For artist Karen Schulte, what began as a fun hobby has become a part-time job doing what she loves. Schulte rang in 2015 by officially becoming the newest business partner at Artistica Gallery in downtown Dexter on New Year’s Day. Artistica is comprised entirely of art pieces crafted by Michigan artists. The gallery, marked by the red door next to the village clock, has been located at the corner of Main and Broad Street for nearly seven years.
“I’ve been a loyal customer since the beginning of the store,” Schulte said in a Jan. 15 interview with We Love Dexter staff. “I live in Ann Arbor, so I would come to Artistica maybe six or eight times a year and browse and buy. I love the store. So now, I’m just as happy as can be.”
Schulte said she wasn’t planning on becoming a business partner, but a note in an Artistica newsletter seeking a business partner and mosaic artist piqued her interest.
“Becoming a partner here happened very quickly,” Schulte said. “I was not intending to do this at this point in my life. I think you just kind of stumble into life that way and I stumbled into this. I feel just amazingly lucky to be here.”
Artistica’s business model is designed for partners to come and go over time. There are currently four artists who own and run Artistica.
The three other business partners at Artistica are Pam O’Hara, Anne Kornow and Susan Davis, who specialize in high fire stoneware pottery, jewelry and fabric artwork, respectively.
Schulte said each business partner works one day a week at the store, and one Saturday per month.
“It’s not a big time commitment in the store,” Schulte said. “The real time commitment is that you really want to have a lot of things to bring into the store to sell, so there’s a lot of work that goes on at home in our workshops to develop the art to bring in to sell.”
Schulte’s primary specialties are making her own stained-glass pieces and mosaic tile works. Handcrafted stained-glass window ornaments, mosaic jewelry boxes, bird houses and wall art fill one of the walls in Artistica. Schulte said she also is starting to explore knitting.
Schulte said she first discovered her love of making mosaic artwork about 10 years ago, when she took a community education and recreation class on a whim.
“I started doubling up my classes and then came home and said to my husband, ‘I have to have a workshop at home. I need space to work,'” Schulte said. “About a year later, I took a stained glass class and loved that too.”
Schulte then outfitted her basement workshop in her home so she could work on both stained glass and mosaic tile projects. Schulte said the two hobbies are taking over her basement.
“I don’t know what it is about the medium, but I love it,” Schulte said.
Like any skill, it takes lots of persistence to correctly make stained-glass pieces and mosaic works of art.
“It teaches you patience,” Schulte said. “You have to cut the glass so it fits just perfectly. On pieces that have angles or circles, that really takes a lot of time to get it cut so that it really fits perfectly. If you don’t do that, you’ll have gaps that you’ll see in the finished project.”
Schulte said a second difficult aspect of making stained-glass pieces is the lead soldering process.
“You use a lead foil around the glass pieces and then you use lead soldering,” Schulte said. “It takes a lot of practice to get a smooth solder line.”
According to Schulte, stained-glass and mosaic tile artists often try to have a large supply of different colored and textured glass on hand at all times.
“Part of working with stained glass or working with mosaics is that it’s a pretty expensive undertaking initially, because you want to develop a big inventory of materials at home,” Schulte said. “So, when you’re working on a piece and you know, ‘Oh, I want a piece of dark red glass right there,’ you’ve got it somewhere. You just start finding inexpensive places to buy glass.”
Schulte has worked as a teacher for decades, retiring from K-12 teaching 11 years ago. Schulte started her career as a high school teacher in the Chelsea School District. She then worked for the Washtenaw Intermediate School District and later for Ann Arbor Public Schools.
In addition to working at Artistica, Schulte is also an associate professor of special education at Eastern Michigan University’s College of Education in Ypsilanti.
Ever since Schulte turned 30, she has taken up one new skill each year. Schulte said she has tried beginning ballet and playing piano. While ballet didn’t work out, she still plays the piano every day.
“But, that’s how I stumbled into the mosaics and the stained glass,” Schulte said. “It was just by chance — taking a class and then discovering from both of those (classes) just how much I love them.”
Artistica is currently the only location where Schulte’s works of art are for sale.
Winter store hours are Tuesday–Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Artistica is closed on Sundays and Mondays during the winter.
Artistica showcases one artist whose works are in the store with a 5–8 p.m. reception on the fourth Friday of every month, except in January and May.
Artistica Gallery is located at 3203 Broad St. in downtown Dexter.