“I’m here because it’s a space where I’m comfortable exploring mediums, interacting with working artists, collaborating, and really feeling a sense of camaraderie,” explained Marta McWhorter, member of Kobo.
“It’s a close-knit collection of people who make it a family, in the best, and sometimes difficult way!”
This Friday, Kobo Gallery celebrates 15 years of supporting Savannah-based creatives. Jewellers, painters, photographers, fiber artists, up-cyclers… present their latest works around “Perseverance”, title and theme of the special anniversary show.
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Building an Arts Community in Downtown Savannah
Kobo is one of Savannah’s oldest gallery cooperatives in which each of its 14 members, in addition to annual dues and other duties, is responsible for work in the retail space. And despite seemingly endless downtown construction, road closures, multiple transformations of Broughton Street, the co-op has persevered across Ellis Square since 2007.
Woodworker and lifelong Savannah resident, Dicky Stone, joined Kobo less than a month after opening and has been a member ever since. At the age of eight, Stone became interested in design and construction when his grandfather assigned him to sand in the family garage. These days, he works with local and sustainably harvested wood, carving and turning arcs to create intricate, intricate bowls from a single piece of wood.
A stable and consistent figure in the gallery’s tenure, Stone jokes about being the old man of the bunch. He has dedicated his time, been through economic shifts, cultural shifts, and has a good understanding of the types of art and artists that excel at Kobo. When it comes to new members, a series of criteria are taken into account. The key among them is how an artist blends in with the current members.
“Of course, the portfolio of work must be strong, but in addition to being an artistic fit, the candidate must also be a personality fit,” Stone emphasized. “It’s a process of about a month, because after reviewing the works, the team of members interviews each artist before presenting them to everyone. Everyone has to approve new members, and that’s what makes the gallery strong. Because over time, we all disagree about something, but if we have common ground in personality, goals, and focus early on, we can most likely overcome any conflict that arises.
Find the right minds to join Kobo
Like Stone, painter and visual artist Daniel Smith has been with Kobo since the beginning. Originally from Brooklyn, Smith moved to Savannah in the late 1990s to complete an MFA at SCAD. He found particular inspiration in the changing tidal landscapes of the region, so much so that Smith pioneered his own technique of landscape painting.
Instead of paintbrushes, he uses large palette knives, oil paints and wax to create the gentle swaying of marsh, tide and sky.
“What I love about being a member of Kobo all these years is the consistency and focus on the artist community,” Smith said. “The gallery is constantly looking for artists who are already successful and who would benefit from Kobo’s collective platform. This mutual reinforcement creates a strong creative community here.
Back in her shop, multi-talented Renaissance woman Marta McWhorter works on a wood project for one of her SCAD classrooms. When she’s not studying furniture design, working at Kobo, or building custom cabinets, McWhorter runs her own stage lighting business. The Savannah Music Festival is one of its clients, as are the Telfair Museums.
A former member, McWhorter had to reset his priorities a few years ago when life and family made their demands. Now, with kids in high school and time for design, McWhorter can’t wait to get back to the gallery.
“It’s the consistent quality of work from those who show here,” McWhorter said. “I’m so happy to be back because I get feedback and ideas from artists that I sincerely respect. And the gallery structure is really generous to artists. Together, we’re owners and leaders, and that benefits our careers.”
Joy Dunigan joined Kobo in November. A SCAD graduate born and raised in Savannah, Dunigan has run her own graphic design business for the past 20 years. At Kobo, she focuses on her photography. And in mostly black-and-white images, Dunigan captures wild places without roads or bridges, highlighting the ecosystems and natural patterns of islands in the Georgia Sea in particular.
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“What I really love is working at the gallery,” Dunigan said. “I get to talk about all the artists work and share it with visitors, and the longer I’m here the more I learn that tourists are often repeat buyers, that the gallery has a reputation beyond Savannah to present talented artists. I really appreciate this exchange.
3D artist Jessica Pope is another Kobo newbie. Pope also joined last November and got off to a flying start. Known for her brightly patterned bespoke bow ties, repurposed newspapers, and upcycled luggage, her work is fun, bright, tactile, user-friendly, and well-crafted.
“Oh, wow, I’m in!” I sprang from the pope. “Kobo helps me get out of my comfort zone and try new things, and I’m open to whatever takes me. I wanted more mentors in my life, and the mentorship is definitely there. Dicky Stone and Doris Grieder really believe in us and are great at uplifting and encouraging us.
Moving forward at Kobo
Although no longer involved, the Kobo Gallery would not exist without the foundational efforts of Savannah resident Heather Stewart.
Stewart, a jeweler and metalworking artist, founded the gallery with three other women to share the costs and responsibilities of a window display. Life and parenthood, however, take time, and so a few years in Stewart moved away but continued to make jewelry at home, and more recently, in her new studio space.
Stewart remains close to many longtime members and expresses both admiration and respect for all that Kobo has accomplished.
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“I’m really proud of what Kobo has become and I’m honored to have been an integral part of creating such a ‘good thing,'” Stewart said. gallery and want to become part of the Kobo family, and I warmly congratulate those members who have been with Kobo since the beginning. It is thanks to their conviction and their commitment that Kobo has persevered these 15 years.
IF YOU ARE GOING TO
What: Perseverance — Kobo at 15
Where: Kobo Gallery, 33 Barnard St.
When: Friday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Cost: Free entry