By Ross Boissoneau
It’s the end of an era, a half-century of fine art and folk art, painting and sculpture, collage and furniture, any number of artistic endeavors. Sally Viskochil has decided it’s time to close the doors at Tamarack Gallery in Omena, which she and her late husband David opened in 1976 after moving from its original location outside Cedar.
Tamarack will close permanently on Oct. 31. The gallery plans to host a closing party on Saturday, Oct. 28 from 10 am until 5 pm.
“It’s time,” she says simply.
Perhaps surprisingly, Viskochil says coming to a decision about closing the gallery was fairly easy. “It was something about hitting 80 and looking ahead,” she says. She says she had been toying with the decision for a while, and finally made the decision in July.
When she decided to walk away from the gallery she’d owned and operated for 51 years, she saw three options: She could close it, sell it or hand it over to someone else to run. She rather quickly eliminated the second and third. “I just wanted it to be over with. I didn’t want someone else to buy it.”
She anticipates it will eventually become home to something else, though that won’t be up to her. “What it can’t be is anything where food is,” she says, as the septic tank wouldn’t meet health code regulations.
She’s in no hurry. “I’ve had a lot of people interested. I’ve put it off because I don’t have to make a decision (now).”
Tamarack started when two out-of-work people with arts backgrounds needed a job. They’d left the Peace Corps and were visiting friends in Chicago when their car was broken into and all their belongings were stolen. They moved back to their hometown of Traverse City, and Sally says they just decided to do what they knew.
So, art. But where? They found a building near Sugarloaf Resort they could make work as a gallery, and they leased it for a dollar a year (it later became Sugarfoot Saloon). Four years in, they found out that a building in Omena was for sale. “There was the Harbor Bar, the corner store and a big empty building. Everyone thought we were crazy. We made it work,” she says. “David and I built it from nothing and ended up doing well.”
And not just for themselves. What began as a small crafts gallery featuring ten artists steadily grew into a fine art, crafts, outsider, and folk art gallery that helped build and sustain the art careers of numerous artists over the course of Tamarack’s long history. Over the 51 years of its existence, Viskochil estimates the gallery has represented 90 to 100 or more artists from across the country. Typically, the gallery has shown works by around 40 artists.
One who has had nearly a constant presence is Glenn Wolff. The Traverse City native who currently heads the art department at Northwestern Michigan College worked and lived for several years in New York City before returning to the area. “Tamarack has accepted whatever I’ve been working on,” he says. That includes illustrations, prints from illustrations, mixed media. “It’s a great place to try new things. David and Sally have been great friends.”
Viskochil says sometimes artists interested in having their work at the gallery would contact her via phone or email, and perhaps even send her images of their work. Other times they’d simply show up at Tamarack. “They walk in, say, ‘I’m an artist.’ They’ve done that. I’ll come out and take a look at (their art). If I like it and can sell it, then possibly (take it).”
Viskochil says one prerequisite for an artist to show at Tamarack was exclusivity. “Not for the world, but for this area. The worst is to be in many galleries in a small area,” she says, which dilutes the appeal of both the gallery and the artist.
One thing that won’t happen is any kind of “Going out of business” sale. “I would never do that,” Viskochil says. “A lot of it (the art) is consignment. The artists set the price. I wouldn’t drive down the value of the work.”
While it may be time for her to bid a fond adieu, the closure will leave a hole in the area’s arts community and in Omena. The knowledge that the gallery is closing has prompted many to visit and recall past purchases, and in some cases make new ones. A couple came in and told her, “We don’t buy a lot of art but love coming here.” They were longtime customers. They decided to buy a mug, but before leaving ended up with two paintings as well. “He said, ‘It’s my last chance. I better do it now. I can’t put it off.’ People have been coming in to say how long they’ve been customers.”