Artwork pairs well with coffee, wine and song

Kayla Saager removes one of her photographs from the wall after the conclusion of a two-week exhibit Wednesday night at Coffee Perk on First Avenue in downtown Walla Walla.  Increasingly in Walla Walla, artists are using coffee houses and wineries as display venues to expose their work instead of traditional art galleries.

Kayla Saager removes one of her photographs from the wall after the conclusion of a two-week exhibit Wednesday night at Coffee Perk on First Avenue in downtown Walla Walla. Increasingly in Walla Walla, artists are using coffee houses and wineries as display venues to expose their work instead of traditional art galleries. Photo by Jeff Horner.

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WALLA WALLA — To customers, it’s a nice diversion, something to gaze at while savoring a custom-roast coffee. An intriguing view as they wait for their sandwich to arrive.

Maybe an unexpected shopping moment.

For artists like Kayla Saager and Emily Pryor, however, those restaurant, coffee shop and winery walls are prime real estate, made more attractive by a lack of accessible local art galleries.

Around Walla Walla numerous food-service establishments offer painters, photographers, sculptors and others space to display their work for weeks or months, some taking a commission on any sales as compensation. Others see it as a benefit for both sides.

At Coffee Perk on First Avenue, showcasing local artists began with a desire to change up the shop’s look every month, said owner Kendra Bennett. While that was too many years ago to recall, Bennett said she knows she started with hanging Walla Walla University students’ art.

Those artists, some of whom she employed, told their friends and eventually Bennett had to limit exhibits to two weeks, with few exceptions.

“The demand is high,” she said. “There are a lot of people who create art at home that wouldn’t be able to show their work any other way.”

Like Saager, 23, who took down her second public exhibit from the walls of Coffee Perk on Wednesday after a two-week stint. While she sold a few pieces at her first show at Marcy’s Bar & Lounge, it’s not why she hangs the images of places she’s traveled and of tools her great-grandfather used in the cobbler’s trade, such as the ball peen hammer and wooden shoe stretchers that bear the hand print of the man who opened the store 100 years ago.

“I’m part of this and this makes up part of me,” she said.

It’s when people respond to the emotion of the artist they are most likely to impulsively buy a piece at a coffee house or restaurant, Bennett said.

“It’s spur of the moment,” she explained, “its speaking to their heart. If they have time to go home and think about it, they might not buy it.”

Pryor, 16, said she is not yet concerned with making a profit. The high school student’s first photography exhibit went up at Walla Walla Roastery at the beginning of the month and she’s is grateful for the venue.

“I just want to get my name in the photography world, because that’s what I really want to do in the future. Starting locally seemed like a good idea.”

Her exhibit of nine works draws from nature, Pryor said. “It’s important to choose carefully what you hang, it’s how you build your reputation. What people are going to view you as.”

Customers at Sapolil Cellars tasting room and performance venue on Main Street appreciate the local flavor art shows bring, said winemaker Abigail Schwerin. “We have people come in for performances and they oftentimes like to look around the room at the art.”

The business changes things out every three months, bringing in different looks and charge 30 to 40 percent commission on any sales, she said. “We treat it like a gallery.”

The tasting room enjoys a high level of tourist and local traffic, Schwerin added. “We think it is a good avenue for artists to reach customers.”

It might not be the purest setting for an art show, but Waitsburg painter Martha Mason said she finds the quasi-galleries offered in this Valley a good fit for the art doers and viewers.

“It’s practical and you’re never sure if something interesting will come out of it,” she said. “You have to promote you show. You have to let people know.”

Mason taught art at Walla Walla University for 17 years, retiring in May.

The know-how to have commercial success is not discussed much at the university level by educators, she said. “But we probably should.”

For Saager, the paycheck comes from appreciative feedback from coffee drinkers and others. “It motivates me to continue to take photographs,” she said.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

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