Gallery Questions

I belong to the Creative Metal Arts Guild of Oregon and have
been asked by its members to solicit feedback from the Orchid
group. I also manage the group’s library. Any suggestions on
books or articles on the following subject would be appreciated.

Some of the less experienced metalsmiths have recently inquired
as to what questions a metals artist should ask when checking out
a prospective gallery. There does not appear to be a concern
with well established galleries; however, it appears that new and
less experienced artists are at risk when it comes to doing
business with galleries that have not yet established a

Some areas of concern are:

  1. Galleries that have or are owned by a goldsmith that will do
    on-site custom work. How can the artist be assured that their
    pieces are not being used as samples to trigger sales for custom
    pieces that are a slight modification, or an outright copy, of
    the artist’s original work?

  2. Sales staff. What qualities should a metal artist look for
    in a gallery sales staff? What kind of staff has the greatest
    potential for actually selling the artist’s work?

  3. Lack of experience. When one lacks the experience that the
    "school of hard knocks" provides, what questions should a metals
    artist ask a prospective gallery?

  4. Agreements. What kind of agreement is best? Is it safe to
    accept a verbal agreement, or should you "get it in writing?"
    What elements should be included in a written agreement?

I am sure that there will be all kinds of answers on these
questions so I will take the time to answer the one I have
personally been burned on more than once.

   2.  Sales staff.  What qualities should a metal artist look
for in a gallery sales staff?  What kind of staff has the    
greatest  potential for actually selling the artist's work?

While you want a staff that “knows what it’s talking about”, and
that’s hard enough to find. You also want a gallery that doesn’t
have a great advantage in selling one piece over another, for

-A gallery run by another jeweler who has their own work in the
shop and promotes it at the cost of all other. Premier case space
and effort often goes to them.

-A gallery that also sells “production” work where they can mark
it up and receive a higher profit margin.

I know these are tough to guard against…but they are real
problems I have experienced with “friends” who own shops and
people looking to boost their bottom line. Heaven knows most of
the gallery owners selling fine craft aren’t rolling in cash and
these temptations would be hard to pass up…just something to
watch for…

Karen @Karenworks

Evil tip of the day for those who scrolled down this far… I
have had shops where I negotiated a better location/ display
space when my sales were low. I have friends or family members
who live in the area stop by and see if they are sticking with
it. A casual question from a seeming customer “Don’t you carry
so and so?” followed with “oh gosh I didn’t even notice it down
there” has helped…with them reporting back to me on it’s

Hi Laura,

The biggest question I would ask a gallery, as a jewelry artist,
is what jewelry in their cases is selling best. This gives a
good indication of their market, or what work they are pushing.
More likely the former, rather than latter. Getting your work
into the gallery is relatively easy… getting it to move off
the shelves can be more challenging, especially on consignment.

In the galleries with which I’ve worked, I’ve never seen anyone
really attempt to “sell” anything, which is a disappointment.
It’s more like “if you see anything you like, let me know…” I
would rather see them talk about the pieces and artists,
encourage customer participation, etc. The approach seems to
“low key” that it’s almost non-sales. This observation makes me
think, from time-to-time, about opening a gallery/storefront.

I have a simple, plain English consignment agreement I have the
gallery sign. I hesitate to include the text due to legal
implications, as I’m not an attorney. Essentially, the elements
I wanted to include are that if a piece disappears from
inventory, for any reason, I will be paid. Second, if the piece
is damaged due to abuse or mishandling, I will be paid. It also
confirms that the relationship is mutually non-exclusive (I can
sell work elsewhere; they can carry other jewelry). I let the
gallery cover things like payment schedule, terms, etc. in their
agreement. I just want to cover the stuff to protect myself
that they normally agree to verbally, but don’t include in their

One piece of unsolicited advice: appear professional, even if
you don’t feel it. Wear your business person hat in dealing
with the galleries, rather than your artist hat. Of course,
shift into artist mode when talking about your pieces,
inspiration, artistic vision, etc. But shift back into
professional mode when talking business.

Hope this helps,

Dave Sebaste
Sebaste Studio
Charlotte, NC (USA)