A Decade Later, Changes Ahead for Rivet Gallery
A lot can happen in ten years. For Laura Kuenzli, ten years has brought a business idea to fruition, success in sharing the customizable toy industry in Columbus, experience as an art gallery curator, strength as a cancer survivor, changes after a divorce, and a network of community and relationships with artists. Through it all, Rivet became an anchor of the northern end of the Short North, but after ten years, the time has come for the physical store to close and a new iteration to come.
“It’s bittersweet to close [the store], but exciting to think of the changes ahead,” says Kuenzli, owner of Rivet. “My heart’s just not in the same place as it used to be and I’m ready to go in a different direction.”
Kuenzli will close the physical location of Rivet on October 31, 2017. “I’m happy it’s ending on Halloween, it’s my favorite holiday and season.”
The closure is not happening due to a rent increase. Being at the northern end of the Short North has challenges that Kuenzli no longer has the energy to overcome.
“It’s always been a challenge to get Gallery Hop visitors this far north,” says Kuenzli. Rivet has mostly been the lone art gallery that far north in the district. Other galleries throughout the district have shifted their art opening receptions to Friday night, but with Rivet being on its own, that was not an option.
Kuenzli had looked into options to move the gallery further into the Short North Arts District, but nothing worked out. Over the past year, foot traffic has decreased in her block.
“This block has always been a challenge,” she says.
Rivet opened in its space in June of 2007 after Kuenzli spotted a vacancy when driving through the neighborhood. Originally from Columbus, Kuenzli had moved to Florida for awhile and then moved back after her mom passed away.
“I wanted to be closer to my family,” she says.
Kuenzli had long had an interest in crafts and designer collectible toys. Her early collection centered around The Nightmare Before Christmas figurines. While attending a convention, she discovered Kidrobot and other artists whose work she liked and started to research the genre more. Discovering gallery/stores Rotofugi in Chicago and Double Punch in San Francisco (now closed) piqued her curiosity in the viability of a designer toy store with a gallery. To test the market in Columbus, she organized a toy show at the former Bar of Modern Art (BOMA) in Columbus in 2006.
“It went well, the turn out was good,” she says. “Columbus did not have a gallery that showcased the style of art I liked, nor was there a collectible toy store. The success of this test run gave me the validity I needed to open a gallery here.”
Local artist Sharon Dorsey first met Laura and Scott Kuenzli (Laura’s husband at the time) during that show at BOMA.
“Laura and Scott curated an amazing show (artwork created on ammunition cases) in one of BOMA’s galleries, and I can’t remember the exact reason that we happened to be at the opening, but I remember talking to Laura about the two of them starting a gallery in the Short North featuring pop surrealist art, among other things,” says Dorsey.
It was one week after the lease was signed for 1200 North High Street that Laura Kuenzli would be diagnosed with cancer. It was tough. Getting a new business going in the midst of a personal health crisis was difficult.
“I was not a part of getting the store ready,” she says. Friends, along with Scott, got the store up and running. “If I didn’t have a spouse at the time, it just wouldn’t have been possible.”
Scott helped her with the shop and was often present when Kuenzli was not able to be there, “but he always made sure it was my thing,” she says.
When Kuenzli made a full recovery and beat cancer, she was often at the gallery, except for the times she would close the store to head off to conventions, or to local shows or expos like Comfest or Craftin’ Outlaws. In the beginning, it was a challenge to convince artists to give a new gallery a try and to get exposure for Rivet, but after about a year and half she felt “there might be something in this.”
Dorsey was one of the artists who participated in the Inaugural Group Show for Rivet’s Grand Opening on June 1, 2007.
“I was honored to be asked to take part in the beginnings of Rivet,” said Dorsey. “I admire all that Laura’s done with that space over its ten years.”
Since then, Rivet has hosted nearly 120 shows with well known and newer artists in this genre, has been voted the Top Art Gallery by Columbus Underground in 2010 and 2011, has hosted “Yama”, the 500 year old Tibetan Monk skull pinhole camera, and has held special events such as Rivet being featured on the cover of an exclusive variant of the first issue of the Bob’s Burgers comic book.
“I would say the Bob’s Burgers event was definitely a highlight,” she says. “It was fun to see the community come together for that.”
However, it hasn’t always been a smooth course, and definitely not easy.
“It’s important to never lose sight of what your life is like outside of work,” she says. She feels that the stress of a business took a toll on her marriage, and although Laura and Scott divorced, they remain friendly.
“Going through a relationship dying and needing to relearn my life in another way… I had to find the assurance that I can do things myself,” she says.
Rebuilding her network of support and relying on friends helped her get through that time. Keeping up with her interests and hobbies outside of the gallery and store has created new opportunities. Although the physical location of Rivet will be closing, the business will live on.
After the store closes, Kuenzli will be shifting Rivet’s focus online and looking for popup shop and convention opportunities. She will also take her unique eye to galleries in Columbus, guest curating a show at Blockfort in January, and working with the Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD) in the fall.
More details for the final show on Tuesday, October 31 are pending, and Kuenzli would like to thank the community for their support over the years.
“I’m looking forward to exploring more and staying inspired by the creativity our community offers,” she says.
Currently on view through September 27 at Rivet Gallery is Sweet Toofs, art by Ed Mironiuk, a solo exhibition ‘featuring 23 sweet fiber art works and endless toofy smiles.’ October will feature New Beginnings and Goodbyes – a solo show of the art of Johnny Yanok.
Rivet Gallery is located at 1200 N. High St., Columbus, OH 43201. For more information, visit rivetgallery.com.