Job Spotlight: Front Porch Gallery owner Janice Dean feels passion for local art

Mike Haskey 
 Janice Dean is an artist and the owner of Front Porch Gallery in the Midtown area of Columbus, which has been operating a decade and is filled with items from local artists. 02/04/16
Mike Haskey Janice Dean is an artist and the owner of Front Porch Gallery in the Midtown area of Columbus, which has been operating a decade and is filled with items from local artists. 02/04/16

Throughout her working career, Janice Dean has always had a creative hand, be it working in visual merchandising at department stores Sears and Parisian or inside the smaller former gift business called Williamsburg Shoppe.

It was about a decade ago that the Cataula, Ga., resident decided it was time to launch her own shop. The plan was to sell lots of gifts, with a smaller area for local artists' works, including her own.

It didn't quite work out that way. Today, it's just the opposite, with Dean's Front Porch Gallery at 1309 Wildwood Ave., in the Wynnton Village area of Midtown Columbus, a consignment home to more than 50 area artists, including painters, photographers, potters and those working in wood and glass.

In essence, it's a true gallery now with some gifts thrown into the mix, ranging from jewelry and soaps to candles and food products. The operation is more than enough to keep Dean busy inside the 100-year-old bungalow-style dwelling that Front Porch calls home.

The Ledger-Enquirer visited with the Army brat and Baker High grad recently, discussing her job, her arrival as a shop owner and the eclectic and colorful items sold in the gallery. This interview is edited a bit for length and clarity.

What did you do at Parisian?

I was with Parisians in their visual (merchandising) department for 14 years. I was doing displays. I saw how much merchandise I could get into a small area and make it look good. I got to go and open stores in other areas. The people I met, there was so much talent. They were amazing.

Who are a few of the artists whose works can be found here?

Geri Davis, Eric Maddox, Ralph Taylor, Arlaine Morrison, Rose Ogle, Amy Patterson, Bobby Jones, Juanita Barrow and Brenda Stevens. Donny Crocker is in here. He uses local wood, oak, pine. He's even had a Catawba tree. We also have some of Ned Berry's pottery.

What is the most popular thing you sell?

Probably pottery. I think it has to do with people just like its price point. They can pick it up (physically); they can pick up a mug or a bowl. Like this berry bowl, you can put fruit in that and drain it. There also is the artistic stuff such as the glazes. Then they get creative with the colors that they put on it.

So you sell through consignment?

I don't rent wall spaces because I like to put things where I want them. It's all consignment of their art. We just bring it in and if it doesn't sell, it doesn't cost them anything. We receive a commission on it if it does sell.

Is there a busier time of year for you?

Of course, all retail in November and December is best. But you just never know. The other day I had somebody come in and buy six pieces of Donny Crocker's wood. And somebody might come in and buy a $1,000 painting. Then you might have a month when people come in and buy a lot of $10 or $15 stuff.

But people are always welcome to come in here. I really want them to come and just enjoy all the art and things, even if they don't necessarily buy (laughs) ... And if they come in for something, I can guide them a lot toward what they might want.

You being an artist and associating with other artists helps you with everything?

I understand what all goes into it, and I learn from them. Somebody who isn't involved in arts, for example, wouldn't realize how much goes into a piece of pottery or a painting. And I try to get as much local art as I can, like local pieces.

How do you get new artists here?

I go to a lot of arts shows and sometimes I'll approach them and occasionally they'll approach me. I would love to have sculptors in here, just anything with metal. I love that.

And we look to have some different types of things here, such as those soaps. They smell great, and they're made in the states. I can't imagine how they do that and make it look like stones. It's a really good soap, though. It's a glycerin soap.

How did you come across this space for the gallery?

I was still working over at Williamsburg Shoppe and I wanted my own place and came by. Actually, it was a day spa at the time. I just thought it was the neatest little place. This area just has so much history. And this was the route to Lakebottom for the trolley (years ago).

What's a typical day like for you?

When y'all called, I was coming off of doing inventory, trying to get Christmas leftovers put up. That one room in there, every bit of merchandise comes out when I set up for art shows or a class. I don't paint as much as I'd like to. But I hope to get back into that when I get done with filing taxes this year.

What's your top challenge?

It's the paperwork. It's the business end, definitely. I'm used to it, but it doesn't mean that I like it. (laughs)

It's also getting people into this area, because I thought with 13th Street here we would get a lot of traffic. A lot of residents line up for (Wynnton) school and some of them will say they've been coming by here for years but didn't know about it. But once they get inside here, they say I didn't know all of this (variety) was in here.

Is there a particular price point for good pieces of art?

Probably between $200 to $400. If (customers) find something they really like, they might go up.

You have so many pieces of art and items in this gallery. Any idea how many?

(Laughs) Oh gosh, I have no clue. But it is a lot.

Is there anything major on your radar this year?

Art Beat is coming up March 28 to April 9.

Other than that, I just need to redo my website. I need to make a web presence. The front page is good. It tells everything I want everybody to know. I never pushed for online before because I think people need to see and touch and be close to the art. I think they ought to just really see it.

I'm also working with Midtown Business Association. They work to promote businesses.

Finally, what do you find rewarding about your job?

Getting to know the people, the artists and the customers, too. And telling them about the work. I can get excited about anybody's work. Even this scarf over here. What she does with it, is it's a silk panel and she layers it in ice and then sprinkles the die on it. Then it creates a pattern, so each one of them is different.

(Click here for Midtown Business Association)


Name: Janice Dean

Age: 67

Hometown: Born in Piedmont, Ala., but moved around because her father was in the U.S. Army; has family in Jacksonville, Ala.; and has lived in the Columbus area 54 years

Current residence: Cataula, Ga.

Education: 1966 graduate of Baker High School in Columbus

Previous jobs: Worked in visual merchandising (setting up displays) at Sears when it was at Columbus Square Mall and at Parisians when it was at Peachtree Mall; also worked at Williamsburg Shoppe in Columbus before its closure

Family: James, her husband of more than 50 years; grown daughters, Casey, Jennifer and Becca; grandchildren, Amber, Brooke, Taylor, and triplets Conner, Erica and Tristan; and great-grandchild, Zoey

Leisure time: Enjoys spending time with her grandchildren; and coached girls softball for 15 years with Northern Little League.