Highland Hardware hosts unusual art show

Date: 9/11/2015

HOLYOKE – It’s not what you expect to find in a hardware store.

Among the typical items you would need to sustain or repair your home is a skee ball game made out of Studebaker parts, sculptures from tin cans and an ancient vacuum cleaner that leads a new life.

The reaction to the Highland Hardware Art Show has been “very positive,” according to owner Harry Craven. “People have had nothing but good things to say about it.”

The show, which runs through Oct. 17, features the work of more than 25 Pioneer Valley artists and includes sculpture and paintings.

At the opening reception on Sept. 2, people attending filled the aisles of the store at 917 Hampden St.

“I was amazed at how many people were there,” Craven told Reminder Publications.

The idea for an art show in a hardware store has been long in the making by Dean Nimmer, the artist who organized the exhibit.

“I’ve had the idea for 15 years of an art show in a hardware show, but I couldn’t find someone as hip as Harry Craven,” Nimmer said.

Nimmer pointed out near the center of the hardware section is a sculpture that has a steampunk look. Constructed of pipe and various hardware items, Nimmer revealed the work by was Craven himself.

“I told him, ‘You’re an artist. You did it for fun. It’s not practical,’” Nimmer said.

Rob Kimmel is a graphic artist who lives in Florence and his contribution was one with a high concept and a story. A variety of boxes of different sizes was on display all having various insignia for “ROC Laboratories.” He explained the boxes and graphics are part of a story he has written about a pair of sisters who had perfected a personal jetpack in the 1940s, but whose invention has been forgotten until the boxes were rediscovered in a warehouse.

Illustrator and underground cartoonist Gary Hallgren of Granby contributed three pieces to the show, including one that reflects his love of all things Studebaker. Hallgren, who has restored classic Studebaker cars, created a Studebaker skee ball game out of spare parts.

“It’s something I’ve had in my mind for a long time,” Hallgren said.

It took six months for Hallgren to fabricate the game in which players take golf balls and throw them in such a way to try to land them in several targets in what appears to be a dashboard. What makes the game more challenging is the fact there is a moving steering wheel in front of the targets.

Unlike most of the art featured which is for sale – prices range form as little as $30 and as much as $3,200 – Hallgren’s game was not for sale. He intends to bring it to auto swap meets and classic car shows.

People were lining up to try it on the night of the reception to try their hand. This reporter can attest it’s not as easy as it may have looked. Hallgren said he was “finding out its flaws as people are playing it.”

Craven believes such an exhibit is “great for the city” and will translate into new customers discovering his hardware and bike shop. Like many small business owners, Craven competes against big box hardware stores and Internet merchants. Doing something such as an art show is a “new way to fight,” he said.

A well-known collector and local historian, Craven is involved in a second exhibition that opened on Sept. 8 at the Taber Art Gallery at Holyoke Community College. “Hardware: Art and Artifacts from the Highland Hardware Store,” will feature a selection of the historic photos he has collected as well as tools and other items, either manufactured or used in Holyoke.

He said the items range from antique bicycles, including one made in Holyoke to an ice saw that was used to cut blocks of ice from local ponds for use in the summer to a display of 30 18-inch long auger bits.   

Craven will conduct a gallery talk at during the opening reception from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sept. 16.

Whether or not the art exhibit at Highland Hardware and Bike Shop will be an annual event has yet to be determined. “Let’s get through this one. Let the dust settle and we’ll figure it out,” Craven said.

For more information, log onto www.highlandbike.com.