The large wooden wrench hanging from the store’s ceiling and the vintage vacuum cleaner decorated
with mosaic tiles aren’t typical decor for Highland Hardware & Bike Shop.
But the Holyoke, Massachusetts, store became an offbeat art gallery from mid-September through mid-October, and during that time, customers discovered sculptures nestled among bottles of bug spray, tucked between products on a peg board and in other surprising spots.
“It’s like a treasure hunt or a scavenger hunt, and there’s no map to it,” artist Dean Nimmer says.
The monthlong art show was Nimmer’s idea. He was a Highland Hardware customer and had wanted for several years to display artwork in atypical locations. His hope was to bring art to an everyday space to make it accessible to people who might never go to an art gallery.
“I liked the idea of having art exhibits out of the gallery and in kind of unusual places. A hardware store was one of them,” Nimmer says.
He noticed that store owner Harry Craven had built an interesting display of plumbing fixtures, electrical boxes, vents and other items on a copper piece of an old water heater tank.
“I said, ‘That’s great. You’re an artist,” Nimmer says. He had found the right spot for his hardware store exhibit.
Craven agreed to allow Nimmer to organize an art show in the store, incorporating sculptures, photographs and paintings from 26 local artists into the existing merchandising and decor.
Craven was skeptical of the project, but he knew Nimmer had published books and was a former professor from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, one of the top art schools in the U.S. “He’s an accomplished guy,” Craven says.
Still, Craven didn’t expect the more than 250 people who crammed into his 10,000-square-foot hardware store and bike shop on opening night.
That attendance would have been good, even for opening night at an art exhibit in a New York gallery, Nimmer says.
“Of the 250 people, I think a third if not half of them had never been in here before,” Craven says.
During the following weeks, visitors continued filtering in, and more than 75 signed a guest book using descriptions such as “spectacular,” “fantastic” and “This is my hardware store from now on” in response to the show, Nimmer says.
The show has helped Highland Hardware avoid its typical dip in sales at the start of fall. Plus, Craven appreciated the opportunity to learn about the art and artists in his community.
“Why shouldn’t we support local talent like that? These people are all pretty clever,” he says.