True underground art: Collective forms in hotel basement

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Those looking for a connection to area artists now have a new off-the-beaten-track alternative with a small alliance of craftspeople who have begun operating a collective out of the basement of a downtown hotel.

“We are giving people a little Main Street below street level,” said Ron Myhre, who operates a small shop as part of what is now called the Artist Collective at the Bishop Victorian Hotel, 714 Washington St.

“Mom-and-pop stores are going by the wayside, and we thought we’d try to get some of it back,” he said.

Myhre said the impetus for the collective came from Bishop owner Joe Finnie out of a desire to provide artistic variety downtown.

Currently, five businesses operate out of the basement, with room for one or two more.

“We will have a captive audience during the season because the hotel is upstairs, but for most people, this will be a place you have to discover.”

Myhre operates the Curator’s Eye, a 72-square-foot shop stuffed with knickknacks from around the world.

He is sharing the space with Touch of Health Massage, owned by his daughter, Arianne Myhre; Mac’s Macaroons Dog Treats, owned by Kathy Stanger; Marlene Newman’s Marlena D. Custom Jewelry; and Don Itterley’s The Past Remembered.

Newman said the idea was inspired by memories of when several artists had shops in the Mount Baker Block Building on Taylor Street, which became a social and commercial center for craftspeople.

“It’s harking back to another time,” Myhre said of the collective.

“It’s an opportunity for people to visit a shop where the work is done, and they can watch people create.”

Newman said Port Townsend has managed to keep chain stores out of town to its own financial detriment, but that’s not a bad thing.

“People kept the chain stores out because they didn’t want to look like every other town, but that meant we lost a lot of income to Sequim,” which has several big-box stores, she said.

“But Port Townsend has decided what it wants to be. With the cracked sidewalks and no tax dollars, it’s the price you pay for wanting to stay a small, historic town.”

Hours for the collective are not set in stone and are by appointment, though Myhre has committed to being in the shop from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays through Sundays.

This is up in the air because it depends on who has dropped in to chat, seated at a large wooden table situated outside the shop.

“This is a place for great stories,” he said of the table.

“It is where many tall tales will be told.”

The collective hopes to spread the word about its existence and plans to participate in the Feb. 2 Port Townsend Art Walk.

“Port Townsend has a lot of different characters with varied and unique backgrounds, which you never know about until you talk to them,” Newman said.

“It’s otherworldly. There is a little bit of everything from everywhere.

“Our little collective is just a small group of people doing what they love to do and hoping that other people may have some interest in it also.”

It’s not about the money, Myhre said.

“It’s all about creating a lifestyle for yourself.”

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Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 22. 2012 7:12PM
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