worked there for a total of 15 years, 7 of which were as manager. In the economic downturn, I was laid off. Patricia helped me out by hiring me to work one day a week, a situation that lasted about a year. She then informed me she was closing Blue Cloud Gallery and offered to sell it to me. In April of 2011, I became the proud new owner just in time as my unemployment was running out! It has been a dream come true as I love supporting the artists and helping customers. I have always thought of myself as a facilitator.
How do you find, choose, the work you sell? At last count, there is work by 140 artists in the gallery. Most of them are local (meaning the Metro-Boston area). A handful are either from New England or states further away. When I first started, I asked many of the artists I knew from the Cambridge Artists’ Cooperative since I had a relationship with them. I then put out a Call for Artwork via the Somerville Arts Council and got quite a few that way. Since then, I get the majority of new work from being contacted directly by artists. I choose the work based on 3 criteria: uniqueness, quality of workmanship and do I think it will be a good match for my store – for my customers.
What sells the best? Jewelry – specifically earrings – and pottery – specifically mugs. And cards! I have the largest selection of locally made cards than anywhere else that I know of. Half the people who come in my store come to buy cards.
Who shops at Blue Cloud Gallery? I am supported primarily by the neighborhood that’s around my store, which is made up of young professionals, families, some students (from Tufts) and older women who appreciate creativity.
Will you share a story that occurred at the gallery? There are several heart-touching stories involving children in my store. Yesterday, a little girl I’d guess around 5 years old came back in with her father and went directly to a little fabric mouse living in a fabric ‘can of pumpkin’ and holding a tiny broom; she had her heart set on giving this to her mother, her dad said. (They had been in the store briefly the day before.) While dad starts to pay, little girl pipes up loud and clear that her birthday was April 12th (3 days hence). Hmmmm. She was so cute – wearing a long, white multi-ruffled layered dress that she opened her coat to show me. I have another customer with a young daughter who’s been coming in since she was 3; every time they buy a finger puppet for mom who must have 20 or more by now!
Anything else you would like to add? The world of art and craft is not an easy one to survive in. As an artist, one needs to be talented and skilled at their craft AND be skilled at marketing their craft. It is my mission to support artists in what they do by presenting their work the best I can, marketing my store the best I can. Customers, artists and sellers are in this together; I believe we can support each other in making local, selling local and buying local!
For complete article with photos, go to: http://bostonartmakers.org/2015/07/10/blue-cloud-gift-gallery-ball-square-somerville-usa/
Thanks for writing such a good article, Melissa! It’s not a bad thing to toot one’s horn once in awhile.
Fondly yours, Betsy