Today, the products she sells are less edible, but far more lasting and beautiful. Fleck is the owner of the American Artisan Gallery in downtown Carlisle, a shop that features fine and folk art exclusively by American artists.
Fleck, a painter, has always collected art and, after stints as a bank manager, sales specialist for an e-commerce company and owner of a leasing business, decided to follow her passion and open a gallery.
“We feel it’s important to support small business, the American arts, and we feel that you get not only better made but more unique and sometimes more affordable work than you do at the mall,” said Fleck.
The shop itself has an interesting history. A building has stood on the site since the 1750s but has had the misfortune of burning down twice. The present building, an early-1900s structure, hosted a Bon-Ton store, Snyder’s Hardware and other retail shops, but had been empty for 12 years before Fleck arrived. She restored the original tin ceilings, kept the skylights, and installed oak floors in the front of the building to coordinate with those in the back.
Today, the space features works by about 80 artists in a variety of mediums, including pottery, glass, textiles and wood. Fleck said that shoppers can expect to find “good quality, functional fine art” at her gallery.
Fleck sells a wide variety of art, including what she calls “investment pieces” such as woodworks by Dauphin County artist Al Fox. One especially striking piece, a vase entitled “Budding Out,” was created using canarywood, redheart, tulipwood and holly. The pyrographed leaves, shadowed using a burning technique, curve off the midsection of the vase like flanges, exposing a light center. Another of Fox’s works contains 1,636 individual pieces fitted together to form a circle, with a long-handled lid. Called “Pyxis,” it resembles sixth-century pottery used to hold jewelry.
Also featured are paintings by Lynne Yancha and hand-carved birds by Bob Triplett.
More functional, but nonetheless beautiful, are the granite beverage dispensers. Any long-necked bottle can be flipped upside down, slipped into the granite block and served from the tap.
Wearable items include copper earrings with metal recycled from the Frank Lloyd Wright Unitarian Meeting House; ornate cotton silk crocheted hats decorated with flowers of the same material; and hand-sewn leather briefcases and messenger bags.
Fleck explained how she chooses her gallery artists.
“Number one, they must attain a certain quality of work,” she said. “We don’t want work here that people could do themselves after a trip to a craft store. And, number two, we like to make sure that we’re not competing with anyone who’s already working with us.”
Locally themed art is well represented in the shop. Charles Clevenger paintings of life in south-central Pennsylvania feature scenes like a fruit stand in Camp Hill, houses decorated for Christmas in Boiling Springs and Mechanicsburg’s Frankenberger Tavern. I was especially drawn to whimsical items from Carrolltown, Pa.’s Roland Metal Art, which uses recycled railroad spikes to create representations of everyday life, such as a figure golfing or playing soccer.
This selection attracted Megan Morrison from Landisburg, who said she stopped in on her way to the Gettysburg outlets, knowing the area’s reputation for great shops.
Morrison said she was holiday shopping for others, but then added that she’d like to return to shop for herself.
“I know where to come after Christmas,” she said.
Items in the store reflect Fleck’s taste. I asked her about her favorite pieces in the gallery.
“I’m drawn to everything,” she said. “All of this is something I wouldn’t mind having in my own home.”
American Artisan Gallery is located at 35 N. Hanover St., Carlisle, and will participate in the upcoming Carlisle Ice Art Festival, Feb. 10 to 12. The festival will include carriage rides, food vendors, an indoor art show and 35 ice sculptures at locations throughout downtown Carlisle. For more information on the gallery, call 717-254-6136 or visit www.americanartisangallery.com.