November 8, 2010
As patrons pinch pennies —
Artists struggle to make a living
Essentials like food and gas win out over artistic creations in slow economy
SCOTT — Local artist Edward Mahler has found it a lot tougher to sell his work, amid the economic downturn.
His business making metal signs and other creations took a “nosedive” when gas prices rose to $4 a gallon a couple of years ago.
“Do you want to have gas in the car or a piece of artwork that momentarily will make you say ‘wow,’” Mahler said of the economic choice.
But as people cut back, artists in Cortland County have continued to create, saying their drive remains undiminished.
Like Mahler, Cortlandville painter Grace Hedlund said she has sold less of her work the past couple of years.
Hedlund, who is now disabled, said she often paints landscapes from memory. She has had to lower the cost of her paintings and has found that people are now more often buying smaller paintings rather than larger ones.
But Hedlund is undeterred by the decreased demand.
“I’ll keep painting because I have to. It’s just something I have to do, whether it sells or not,” she said, adding that she has growing stacks of paintings in her home.
Mahler makes signs and decorative shelves at his gallery on West Scott Road for businesses or as personal gifts.
He does extensive custom work on cars, and his designs adorn the bike racks in downtown Cortland.
Business has been very sporadic in recent years, he said, and he is constantly looking for new ways to ply his trade.
“You have got to be very creative with it,” Mahler said, adding for example one area that he is expanding into is creating a metal silhouette of a person’s favorite tattoo, to be displayed at home.
Mahler, who uses a robotic plasma cutter to form sheets of steel into picturesque nature scenes, continues to create new pieces of art because he enjoys the challenge.
McGraw artist Allen Phillips, who specializes in oil and acrylic portraits, said he has noticed the decline in art sales appears to be regional.
“We do a lot of shows outside of the state and we had a big show down in ... Annapolis (Md.) ... and we had the best sales we ever had,” Phillips said of a recent trip he and his wife, Lyla, took.
Lyla Phillips makes Victorian-style clothing.
The Phillipses think Cortland County is at a disadvantage because there are not as many people who are educated about art in the area.
David Beale, executive director of the Cultural Council of Cortland County, said now is a bad time for artists to try to break into the field.
“Artists who are inexperienced at selling usually go into it thinking they are going to be really successful at it and it really takes a lot of hard work and tenacity to start making any kind of income at selling art,” Beale said, adding that new artists may get easily discouraged by lack of sales.
For the artist who is already established, Beale said, these times are not as challenging.
Beale said he would advise artists not to give up. He also advises them to talk to more experienced artists to find out what works.
“To make a living just on artwork is really hard, it’s tough,” Beale said.
But for artists like Mahler, who create for a hobby with the hope of making some money, the real reward lies in the end result.
Pointing to a slab of steel, Mahler traced with his hands the final design.
“This is a messed up sheet that is going to be a gorgeous blacksmith sign by the end of the week,” Mahler said.
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