By Robyn Gautschy
The Register-Mail, Galesburg, Ill.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Hilary Anderson explains her blend of art and business, her advice for other young entrepreneurs, and what she’s learned in her first two years working on Seminary Street.
Hilary Anderson graduated from AlWood High School and Knox College before spreading her wings professionally in the art scenes of Oregon and North Carolina.
Three years ago, she moved back to her roots in west-central Illinois and got down to business — quite literally. She opened Rivet Boutique in 2015, then merged with Dove Tail Arts in November 2016, creating Dovetail Rivet & Stitch and relocating to 61 S. Seminary St.
While Anderson considers herself a painter at heart, she also creates jewelry, metalwork, fabric items, prints and more. Her artwork can now be found on the shelves at Dovetail, along with scads of eclectic items she’s procured from artists all over the country.
Even her children’s drawings have appeared on some retail items — the youngsters can often be found in the shop, creating alongside their mom and learning the tools of the trade.
Register-Mail: First, some background on you: Where did you grow up and go to school? How old are you? What kind of work did you do before opening Dovetail Rivet & Stitch?
Hilary Anderson: I grew up in Alpha and Ophiem, small towns north of Galesburg, and went to school at AlWood. I’m turning 39 this month. Since graduating from Knox, I worked primarily for nonprofit educational organizations, such as the Northwest Youth Corps in Eugene, Oregon, and Pocosin Arts Folk School in Columbia, North Carolina.
I did a wide range of work for Pocosin Arts, including managing the gallery and sales, organizing art workshops and after-school programs, website management and marketing, and all the other administrative tasks employees of small nonprofits generally take on. In North Carolina I was introduced to craft schools and a workshop approach to learning and became connected with a lot of artists and makers, several of whom I represent at Dovetail.
I have always been interested in working with youth, either in the arts or in environmental education or both. When I was younger, I moved to places where those opportunities presented themselves. I moved back to this area three years ago to be closer to family.
RM: You’re an artist, too, right? Tell us about the work you do and how you got started.
HA: I consider myself a painter at heart. This was the medium I chose to focus on as I finished my degree at Knox. Everything I do somehow relates back to that, I think.
While I was at Pocosin Arts, I took several weekend workshops from metalsmiths and jewelry artists. My dad taught me to solder when I was working with him on a plumbing job in high school, and metal work came really naturally to me. The first workshop I took was a hollow bead-making workshop with Kathryn Osgood, and when I started sawing small pieces of copper from sheet, something just clicked.
I come from a family of resourceful do-it-yourselfers. When I was in kindergarten, I watched my parents design and build their house and I grew up with everyone around me doing something productive with their hands. My mom used to sew a lot. My love of fabrics comes from her, I think. In her 20s, she worked for Wolfsie’s in Galesburg and would go to the garment district in New York and pick out their fabrics. I love making scarves for the store. I collage high-quality secondhand fabrics onto soft cotton jersey.
It is a really fun way for me to play with color and materials and make something beautiful and fun and functional for people to wear. But jewelry, another wearable art form, has been my primary interest for almost a decade now.
RM: What inspires you? Where do you come up with your ideas?
HA: When I think about what inspires me, I always come back to landscape and human things happening in the landscape. Living in a rural area, I spend a lot of time driving and thinking about this environment in which we live and reflecting on our experiences as humans, how we shape the land and are shaped by it. I’m inspired by a lot of other artists’ work, and my kids, and also fashion and how people choose to adorn themselves and their homes. Being a gallery/store owner, I now focus a little more on making things I feel people might like to buy.
When I opened my first little shop, Rivet Boutique, I needed some items other than jewelry and scarves. People kept asking if I had anything that said “Galesburg,” so I carved a rubber stamp with a simple set of railroad tracks and starting featuring that design on practical items like hats and totes. I wanted an assortment of images, so I carved several other stamps with images like flying pigs, bees, bison and coneflowers and used them on greeting cards and tote bags. I play with images I think might be interesting to people and somehow say something about this place, but are not just about this place. I’m working on some new designs for prints.
RM: How do you balance your creative work with the business side of your life?
HA: The balance is more of a flow. While some of the tasks are distinguishable as one or the other, I find an overlap in my creative work and my business. With my fairly new acquisition of Dove Tail Arts and all of their previous lines, this has been a year focusing more on defining the direction of the business and managing the inventory of items made by all the other artists. Curating and purchasing for the store has been the main focus of my creative work lately. I have recently brought my sewing machine into the space and plan on starting a new batch of scarves soon. My whole process of getting business and creative work done is fluid, and while recent months have been more business centered, I have shifted back to creating when I see stock of my own items are running low. And when I just need to recenter and focus my head on making something.
RM: Why did you choose downtown Galesburg as the location for Dovetail? What do you like about working — and creating — in this area?
HA: This has for years been a place for people in the surrounding area to visit and run errands. I initially chose downtown Galesburg because a space with decent foot traffic became available at a really reasonable rate. I see this town as a place for businesses like mine to have great success as more consumers realize they want to support small, independent businesses.
We have a lot of unique shops downtown and people find that very refreshing when our world is overrun with big-box stores and mass-produced items.
If you want a genuine and personal experience and to connect with local shop and restaurant owners, you can do that here.
I carry a lot of one-of-a-kind items and cater to customers in a way that larger stores simply cannot do.
At heart, Galesburg is a manufacturing town with a lot of practical-minded Midwesterners who are dedicated to making this a quality destination. With its railroad roots, I see it as a place where a lot of products, ideas and people have passed through and continue to do so. I’m finding that people appreciate my business being here and I am grateful for the support. I also love my neighbors on Seminary Street! It is fine place to be.
RM: You have an eclectic collection of items in your store — things we can’t find anywhere else. How do you find and choose your merchandise? What are your favorite things in the store right now?
HA: Some of the high-quality handmade merchandise here is carried over from Dove Tail Arts. It’s been great to build on that and I’m continually adding different items from artists I know and artists I find at shows and online. I also get a lot of emails from artists looking for stores, and I’ve picked up a few that way. Because so much of what we have is handmade and made by independent artists in small studios, our inventory is always changing.
I do have very eclectic taste in art and that is certainly reflected in what I have here. The past few years have a been a process of both introducing art that I like and learning about what people here will buy. My goal is to have a high-quality and diverse selection of handmade items and engaging art. I want to have a wide range of price points while keeping to the theme of everything being made in small batches in small studios.
My growing selection of one-of-a-kind original wall pieces (paintings, metal collages and mixed-media) are among my most loved. I have to mention the handcrafted contemporary jewelry as well. I am really proud of the great selection here. I’m hosting monthly trunk shows to feature jewelry artists and I’m honored to bring such talent to town. The pottery is pretty fantastic, too. And the clothes! I can’t pick a favorite.
RM: You recently celebrated two years in business. What have you learned in that time about running a business?
HA: I have had to be completely dedicated to the mission of making it work. As doubts arise and when sales are slow, I have to surrender my worries and fears and refocus on something I can do to get through the day or week, which may not show immediate results. I’ve learned that if I want to make my business work, I need to put in many efforts in many different directions. I have learned to trust my eye when it comes to stocking items. I’ve also learned the importance of being patient. One of the hardest things has been having an idea and not having the resources to make it happen right now, but instead doing small things that will help that idea take form over time. Persistence is key, along with providing consistent and high-quality service.
RM: What do you love about owning a business?
HA: I love that I can define it. I love shaping the store like I might an artwork, as a kind of multifaceted, interactive piece. I love providing a really special and personal experience. This is what I love most about having a brick-and-mortar. Online stores can’t touch that. I also love providing exhibit space and writing checks to other artists. I love that I have a really smart and stunning and eclectic collection of art in this unassuming Midwestern town. It is a real treat to people who happen upon it, and people who live here appreciate it as a place to find something special. I also like being able to bring my kids to work with me sometimes so they have an understanding about what I do.
RM: And, what are the downsides to business ownership?
HA: There are always a million things to do and you can never, ever get away! You can go places and take breaks, but you always have that monkey on your back.
RM: What is something a lot of people don’t know about your store?
HA: I actually empathize a lot with people who don’t enjoy shopping and I strive to provide an alternative to the norm. I have a couple of stellar part-time employees who believe in the work we carry and are especially good at helping people find meaningful gifts. Also, we have a new clothing boutique in the back featuring high-quality simple cotton jersey women’s clothing that can be dressed up or down, along with one-of-a-kind, funky, artisan-made dresses, skirts and tops. For men, we have a growing assortment of cool printed T-shirts, all made in the USA! We also have a section featuring heirloom-quality handmade items for kids.
RM: What is your advice to other entrepreneurs, especially to young people who are just getting started?
HA: If you have a really good basic idea that just persists in your mind, give it a go. Start small and let it build as you learn what works and what doesn’t. Also, be sure to look for resources for starting a small company on a small budget and chat it up with other people who have started or recently started a business. There is so much to learn from each other. Sharing stories is so helpful.
RM: What’s next for you? Any new projects or ideas in the works?
HA: I have too many ideas! Within the next year, I want to prioritize setting up a home jewelry studio where I can do some torch work. I’d like to start on a new line I’ve been dreaming up for quite a while, incorporating more sterling silver, bronze and a little gold.
RM: Tell us about your life outside of work.
HA: I am a single mom of a son and daughter (ages 6 and 4), and most of my fun outside of work revolves around them. They enjoy art maybe more than I do, and you can actually find some of their drawings featured on buttons and totes in the store.
We live by my parents and near my brother and his girlfriend on what we call our family “compound” and we have a few dogs and cats that roam between the houses. We have one betta fish that stays at our house. We enjoy piles of laundry, repurposing cardboard boxes and arguing about what to do with the excessive amount of stuffed animals. I’ve been trying to convince (the kids) to let me cement (the stuffed animals) into one very large lawn ornament, but so far I’m not having any luck, as they are rejecting all my design proposals.
I’ve recently become more involved with the Galesburg Civic Art Center as a volunteer teacher. I am also a supporter of the Galesburg Farmers Market and am sponsoring an artists booth this season, providing space for emerging artists who want to give the market a try.
WANT TO GO?
Dovetail Rivet & Stitch
Address: 61 S. Seminary St., Galesburg
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
Phone: (309) 344-3683
Web: dovetailrivetstitch.com or facebook.com/dovetailrivetstitch