When it comes to describing The Gallery on 1st in Montevideo, words are inadequate. You need to see it to believe it and need to experience firsthand stepping into the shop and being greeted not only by Bob Christensen, the shop’s owner, and Ruth Walter, owner of Sewing Creations and Alterations by Ruth, but also the Gallery cats, Shadow and Alley.
Those cats are the PR guys for the Gallery. They make sure they greet every customer that walks through the door. They’re a big attraction in the Gallery, and some people come in just to see them.
The business is something to see. It reflects the creativeness of its owners, and everything that’s done in the shop is very personal, from the hair cutting at Bob’s Olde Tyme Barber Shoppe, to Walter’s quilting and Sewing Creations and Alterations. “It’s really a unique business all the way around.”
The Gallery itself actually houses three businesses, one of which is the old fashioned barbershop. Christensen purchased a shop in Montevideo because he wanted to work in a small town to stay kind of close to his farming roots. He ran that barbershop for 19 years, then when the building he’s now in came up for sale in 1985, he and another individual purchased it, renovated it, and a year later, Christensen became the sole owner. He said the idea of purchasing that building was to furnish space for small businesses who probably could not afford to rent a large amount of space.
In addition to his barbershop, he started in the custom picture framing business. “Business grew quite fast for several years, and then leveled off, and eventually, he went into more woodworking.
“Quite often I’ve taken these aerial photos people have done on their farms, and if it’s an old photo that shows all the buildings, I’ll take the siding off one of their buildings and frame their photo in that, and people really enjoy that.”
Framing is interesting because of the number of things you come across, he said, noting they frame a lot of needlework, photographs, and a certain amount of quilt square framing.
He also builds clocks, has done some cabinetry, a desk, and shadow boxes; he’s framed a lot of baptismal gowns, wedding items, and military memorabilia. He’s framed etched door glass, making it so you can see it from both sides, and he does multiangle framing, which lends itself well to the popular name doilies.
He frames sports memorabilia, a lot of doilies, and when he frames the doilies he includes a picture of the person who created the doilie, along with her thimble. “We do huge needlework framing, fishing lures, my old barber memorabilia when I first started barbering. There is so much stuff, every item equally treasured.”
Right now he’s doing some renovations of old sewing machines. “I’ve built four or five of them, put new tops on them, make them into tables, benches, whatever.
He’s also done a lot of framing for wildlife artist James A. Meger from Minneota. “He’s the one who got me going on barnwood. He loved barnwood, so I did a lot of framing for him.”
In addition to the barbershop and framing business, there is a sewing creations/alterations shop owned by Walter, who just finished her first month in business. She does basic alterations, hemming, taking out pants and mending. She also makes purses, and blankets called “Wrapped With Love.’ When your loved one passes away, she said, instead of throwing their clothes out, or giving them away, she cuts them up and makes them into a blanket. “It’s kind of like a throw for the couch. When you’re feeling low and you’re missing them, you take the blanket and cuddle with it.” Walter said she lost her son eight years ago and that blanket is special to her. “Nobody touches my blanket.” She even incorporates their picture, or whatever, into that blanket. “I scan the picture and print it off on material ,and I can put that on the blanket, or like with my son, I’ve also got his truck and his motorcycle on it.
Walter said she makes a lot of blankets and does a lot of quilting. “Almost everybody in my family has quilts. At Christmastime, I make quilts, and whoever gets that package, it’s theirs.” She said her grandkids all have blankets. She also does some embroidery so with the younger ones she puts their names on their blankets to personalize them. “I knit, crochet, do cross-stitch, just do a lot of different things, but my Wrapped With Love blankets are really the ones I want to promote.”
She’s also had a couple of customers who wanted pocket bags for their mom’s walker. Walter put her creative mind to work and designed a couple of different ones and is now ready to start selling them. “Those would be a really nice Christmas gift for an elderly person that uses a walker that doesn’t really need anything but could use a bag to carry their mail, wallet, whatever they need, so they can use their hands to walk with the walker.” The bags she makes are washable, and instead of ties, they’re Velcroed shut. There are pockets on both sides, front and back and on one side she puts a Velcro closure where they can safely carry a wallet or money. “That’s one of my big things I’m trying to push for Christmas presents.”
She makes it all in her shop where she has all her sewing goods and material. She picks and chooses the material, but if someone has something special they want made and have the material, they can bring that in, and she will make it. “Otherwise you pick what I have made or material I already have here. Everything is kind of unique. I only buy a couple yards of each material, I don’t make a lot of the same thing, so nothing is mass produced.” It’s pretty much all handmade, she said, plus she helps Christensen with his framing work when she’s not busy.
“I’ll give him a hand, or go help him pull barns apart. We make an evening or weekend and go pull barns apart. If my husband is available he’ll come help. He’s a tractor mechanic, and he’s not around too often.”
Christensen said what’s nice about the framing business is that quite often people rely on him to design things for them, put colors together, put frames together and what have you. There are several ways of doing it, he said, but you have to take into consideration what will look best in that person’s home. “That’s what custom framing is all about; it’s got to be incorporated into their home décor.” He said it helps a lot to have a second set of eyes looking at things. “We have different tastes, but they kind of meld together,” said Walter, “and between us two we kind of get in-between what the customer likes so it’s nice to do it that way.” Christensen said he doesn’t like mass-produced things, and that’s why it’s so nice to do custom framing.
He believes in putting a lot of thought into his framework. He doesn’t like to just frame a print; he likes to make his framework memorable. “I would much rather frame a piece of needlework or some kind of memorabilia or something somebody had actually put some thought into and a little bit of effort into it.
Again, their cats are top dog at the shop. The hair stylist that used to be there – her customers stop by to see the cats because they miss them. They use the cats, Shadow and Alley, in many of their ads. Rather than just a plain ad, they talk about the Gallery cats. “We do the first person narrative of what we’re selling, what have you. Some of them are comical as all get out.” Customers have many times commented that if there is reincarnation, they would like to come back as a Gallery cat.”