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Thursday, Oct. 21, 2004 02:25 am

Little (art) house on the prairie

Prairie House’s Gale Myers (left) and Edith Myers
Photo by Job Conger

Springfield's oldest retail art gallery was launched in 1970 as an afterthought to the restoration of the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices at the corner of Sixth and Adams streets. Three families had joined forces to rehabilitate the historic law offices. "When we considered what we wanted to put next door, we decided on an art gallery," says Edith M. Myers, owner of Prairie House, which marks its 35th anniversary next year. Myers says her husband, Jim, came up with the idea of a gallery.

Edith, a sprightly 87-year-old, still works in the gallery. She says she had no art training when she took over management but stepped in after watching a parade of employees fall short in that role. "Jim was always very artistic and had a great sense of art appreciation, but I grew into it. Now I have my daughter-in-law Gale Myers managing it," she says.

From the start, Prairie House concentrated on contemporary American and regional art. At first, the gallery sold only on consignment. "Today we buy art when we see something we really want for the gallery," Myers says. Throughout the year, the gallery showcases its best artists and notifies regular customers who ask to be included on the mailing list.

By the early '90s, the owners had started looking westward to relocate the gallery. "We never made a fortune downtown," Myers says. "Everyone was expanding out west, and we weren't happy with the parking downtown. My son David, Gale's husband, wanted to expand the framing business."

David established Prairie House Custom Frames, a separate business on South Sixth Street, which provides framing for the Prairie House gallery and the public.

The gallery moved in 1994 to Robbins Road after the state of Illinois acquired the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices. That site proved inadequate, so Prairie House moved again in 1997 to a 2,200-square-foot property on Lindbergh Boulevard.

Though wall art continues to sell at Prairie House, Myers reports a major boom in the popularity of hand-blown glass: "There are hundreds of glassblowers now, in their own studios or connected to schools. It's mostly decorative -- bowls, vases, perfume bottles, ornaments. We're not searching to find glass artists; they're finding us."

With the evolution of inventory has come an evolution of customer demographics. "The age difference is stupendous," Myers says. "Downtown, we had lots of people coming in during their lunch hours, a younger group in the main. Today, our visitors are usually middle-aged, with more money in their pockets. Prices have gone up, but no more than other parts of life -- certainly not as much as gasoline!"

Like most retailers, Myers says she and Gale are busy accepting a major influx of new stock as the holiday season approaches. "It's our busiest time of year," she says, "and we will have considerable additional inventory on hand." Plans for next year include more showcases of selected artists to coincide with Prairie House's anniversary.

Prairie House, 3013 Lindbergh Blvd.; 217-546-1770.

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