Written by Julie Thomassen
When going to the art museum is not enough, and taking a piece home sounds more enjoyable, art galleries are the way to go. While searching for fine art to purchase, navigating the options might seem overwhelming. From auctions to online sellers, collectors’ options are widespread. However, the St. Louis County area is a hotspot of art galleries for anyone looking to expand their collection and knowledge of the art world. The St. Louis suburbs is the perfect place to start with three exceptional options in the heart of Missouri, each of which have their own claim to fame, including the OA Gallery, Kodner Gallery and Winfield Gallery.
Located across from the train station in downtown Kirkwood, the OA Gallery features local artists who specialize in realistic and representational art. The gallery’s mission is to promote the artists of the Midwest while raising awareness of the excellence of fine art.
One of the gallery owners and operators, Marie Donato, has worked at the OA Gallery for five years. For the past three years, she has also offered a biannual drawing class for portraits that allows students to take trips to the art museum and draw classic sculptures for practice. Another option is an oil painting class taught by employee Lisa Obert, for those interested in another medium.
The gallery began in Clayton, Missouri, in 2011 and was open at that location for two years. The OA team moved to its current location in order to attract new clients and has been open for over five years. The Kirkwood area allows OA to attract new clients and artists due to the upbeat atmosphere.
OA Gallery primarily features professional artists, but is willing to represent amateur artists as long as their art represents the beauty and brilliance of the Midwest. They are primarily interested in landscape pieces that might feature the rolling hills of Missouri, the rushing water of the Mississippi River or any other features of the region. From the simple to the extraordinary, OA wishes to promote the admiration of the central portion of the United States. All throughout May of 2019, OA Gallery is showcasing a photography exhibit of regional artists from Missouri and Illinois who capture local features and landscapes.
Abraham Mohler, a sculptor, says he has had an excellent experience working with the owners of OA Gallery. The Gallery is owned by artists, allowing OA to bridge the gap between the artists represented in the Gallery and the curators. That, on top of the quality of the work shown, is what first drew Mohler to the OA Gallery.
Mohler said his creative process varies depending on the work he is doing. He takes an emotional approach for the work he shows at OA, which allows his passion to dictate his work.
“I see a stone, and it’s kind of like running up to a christmas present,” Mohler said. “I start tearing the wrapper off and keep peeling until I find something.”
In February 2018, the OA Gallery founded Heartland. As a nonprofit organization, their mission statement is to “promote and encourage the creation of quality representational art through education, exhibits and engagement. Its purpose is to elevate representational art, its disciplines and history.” Heartland is operating, but at the moment, schedules are tentative, as the organization is new.
To get involved with the OA Gallery visit www.heartlandartclub.org/sign-up to find out more information.
The Kodner Gallery, established by Martin Kodner 50 years ago in Ladue, Missouri, is now run by his sons, Jonathan and David Kodner. Their collection contains about 2,000 pieces in the 6,000-square-foot gallery and has pieces in various styles.
“Currently, our exhibits include French Impressionism, with artists like Édouard Cortès and Antoine Blanchard,” David Kodner said. “We’re also featuring Modern Masters including Pablo Picasso, Robert Motherwell and Ellsworth Kelly. Our Missouri Masters collection includes artists such as Frank Nuderscher, Joseph Orr, Thomas Hart Benton and Brian Haynes.”
Joseph Orr, who is featured in the Modern Masters collection at Kodner gallery, has a specific process in creating one of his pieces. A few times a week, he drives around the countryside taking photographs and sketches of subject matter, usually including chickens, which he uses for inspiration when starting a new piece.
“My work is not really impressionist, not realistic, but a combination of both arenas,” Orr said. “Living in Missouri, where everyone has both feet on the ground, I tend to be more traditional in my approach. I like to allow the viewer to have a little say in the concept of the painting, but not where they take over the description of what the picture should be.”
The Kodner brothers are art consultants who offer guidance in art maintenance—an expertise which includes handling many of the artist’s works, cataloging projects, as well as hours of research. Following in their father’s footsteps, they are experts on the artist Oscar Berninghaus.
Berninghaus was from St. Louis and started working in advertising for Anheuser-Busch, then moved on to create ads for the railroads. His art has touched many people, including the Kodner family.
“I love that he was able to capture the light in that region of our country,” David Kodner said.
Kodner Galleries mainly features established artists, but continues to take on new, local artists who share the traits they are looking for, such as quality of technique, strikingness of subject and social relevance.
“We’re willing to take chances on people that are unknown,” David Kodner said. “It’s not only the aesthetics and quality we’re looking for, it could be a community orientation or the impact the piece has.”
The Kodner Gallery has been hosting the Trash or Treasure event for 15 years. This year it will be held at the Collinsville Family Convention Center on June 22.
“We take great pride in our Trash or Treasure event for PBS,” David Kodner said. “We gather around 25 experts in different categories, from toys to fine art. You can bring items to be looked at and appraised and you’ll get a kick out of walking around and seeing what other people bring.”
In 1989, an advertising agency decorated its walls with hunting artwork. Scott Schaefer would sit in meetings admiring the genre of artwork that surrounded him. All the pieces included hunting scenes. Dogs and prey accompanied visions of guns and bows. Most of the pieces featured densely-wooded areas. The hunting art form reached its peak popularity in the 1930s, so most of Winfield Gallery’s works are from before 1950.
“In 2000, I asked if I could form a company and get the rights to reproduce the art they had hung up everywhere,” Schaefer said. “Back then, my photographer and I went to various private collectors all over the country and photographed their art in 4-by-5 color transparency for high resolution and captured the works digitally.”
Schaefer, now the sole owner and employee of the Winfield Gallery, is always looking for more art to add to his available collection. He goes to auction houses all over the country, looking for old advertisements that fall within the hunting art genre. If possible, he purchases the prints directly. However, if that is not possible, he works with the auction houses to photograph the piece and buy the rights to the image.
While Winfield Gallery is online Schaefer is still active in the community.
“We donate prints to conservation groups…,” Schaefer said. “We also do outreach programs with Quail Unlimited and Ducks Unlimited, both nonprofit conservation groups.”
His collection includes over 250 pieces, both Winchester, a style characterized by bold choices and incisiveness, and unbranded artwork, meaning the artist is unknown. They are available as fine art prints. The subject matter of each work may vary, but revolves around the theme of hunting and the outdoors.
“It’s a lost art,” Schaefer said. He works to collect these rare pieces and make them available to the public.
The art gallery scene is flourishing in St. Louis, Missouri. From the OA Gallery specializing in Midwestern art, to Kodner Gallery representing some of the finest artists that have been passed down through generations, to Winfield Gallery for those interested in a rare art. The St. Louis suburbs are the perfect place to find a piece of fine art. Anyone can get involved in the art community, whether that be collecting, creating or engaging in the surplus of community events offered. Each of the Galleries would love to share their expertise and taking the time to visit would not disappoint, as each piece of art expresses emotion so deeply, through such colorful magic, they almost seem to be alive.