Spokane Journal of Business

Sharing a love of art

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Sharing a love of art
-—Staff photo by Chey Scott
Owner Sue Bradley says she wants to make art accessible to everyone through her gallery and this new children's bookstore.

Sue Bradley always has had a passion for the arts, even when her early vocations seemed to lead her in other directions.

Before she devoted herself to the world of art, she was a trial lawyer and a sports promoter.

"I have always had a choice between art and something else," she says.

Now the owner of Spokane's Tinman Gallery and a new children's bookstore, Tinman Too, in the Garland business district, Bradley believes she has settled down to her true calling.

Bradley opened the Tinman Gallery, at 811 W. Garland, in February of 2003. The gallery sells original art by local artists, fine art reproductions, books and handmade gifts.

"As my cousin put it, we sell imagination," Bradley says.

When she and her son, Christopher, who has been a part of the family business since it opened, saw the space for lease, they immediately thought that it would be an ideal location for an art gallery, she says. Her connections with the former owners of the building helped her secure the location, and she eventually purchased the building several years ago, she says.

Bradley's other son, Matthew, also works at the family business full time.

Bradley says one of the reasons she was so drawn to the Garland area was its small-town feel, which reminded her of her childhood in Michigan.

"We specifically chose the Garland District because it's inexpensive and we really like our neighbors on the street," she says.

Bradley describes the art she shows and sells at Tinman as "entry level," in that the gallery is catered toward entry-level art collectors, not entry-level artists.

"It makes art less intimidating," she says.

Her gallery exceeded her expectations the first year it was open, and during its second year her sales doubled, she says. She claims the Tinman is one of the few art galleries in Spokane that truly sells original and locally created fine art.

"You can be an art gallery, or you can display art, and that is something else," Bradley says.

She says that most of the artists who have had shows at Tinman have some kind of professional background or college degree in art. Many also are local art professors or teachers, or are widely successful and well-known self-taught artists, she says.

"I want to show the finest artists in the region. I want people to know they are here," she says.

Bradley says she always has believed that art is good for people to experience.

"Everyone should feel that they should be able to approach and participate in art. I'm not a subscriber to the 'guess what I'm thinking' school of art," she says.

An artist herself, Bradley originally sold her work at local art shows in the region under the studio name Tinman Artworks. Her inspiration came from the original Wizard of Oz book series, by L. Frank Baum, which she says were her favorite books as a child.

As she traveled to different art shows, Bradley says she realized that many of her peers didn't have a decent venue to show or sell their art.

"People don't really come to ArtFest or Art on the Green and buy a big painting. It's hard to display art there, and often the prices are wrong," she says.

Since she already had the studio name Tinman Artworks, she decided to use it for the gallery also, she says.

"Part of our mission is to broaden the reach of art in the community. I am satisfied if people come in and look around and see or experience something they haven't thought of before," she says.

Her goal in opening the new children's bookstore, Tinman Too, as an extension of the gallery is to give a more tailored art experience to children. The Tinman Too occupies a 750-square-foot space previously occupied by The Ruby Slipper, another of Bradley's business ventures, and is next door to the main gallery.

The Ruby Slipper sold women's shoes from Europe and Brazil, and closed in May because the competition with big-box shoe stores and department stores was too much, Bradley says.

She says she wanted to open another gallery called the Tinman Too downtown, but didn't because the cost to lease a space there was too high. She also says she thought having the two locations would be confusing for customers who might have seen something at the Garland location and then came looking for it downtown.

"I didn't want to duplicate what I had up here, but when I bought the building, it became a moot point," she says.

When she decided to purchase the building, Bradley says, she found out the parcel also included the space next door, where Tinman Too is now located, so she bought both spaces.

Having grown up with an entrepreneurial father, she says she thinks that owning the building her business is in adds value to it.

"It makes me committed to Garland," she says.

Bradley recently ended a term as president of the Garland Business District, which she helped incorporate about three years ago, she says.

She also founded the annual Garland Street Fair, which usually runs during a weekend in August, the first year she opened Tinman Gallery, she says.

Bradley says her goal in opening Tinman Too is for it to be not just another children's bookstore, but an experience in art, reading, and imagination. She says she wanted to extend to children some of the philosophies that drove her to open the art gallery, such as making art accessible to everyone.

"I think there is a huge gap in this town for arts education for kids. Books and literature are part of the arts just as much as dance, music, and painting. We want to further that creative experience for children," she says.

Bradley plans to offer workshops for children and their parents to teach basic art techniques and other methods of creative expression. One upcoming class is called "Make Your Own Monster" and will be a weeklong workshop for all ages, after she had parents express interest in participating with their children, she says.

She says she will invite former teachers of the Spokane Arts School, which closed in 2008, to teach some of the classes. Many of the workshops also will be taught by local accomplished artists, she says.

"We want to emphasize process rather than project. You will learn how to use the materials rather than how to do something, which frees the child to do what they want," she says.

She says one of the most uncommon aspects of the children's bookstore is that all of the books there are handpicked.

"We have pre-picked books that we feel are worth your time and effort. All the books here are worth reading," she says.

The interior of the Tinman Too is a whimsical escape from reality. Books are casually displayed on low shelves that are easily accessible to the store's main demographic, and toys and do-it-yourself kits for kids are scattered throughout the books. A tall, hand-carved and hand-painted bookshelf with scenes from the Wizard of Oz stores a collection of the original series.

"This is supposed to be an oasis. There are a lot of troubling things going on in the world, and I want people to come in and not feel bombarded by reality," she says.

Original paintings there, also for sale, depict scenes of childhood and the imagination.

Besides her two sons, Bradley also recently hired a full-time manager for the bookstore and hopes to hire local mothers to work there part time, she says.

Bradley joined the board of the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (MAC) about 12 years ago and just finished up two years as its president, she says. She also was a board member for the Spokane Arts School for six years, and its president for two years. Before opening her gallery, Bradley worked as a sports promoter in the region. She says she directed the national championships for road cycling and the U.S. Olympic trials for the sport, both held in Spokane in 1988. She says she also oversaw the only three sporting events held in Spokane as part of the 1990 Goodwill Games, U.S.A. vs. U.S.S.R.

"Honestly, when the choice came up again, I thought, 'Was I going to do art or something else?' This time I chose art, which was obviously the right choice," she says of her initial decision to join the board of the Spokane Arts School in the early 2000s.

Bradley now is heading a committee that is trying to resurrect the art school. A new program director for the school was hired recently, she says. "It was very emotional and we are working very hard to bring it back," she says.

At this point, Bradley says the committee is looking for a regular place to hold classes, which is proving to be the biggest challenge. She says many of the teachers who formerly taught at the school hope to teach there again when it is reintroduced.

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