Caleb and Hillary Barney with their newly born daughter Lily Barney celebrate Blonde Grizzly's one-year anniversary this July. Photo: Adam Heath Image
When I walked into Blonde Grizzly, owners Caleb and Hillary Barney greeted me immediately and were happy to show me their latest addition to the gallery. It wasn’t a painting and it wasn’t a T-shirt or a new piece of jewelry. It was their brand new bundle of joy in a baby carriage, Lily. She slept quietly as we chatted, snug and cozy between the fixtures and decorative art lining the walls of the independent shop. The newborn baby is a fitting addition for the duo to celebrate Blonde Grizzly’s one-year anniversary this month.
“We’ve been lucky to get some shows and certain artists to come do signings, or to even work with us,” says Caleb, reflecting on their success so far. In the past year, the gallery has hosted fresh works from California pop artists such as CW Mihlberger and Dave Correia.
“We sell lots of T-shirts and that’s what keeps us floating,” says Caleb. The shop originated as a small kiosk at the Layton Hills Mall, where Caleb sold prints and apparel from his buddies at Zerofriends. The kiosk lease was expensive and only lasted three months, forcing Caleb to search SLC for a bigger spot that was more cost effective and closer to home. Blonde Grizzly opened in July 2010 along 400 South, primarily as an apparel store that also featured the artists’ work on the walls.
“When I heard of other galleries struggling, I always wondered why they never added artist apparel or prints. From the beginning, I was going to open a store that sold the prints and apparel, and the gallery just came with it,” says Caleb.
When the shop initially opened, the duo sold merch at the Twilight Concert Series to help gain some buzz for their first official Gallery Stroll, which happened just two weeks later. That showcase featured twisted and re-imagined paintings based on Saturday morning cartoons. The gallery mixed works from local artists like Vic Back, along with visiting artists, including Alex Pardee and Mark Yamamoto. The originals were displayed on the walls with T-shirts and hoodies featuring the same art sold to the side. The show garnered instant press and recognition, but more importantly, it caught the eye of the local art scene and made Blonde Grizzly a must-visit stop during the monthly Gallery Stroll.
“We knew Gallery Stroll was big, lots of people came out and [the event] would just get you exposure. It seemed like something that would work for our space, it helped get people out and get them to know the artists we know,” says Hillary.
The process of choosing what hangs on the walls and sits on the shelves simply comes down to what Caleb feels the customers will enjoy. While a lot of art comes to him through the store or email submissions, he constantly makes an effort to go to conventions and gallery shows. Caleb will search for new work and artists that haven’t been shown in SLC or anywhere else, and avoids out-of-town artwork that can be found in other stores. His approach essentially makes everything in the shop unique to Blonde Grizzly. Caleb also takes special care in being selective about pop-culture references on the merchandise.
Over the past year, the gallery has made its mark on the art scene with their themed group shows, typically centered on a single pop-culture item like sci-fi films or the Utah Jazz. These shows bring in a bevvy of local and national talent to hang a single piece on the wall. The most popular to date, and favorite of the Barneys, is the Classic Monster Show last October. The show featured over 25 artists putting their own spin on Tinseltown horrors such as the Mummy, Frankenstein and Dracula. Blonde Grizzly has also featured solo artists, including Emily Hart Wood, who took over the gallery in April for her first solo show ever. Wood blew the owners away with her array of whimsical paintings and drawings, as well as collage pieces, such as her “fortune collage” made up of fortune cookie papers from every Chinese restaurant she’s been to.
“I think we’ve gotten some good people in and it’s been fun. We’re still learning, figuring out what works and what doesn’t, but our shows have done pretty well and we’re on the right track with those,“ says Hillary.
In celebration of hitting the one-year marker, Blonde Grizzly will be throwing a show with Good Times Tattoo, who incidentally will be celebrating their tenth anniversary. The Anniversary Anniversary show will kick off on July 15 for Gallery Stroll, featuring the work of tattoo artists including Alex Hinton, Danny Madsen and Bonnie Seeley. Caleb and Hillary are already planning out the rest of the year, with confirmed secret guests for the holidays, and plan to bring in art books as part of the shop’s inventory. Those who wish to submit their artwork for possible shows can send their work to firstname.lastname@example.org, but are advised to check out the shop beforehand to make sure their art will fit the gallery.