At 25, Forest Lake native runs two galleries
White Bear Lake is known for its vibrant downtown, and a young woman who grew up in Forest Lake has become a key player in its arts scene.
Chelsea Reeck, a 2006 Forest Lake High School graduate, runs the Art Preserve & Studio. Nestled just a few blocks from the lake, the business has been a hub of local art for decades.
However, its future was in doubt in 2010, when the third owner in shop history put it up for sale.
A fortuitous series of events and connections kept the business on stable ground in the young hands of Reeck, who was fresh out of college.
Longtime store employee and featured artist Erin White made a call to her brother-in-law, Ted Reeck, a successful entrepreneur and Chelsea’s father. White felt Ted or his wife, Lisa, may have interest in the business. White was surprised, but delighted when Ted suggested that the best fit of all might be Chelsea, a photography major.
“With the economy, I was really worried that it was just going to close down,” says White, who has worked at the studio for 23 years. “He said, ‘Well, Chelsea is done with college,’ and I thought, ‘That’s just perfection.’”
Around Christmas of 2010, Chelsea and her father decided to make the move. He bought the business on Banning Avenue the next May, and she went to work, training under the former owner.
Ready For Her Chance
The chain of events leading to the purchase involved more than mere happenstance. Reeck had positioned herself in a way which made the move logical.
An introductory level photography course in high school fostered her desire to pursue a career involving art.
“I loved it so much I did two independent studies so I could stay in the dark room,” she laughs. “I definitely fell in love with photography at Forest Lake High School.”
A photography program attracted her to Montana State University, where her interest unexpectedly swayed away from teaching photography and toward serving as a curator.
Reeck got involved with planning an art show, and soon was organizing galleries all over Bozeman.
“Our senior thesis shows just started getting bigger and bigger,” she recalls. “I loved it, so I wanted to be part of the gallery aspect. I’m not very good at pushing my own art, but I like organizing it for everybody.”
Looking back, Reeck is glad she developed a knack for promoting the work of others, because the average customer is more interested in images of nature or architecture than the emotional portrayal of human subjects she enjoyed.
“It was very introspective, and that doesn’t sell,” she says. “Nobody’s interested.”
Picking It Up
Now 25, Reeck is getting more and more comfortable in her position. And it’s an important one in that city, as every other downtown gallery and frame shop has shuttered in recent times.
Art Preserve & Studio is strengthened by a loyal customer base built over many years.
“I have wonderful clients,” Reeck says. “I have repeats that just come in and visit and stop by. They’re all kind of emotionally invested in me, because they’ve watched all the owners come through. They love this place.”
Even the shop’s former owners are regulars, adding to a sense of community.
Reeck continues to feature artwork from many established favorites, but has not been shy about seeking out new talent.
“A lot of artists have already been here for a long time, but I like to go to shows and actively try to find new, younger artists and keep everything fresh,” she says. “I like to re-hang the gallery about once a month, once every-other month or so.”
Every other month is also the frequency with which Reeck hosts art shows. On these special occasions, she gives a prominent wall position to the works of an artist or two, then invites the public to meet the artists and enjoy live music and wine on a Friday night.
“People eat it up, they just love it,” says White, noting that previous owners hosted such events just once per year.
Art Preserve also showcases photography (including some of Reeck’s own), glass vases and jewelry, and even log furniture created by her high school sweetheart and now fiancé, Ben Vaughn, and his father, Tim.
The vast majority of the store is dedicated to the gallery aspect, but the vast majority of sales come from custom framing orders. Reeck has become proficient in framing, but says it’s an art form in and of itself, and that she still is learning techniques from long-time employees.
The operations aspect is perhaps most challenging of all. The plan is for Reeck to eventually take ownership from her father, but for now she continues to rely on his business expertise.
“I’m learning, but I kind of got thrown into it,” the Lino Lakes resident says. “I can’t just own it and do accounting and everything off the bat. I’m getting a lot of help from him.”
There is also a second location, purchased last January and opened that March. Also called the Art Preserve & Studio, it is located in Woodbury at 1815 Radio Dr., Suite G.
Reeck splits time between the stores, though she is more often in White Bear Lake, where framing orders from both locations are fulfilled. She manages two employees at each shop.
In White Bear Lake, one of those workers is a very impressed aunt.
“The framing part, most people can learn that, but as far as actually working with the customer…that’s really nerve-wracking, and she’s a pro,” White says.
In previous instances when the gallery went up for sale, White herself entertained the notion of becoming the owner. Each time, though, thoughts of the hassle and stress related to overseeing the bottom line swayed her away. She sees in her niece a young woman ready to take such responsibilities head on.
She’s a whippersnapper,” White says of Reeck. “She’s got her dad in her, which I think is so cool. She’s willing to work all day, every day; willing to do the bottom line.”
For Reeck, seizing the day is a must, due both to the situation she inherited and her own ambition.
“I’m very comfortable, and I love my job,” she says. “I would love to stay here permanently.”