MYRTLE CREEK — Bonnie Gregory has put her Ye Olde Art Shoppe in Myrtle Creek up for sale and it’s difficult to argue with her logic.
“I’m 90 years old and it’s time to retire,” she said.
Ye Olde Art Shoppe is part art gallery, part framing shop, part art classroom. But it’s also a community hub, with art being the connective tissue. Most of the 30 or so students who come to paint each week are elderly, and the shop gives them an opportunity to connect with other art lovers and get paint under their fingernails.
Quietly, tirelessly, for nearly 20 years, Gregory has made it all happen.
“She’s got a momma’s heart and she loves art,” said Helen Fortner, an artist and instructor at the shop.
Gregory drew some as a child but it wasn’t until she had retired and moved to Oregon that she began painting. A neighbor dragged her to a class and she got hooked. She opened Ye Olde Art Shoppe in 2002 for admittedly selfish reasons.
“The owner died and we didn’t have a place to paint,” she said. “That’s how it started, just because I wanted a place to paint.”
Her niece, Linda Johnson, runs the business side of the store and Gregory handles the art and framework. For a while she had a framing machine but she got rid of it, so now she does the work by hand.
“I just learned how to do it,” she said. “It’s not that hard.”
Besides doodling as a child there is not much in Gregory’s background that would prepare her for owning an art gallery.
She grew up on a dairy farm in El Centro, California, near the Mexican border. After graduating high school she went to work for the telephone company, then got a job as a machinist.
“I loved it,” she said.
She retired in 1977 and with her husband moved to Oregon, settling in Myrtle Creek. She was married 60 years before her husband passed away. She has a son and a daughter, Susie Gregory, who has been helping out at the shop for five years.
The students pay $10 per class and the money goes directly to the instructors. Students come from all over the region, including one from Coos Bay.
Fortner, an artist herself, has known Gregory for 15 years and may be her biggest fan.
“How many people are sole proprietors of a business at the age of 90? She’s amazing,” Fortner said. “I support the gallery any way I can.”
The classes are a mix of art work, social hour and therapy session. Gregory provides food — on a recent day she had chips, pistachios, homemade muffins and drinks.
“It was just something we started doing and now they expect it,” she said of the refreshments.
Linda Novakovich has been attending art classes at the shop for more than a decade.
“As soon as I retired, the next week I was here,” she said. The appeal of the class can be hard to put into words.
“Part of it is the friendships you form,” Novakovich said. “The class is like therapy, there’s a lot of laughter. It’s great. We just hate to see this thing close. I want to keep painting. That’s what we all hope to do.”
Fellow student Ned Van Cott, 92, is a retired engineer who has been coming to art classes at the shop for a decade and has finished more than 100 paintings. He summed up his reason for coming in three words: “‘Cause it’s fun.”
Van Cott is on the giving end of much of that fun. He is known as the class prankster. Classmates still talk about the time he gathered them all for a group photo then pulled out an antique camera adorned with a half-dozen miniature mouse dolls and a tiny flashlight, to the delight of the class.
“Bonnie is such a nice person. I’m sorry she’s closing,” he said.
Gregory turned 90 on Sept. 30. Time to hand over the reins to a new owner, she figures. A few weeks ago, with the help of her daughter, the shop posted the following note on Facebook:
- Existing business owner is turning 90 this year and ready to retire!
- Owner does not want to shut the doors, she wants to have someone replace her and love art and framing as much as she does
- Owner will train if needed
- Art classes are currently taught on site year around
- Owner had the shop as a hobby and painted herself
- Seller will look at all reasonable offers
LAST DAY DECEMBER 6, 2019. Come soon, First Come, First Served
Gregory said a real estate agent listed the business for sale for a while, but there has been scant interest.
Fortner said she plans to hold classes in the garage of her Canyonville home for the time being. But she still holds out hope that an owner — someone special — will step forward.
“Running a gallery like this takes heart and anyone who buys this needs heart,” she said. “Art is just your heart talking.”
Gregory also said she hopes someone will keep what she created at Ye Olde Art Shoppe going.
“It’s been fun. I have mixed feelings about retiring, but it’s time,” she said. “I just want a place that artists can go. It’s kind of like family here.”