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Dragonfly Arts owners share ups and downs after 20 years on Broadway

June 30, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

Martha Pagel and Joan Hope had a vision and 20 years ago, they used the building owned by Ms. Pagel at 189 Broadway to make it happen: Dragonfly Arts, which has survived Covid.

Regulations over the time meant, “honestly, we weren’t closed so much,” as Joan Hope told the Citizen, “There had to be a door to the street. People didn’t think anyone was open during Covid; there was a lot of talk about curb side pick-up but our customers weren’t the kind of people that was going to work for.”

Like other businesses, many other times there were restrictions and they followed all the guidelines, sometimes showing people “this mug or that through the window.”

Helpfully, the shop had really good Christmases.

Ms. Hope noted, “Just the fact that people came, buying little bits here and there. We don’t need much to hang on and we still had very loyal customers. I have to thank our customers for that.”

One customer who was paying for a painting over time, offered to double her payments. A number of customers bought gift certificates.

It is all an indication of the importance of art in people’s lives, how people’s lives are impacted by a meaningful piece to them, the effect that art has on people’s lives.

Printed pictures are copies of someone’s work as opposed to the original and Ms. Hope opined that it is just different to have the piece and look at the brush strokes.

“This is without demeaning anything that comes out of Winners,” she cautioned.

What works is what matters when expressing yourself in what you have in your home. It is not just the painting, the pottery, it is what just feels good in the hand.

“Someone has made that and it has come directly to you from the artist.”

Dragonfly Arts carries jewellery as well, with a list of 20 Canadian jewellery designers. Pretty well every one is original, while there are designers who do production work. Once again it gives people something to show their personality by what they wear.

Twenty years in this spot, Martha Pagel was looking to help the artists in the area. At the time, all they could do was show in a studio tour or go to Toronto but by opening Dragonfly, there was now an opportunity to show all year.

The Window on Broadway, as Ms. Hope calls it, has been a great way of showing work, basically a one-man show. A new artist will take one half and display a large quantity of work which gives a great show opportunity.

Inside the walls are always lined with art. On the brick wall, space can be rented out to artists as a feature wall and on the other walls are artists who have their work in the studios within the shop. Those featured areas change monthly. 

As a background story, Ms. Hope told us, “A long time ago I went to San Francisco and saw a big factory with lots of studios and I realized that’s what I wanted to do, is have several studios so that people could meet the artists and talk to them, with the educational aspect. They always been interested in watching how things are made. We’ve had a jeweller here and people could see how jewellery is made.”

It pleases her that people come to Dragonfly to meet the artists and are amazed that painters can do what they do because most people cannot do that.

Ms. Hope is herself an artist, making jewellery and in the 1980s she was a water colourist but “the business takes a lot of time…”

Retail calls for a balancing act, keeping enough of the favourites and bringing in new things, constantly finding new artists to bring different aspects. Regular customers want both the new and the regulars, was her comment. 

Nowadays, new artists find her but she does go to craft shows and art shows, having just attended The Artists’ Project in Toronto. She used to go to the One-of-a-Kind show.

Back to Covid, we discussed that one really cannot know about [the safety of] indoor shows but one must plan and hope for the best.

“I’m pretty happy with things the way they’re going,” she remarked. “Lots of people say the internet is the way things are going to go and we do Facebook and Instagram. There is some selling that way but we are not likely to do much online.” 

Nothing can compare to the in-person experience. Joan Hope takes a lot of time talking and helping people find the right gift, for example. She can tell people about the process and she takes pride in that. That kind of service is phenomenal.

Yet there is nothing like seeing a painting in real life and finding out what went into the work, rather than something online.

“That’s more important than selling things online,” she said.

There are the variants of such a business as this. People inquire if she can repair a pottery vase or make jewellery repairs.

Keeping the space open to different cultures, telling us, “We used to have an Iranian artist as one of our studio artists for a number of years. If anyone shows an interest, I say please send me your resumé. I just have in the work of a man who is newly arrived to Canada here and is producing wooden cases for pocket knives and key rings.”

During the month of May, Dragonfly did a fundraiser for Ukrainians impacted by the war. From everything in the display at the front of the shop, all the money went to the Ukrainian fundraiser.

For Joan Hope, art is universal and the beauty of the art in the shop brings visitors in. They may contrast and compare to what they are used to seeing but the baseline is the universality of works of art.

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