Port art gallery endures, but with a new owner, new name

Linda Sanduski’s dream of displaying, selling art became a reality when she took over for Shirley Gruen and opened Blue Awning Gallery

STANDING ON THE steps of her Blue Awning Gallery in downtown Port Washington with the distinctive awnings over the windows were gallery owner Linda Sanduski (left) and her daughter Tenley, who has been helping at the gallery. Photos by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

When she was studying art history at Eastern Illinois University, Linda Sanduski said she hung out with a lot of the studio art students and told them, “Someday I’m going to sell your art for you.”

That day has come.

Sanduski recently opened Blue Awning Gallery in downtown Port Washington and is filling it with the works of regional artists.

“This has been an idea in my head for over 30 years,” Sanduski said.

“I’ve long dreamed of having an art gallery where I could showcase the work of area artists that I admire

“The eclectic mix of works I’ve brought together reflect my personal tastes and represent the broad range of talent we have in the region.

I want to showcase local artists who didn’t necessarily have an outlet for their art.”

The building at 303 N. Franklin St. has been an art gallery for years, most recently serving as the home for Port artist Shirley Schanen Gruen.

Sanduski said she long admired Gruen’s artwork, and several years ago wrote her a note telling her that if she were to retire, Sanduski would be interested in taking over the gallery.    

Nothing came of it at the time, but around the holidays last year Sanduski said she ran into Gruen’s son Gerald Jr..

“We looked at each other and said, ‘It’s time now,’” she recalled. “It kind of snowballed from there.”

The gallery, which has undergone some renovations, continues to sell Gruen’s works, Sanduski said.

“We’re so fortunate to still carry Shirley’s work,” Sanduski said.

The gallery’s first exhibit, “Here Comes the Sun,” features an array of artwork including oils by Patty Voje and Ann E. Coulter, acrylics by Holly Harnischfeger and Karen Erickson, textile arts by Beth Anderson, stoneware by Barbara Dickmann and turned wooden bowls by Wade Auer.

Sanduski said that although the idea of a gallery has been in her head for decades, life got in the way.

After college, she married her husband Steve and set about raising their three daughters. As the family moved around, Sanduski helped out with her husband’s financial services business, ran a floral design business for a time and did a lot of volunteer work.

“Life takes you down all different paths,” she said. “But now, with the kids gone, I need something to do.”

And so she began thinking about that long-ago dream and how to make it a reality.

A docent at the Milwaukee Art Museum, Sanduski also worked at the Tory Folliard Gallery in Milwaukee.

“I loved it,” she said. “But at some point, you want to do your own thing.”        

Through those experiences, she got to know a number of artists in the area, Sanduski said, noting a number of the museum’s docents are artists.

She’s also frequented a number of art shows to seek out artists for her gallery.

“Not every artist wants or can sell their own work,” she said. “There are some who are reluctant to show their work.”

Port Washington is a perfect place for her gallery, Sanduski said, because there’s an appreciation for arts here.

“Jane Suddendorf has created a nice foundation for the arts in the community at Gallery 224,” she said. “It feels like there’s a growing arts community here.

“And it’s amazing how many artists there are in the area you don’t even know about.”

She’s been working hard to find interesting artists to showcase, people who create not just original fine art as well as those who make functional art.

There’s a mix of abstract and figurative art, and of various media.

And there’s a story behind much of the art in the studio.

Sanduski pointed to some pieces hanging near the gallery counter done by Todd Schuster.

“Every work has a philosophical meaning,” she said. One piece is an abstract portrait of a woman, but if you look closely, Sanduski said, you can see a superhero.

“Women have a lot of inner strength, and that’s something he wanted to portray,” she said.

At the center of the gallery is a large fabric art sail made by Sanduski’s sister-in-law Beth Anderson, a quilter.

“She decided she wanted to take it to another level, to create an art piece,” Sanduski said. “Port’s such a sailing community, it seemed to fit.”

Anderson, who uses a technique that involves printing a photo on canvas and stitching it, then accenting the work with paint, has a second art piece at the gallery as well that incorporates Murano glass.

Some of her artists will be showcasing Port Washington in their pieces, Sanduski said.

One thing Sanduski said she won’t do at the gallery is showcase her own work.

“I dabble in it,” she said. “My interest is more in understanding it.”

But it’s not necessary to understand art to enjoy it and the pieces at the gallery, Sanduski said.

“Artists are great observers. They show us things we don’t necessarily see,” she said. “We just get to enjoy their vision.”

One key to Sanduski’s philosophy may be the blue neon sign that hangs at the back of the gallery.

“Everything is connected,” it reads.

“We’re trying to connect Shirley with the next generation. We’re trying to connect these artists with the people here,” Sanduski said.

The gallery will host a grand opening from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 9.



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