By Emily Cervone
Living In The Ledge
Little did the citizens of Grand Ledge know, Marilyn Smith’s spring break of 1973 would forever change their town and the fate of an 130-year-old building waiting for demolition.
“It was a disaster,” said Smith. “There was plaster falling off the walls, it had been vacant for four years. It was unbelievable.”
Yet Smith had a dream after traveling to Grand Rapids for her spring break, where she met a few artists and took painting classes. Born and raised in Grand Ledge, that was the “only thing that was missing” from the town—a place to cultivate and support the arts.
“I was a full-time teacher, but I was interested in art,” said Smith. “I called people, got an attorney, a journalist, an artist, some volunteers and went to the city to reach an agreement on this building.”
Eventually, after some negotiating, Ledge Craft Lane was founded in 1975 by Smith, who is the current president of the non-profit business. Smith also is on the Grand Ledge Historical Society Board.
“At first, we had a drive to earn money,” said Smith. “We wanted to get $5,000, but the whole idea was to get people involved anyways. They helped donate for electrical work, we asked for people’s half-filled paint cans and just mixed all of the colors together. We made do.”
Ledge Craft Lane offers two different ways of displaying art: booths and consignments, Smith said. Booths are rented out, and you have to agree to work at least one day a month at the store. They also receive 10% of your sales. As for consignment, you pay and get 20 percent of sales, with the option of working two days a month or paying a $20 fee.
“It’s unique because people can have their own booth either downstairs or upstairs,” said employee Patsy Galvin. “Then there are things on consignment all over the place. There is also an artist of the month that we feature, and their work is displayed on their own wall.”
“Oftentimes, a lot of us are involved in many different areas in the city,” said Galvin. “Everyone who works here is a volunteer, and some are even artists with pieces in the place. So it is a nice balance that have.”
Not only does the place showcase arts and crafts, there are also community art classes available in multiple different mediums, said Galvin. Classes are five days a week, run a six-week session and are well-received by people of all ages.
“There is a really popular class called ‘Paint and Gogh’ ran by one of our artists, Mike Scieszka,” said Galvin. “He used to work at Gallery 1212 in Old Town Lansing, and now runs classes here and other art forums.”
In addition to the art classes, they will start to facilitate a six-week writing class as well, Galvin said. This is part of an effort to expand their influence in the community.
Local resident Sharee Fink grew up in Grand Ledge, but didn’t start visiting the non-profit until Christmas rolled around.
“It is that perfect place to find a unique gift and it is constantly changing,” said Fink. “I can walk in a week later and the layout will just be completely different. I think that is what sets it apart.”
Fink’s first encounter with Ledge Craft Lane, however, was at the infamous Island Art Fair which is not only huge for the non-profit, but retailers around the entire town, said Smith.
“People shop, eat, walk around,” said Smith. “Some retailers say it is their best day of the year. It’s a huge day for us, but everyone in the town as well.”
The Island Art Fair this year will feature over 100 artists and craftsmen and is the oldest one-day art fair in the state of Michigan, said Smith. It is held on the first Saturday of August each year, with free admission and activities for the entire family to enjoy—all housed on the Island park.
“We aim to promote Grand Ledge with our festivals,” said Smith. “That is one of our goals. We also want to provide an area for artists and craftsman to display their work, and we want to each classes and educate the community about the arts.”