Petersburg’s filled with artists, like many of our neighbors here in Southeast. Painters and potters, some who draw freehand with ink and others who construct their own frames, sculpture and jewelry-makers, photographers, weavers and carvers. Having a fine art gallery in town lets local and visiting artists display their work and provides opportunities for an admiring public to take home a piece for themselves.
For the past seven years, Miele Gallery & Framing owner Beth Loesch put in long and dedicated hours to making it work. But it became clear it was time for her to transition into a different path. She put the business up for sale. And the town held its breath as we waited to hear what would happen to the last fine art gallery in town.
People expressed interest but most had no experience in gallery ownership, and weren’t sure about the idea. Eventually there were two people who seemed particularly keen on the concept. Or, at least, not completely overwhelmed at the idea. Loesch introduced them to each other, and Mika Hasbrouck and Mark Kubo decided to form a partnership. FireLight Gallery &Framing was born.
Kubo and Hasbrouck have had markedly different paths. Hasbrouck was born and raised in Petersburg. Her work experience included some time gillnetting and various jobs around town before going to work as a deckhand with the Alaska State Ferry. She’s also an online student with a focus in biochemistry. Kubo’s professional background is primarily in computer science. He spent time in Silicon Valley and Portland while going to school, going on to develop software for desktop computers and network security.
He arrived in Petersburg 11 years ago as a pastor, and subsequently got involved with a number of Petersburg nonprofits. First was the SHARE (Supporting Health Awareness Resiliency Education) coalition, a volunteer group that’s dedicated to community wellness and health promotion. Kubo also sits on the board of WAVE (Working Against Violence for Everyone), in addition to serving as president of the Petersburg Arts Council. Hasbrouck is pulled away from town regularly for work, which has limited her ability to get involved in community organizations, but is looking forward to being able to engage with the community through events at their store.
Hosting public events is part of the shared goal for the gallery; Kubo is looking forward to being able to utilize the space for collaborations with other venues, like the Clausen Museum, as well as arts and culture organizations.
“It seems that we should be able to find ways to work with the Petersburg Arts Council, with its mission of promoting arts and art education in the community, with our goal of supporting local artists with their business. I don’t know precisely all the ways in which that might actually work out, but we are exploring some ideas and I’m sure others will have suggestions,” he said.
Both have appreciated art throughout their lives. “I have always enjoyed creating, and I’m looking forward to doing that with framing. The gallery allows me to work with artists and art lovers alike… I’m really excited to step into this next chapter,” Hasbrouck said.
She remembers her grandmother, Shirley Short, weaving, leaving Hasbrouck with an appreciation for Ravenstail weaving and basketry. Hasbrouck has started to create home decorations out of driftwood. Kubo’s artistic inclinations tend toward music (he plays the flute, piano and sings, with an emphasis on church and classical music), as well as photography. He has memories of traveling in his twenties and seeking out art galleries along the way, as a way to get to know a place and see the type of art that is inspired by it. Kubo is looking forward to the opportunity to curate a similar type of space.
The pair is looking to reinvigorate the space with new lines, with an emphasis on regional, Alaska Native, and Pacific Northwest artists.
The partnership has brought two very different paths together, and each is thankful for what the other is bringing to the table.
Hasbrouck said about Kubo, “He’s got a knack for making things happen. It’s great to have someone so multi-talented to bounce your thoughts off of.”
Kubo particularly appreciates Hasbrouck for “her creativity and ideas. I think that if she wasn’t in this venture with me, I probably would have continued the gallery pretty much the way it was. Mika had some great tips for new artists in the region, and we’re working toward bringing some of their work to Petersburg. “
The partnership was finalized this year. The keys to the business were handed off at the end of December, with the opening week goal in the first week of February 2018.
As for Loesch, she can move on knowing the gallery she spent years laboring over has moved into freshly dedicated hands. She says she enjoyed “working with the amazing artists who inhabit these parts and bringing people’s artwork and keepsakes to life through framing.”
Operating any business is a labor of love — and some of it’s just sheer labor.
Being a small business owner can also be a mission. Kubo and I had met in a coffee-shop to discuss the gallery, and he emailed me his thoughts about the role of an art gallery in a community.
“Art is important to individuals and communities because it utilizes, stimulates, and connects parts of the brain in ways that other subjects cannot. It can help lead to more creative problem solving in other areas of life. Art can bring together parts of the community that otherwise might not naturally engage. Art can be provocative, but art can also be a unifying force when it offers beauty and enjoyment. Art can be a way of celebrating individual accomplishments and commemorate community milestones. Petersburg loves her artists and the art they create.”
Kubo and Hasbrouck plan keep the light of art on in Petersburg for years to come.
FireLight Gallery & Framing can be contacted via www.firelightgallery.com.
• Chelsea Tremblay is a Petersburg writer and bookseller.