Michigan’s Oldest Art Gallery

Armstrong De Graaf International Fine Art’s president tells the gallery’s history.

Armstrong De Graaf International Fine Art has been staying busy this year at each of its three gallery locations in the area. The DryDock Gallery is located at 44 E. 8th St. on the main and lower levels of Butch’s Restaurant in downtown Holland. This gallery recently started hosting special program/exhibit called Third Saturday which occurs from 4 to 7 p.m. on the third Saturday of each month. Visitors can expect special showings, mini one-day auctions, and special pricing to the first buyers of specially offered pieces and art presentations. 

In addition to the Third Saturday events at the DryDock Gallery, one of Armstrong De Graaf’s international artists, Jagadish Chinthala recently received commission to display is art at the Absolut Museum in Stockholm, Sweden. Our newest gallery is Art and Clock and is located on Blue Star Highway in Douglas. Aside from its current exhibits, each of these galleries has an interesting history to explore.

DryDock Gallery

The current exhibition at the DryDock Gallery is by artists, Alex and Inna Deriy. Inna’s parents were geologists and they would take her to places in Siberia pursuing their profession while living off the land for months. Their home was a museum of gems and minerals. Inna absorbed this surrounding beauty and attempted to study geology, but her love was art. Painting seemed to come naturally to her.

In the mid ‘90s, Inna graduated from art school and decided to explore jewelry making and graphic design. Her artistic journey then led her to head an art project for the Siberian Division of Science that was later presented to Vladimir Putin.

Eventually Inna and her husband, Alex, relocated to the United States. During this period she moved away from traditional painting. Inna and Alex, an engineer, created a technique that uses liquid pigment polymers on stone, glass, canvas and wood. Inna and Alex were able to create bold collages that give the illusion of stained glass or tile mosaic. These colorful pieces are inspired from natural stones and minerals Inna remembers as a child.

Combining Butch’s restaurant’s art of food, wine and beer with two and three dimensional fine art creates an interesting environment. It is a browsing gallery. Butch’s hosts a variety of events to celebrate the marriage of food and wine. Tastings, beer dinners, fashion shows, artist openings and concerts are all a part of Butch’s calendar for this year.

Saugatuck Gallery

Armstrong De Graaf’s main gallery is located at 403 Water Street on Main in Saugatuck in an area known as the art coast of Michigan. The gallery has been in this location for 22 years and represents more than 50 artists. There is a balance between international and national artists. For several international artists, Armstrong De Graaf is the only gallery representation in the United States.

Recently one of the gallery’s international artists from India, Jagadish Chinthala, received the commission to place a sculpture in the Absolut Museum in Stockholm, Sweden. This is probably one of the most prestigious commissioning in the world.

Armstrong De Graaf International is Jagadish’s only gallery representation in the United States and we have a proud inventory of small to major works that can be seen at the DryDock Gallery and at Armstrong De Graaf International Fine Art in Saugatuck.

Saugatuck definitively has a winter season. Armstrong De Graaf Gallery is closed from November 15 until April 11. However, private appointments give us a chance to work with individuals looking for a special piece. The “drawers” are full of treasures that are affordable and unknown to most. We welcome anyone interested in art to seize the opportunity to schedule a private appointment with us.

The gallery opens with a week long exhibition on April 11, 2014 called “Inspirations.” Joel Tanis, a household name in Holland, is joining the gallery with his original works. The 17 original tapestries of Edgar Boeve will also be exhibited and Chris Stoffel Overvoorde will be showing his very well-known prints. Both Boeve and Overvoorde are retired from the Calvin College Art Department.

Art and Clocks

Located at 2902 Blue Star Highway, Suite 4 in Douglas, Art and Clocks is a relatively new business combining antique time pieces with contemporary art. Antique and vintage clocks are repaired and sold there. Art and Clocks is owned and operated by De Graf’s nephew Andrew Dirks. History helps explain Art and Clocks. Andrew Dirkse owns the clock repair and sales business while managing the overall business. Dirkse is the “everything” in clocks. He makes house calls and fixes clocks himself; this is a hands-on operation. Dirkse’s great-great grandfather founded Colonial Clock Manufacturing in Zeeland 105 years ago and he learned clock repair from his grandfather, now 87 and living Florida. After mentoring, technical schools and experiences, Dirkse decided to start his own clock repair and sales business.

The store is a very visual place, with many exposed clocks in various stages of repair and testing. Clocks are on display along with more than 300 pieces of art displayed and stored in the space. It is a browsing gallery with hidden treasures available for visitors to purchase. It is an unusual combination, but collectors have found it intriguing

Michigan’s Oldest Continuing Gallery

Dan De Graaf, now a resident of the Warm Friend Hotel in downtown Holland, founded the Tadlow Gallery in 1956 in Whitehall, MI while teaching at Muskegon College, later becoming the director of fine arts at the school’s new campus. In 1972, De Graaf was offered the directorship of the Forsythe Gallery in Ann Arbor. Instead, he decided to purchase it. The Forsythe Gallery was founded in 1946 by Jesse Forsythe who continued with Dan De Graaf in developing relationships with some of the finest international and national contemporary artists for the gallery. This has been verified by the gallery’s longevity, the collectors that remain clients, and it’s notable auctions and museum collections.
In the 67 years the gallery has been open, there have been several name changes using Forsythe and De Graaf until four years ago. My wife Jane and I bought the majority interest of the gallery and formed a new company, Armstrong De Graaf International Fine Art. De Graaf still has ownership. The reason my wife and I wanted to buy this business and try to keep the rich tradition going is because we were, and continue to be, art collectors. Our first pieces were from art fairs in East Lansing and Ann Arbor and we still have those pieces. Then we met Dan De Graaf and started to add some serious works. That was nearly 45 years ago. So, the overriding factor was that art was already part of our lives.

Since that start, I was on the faculty and an academic dean at Michigan State, an executive with Herman Miller, an independent entrepreneur and consultant and then at age 75, I decided to buy the gallery we had known for 45 years. Obviously, my wife Jane was a part of all this. However, owning a gallery that we would work on a daily basis brought doubt.

Jane worked in the De Graaf/Forsythe Gallery when it was in the Nichols Arcade in Ann Arbor 35 years ago. That was a dangerous period in our art lives - the record of purchases speaks for itself. Jane was a pioneer in the Holland Area Arts Council, helping to establish the first location at 23 W. 8th St. and the present location at 150 E. 8th St., where she served as acting director, board member and more. A gallery in the center bears her name.

Jane and I were art ambassadors in 1997, with other West Michigan participates, in a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia and organized an exchange of children’s art that was displayed in the Holland Area Art Council. Both of us remain active with the art program at Hope College too.

A Final Word

Many people enter and exit our gallery every year. Multiply that by the number of galleries that populate the earth, and it is a lot of people. Few ponder the art and ask about the artist. Far too many want a 30-second experience and appear nervous about absorbing and learning. Do not think of galleries as uncomfortable, rather as a place of enjoyment, discovery and opportunity. Art enriches our homes, businesses and communities.

There are thousands of artists, yet knowing an artist personally is actually rare. Only a few get the opportunity to walk through the artist’s door and have a studio experience. Those who have the interest and the time to share a glass of wine, engage in conversation and see a work develop in front of their eyes will have a special experience. Time in a studio passes quickly, but that kind of experience can last a lifetime. Trust our gallery to be the bridge to this discovery for which we are passionate about.

For us, art business is more than buying and selling art. We are professionals in hanging, moving and relocating fine art, as well as professional cleaning, restoration, and appraisals for insurance and estate purposes and personal information. We also negotiate financial packages, and arrangements are available.

For more information on upcoming events and exhibits at any of Armstrong De Graaf International Fine Art’s galleries, contact us by calling 269-857-1882 or email director@adgifa.com

-With editorial contribution by Dan Brightcliffe, publication assistant

Story Credit - David L. Armstrong, South Holland Life
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