150-year-old house in Kewaunee County now home to eclectic art gallery
MONTPELIER – Connecting with her father's roots led Pat Bell to a 150-year-old, two-story house that's become her unique art gallery and gift shop.
Or, as Bell said, "it was genealogy and Zillow that got me out here."
Bell moved to Kewaunee County from her native California two years ago and opened The Downstairs Attic last November. The yellow building on State 29 just east of Aissen Tree Farm offers fine art photography, crocheted items, mosaics, purses, paintings and quilts created by eight artists as well as Bell's photography and wearable crocheted art. Glass art, ceramics, home goods and more are also available, and Bell strives to set affordable prices.
"I would describe this as an eclectic art studio, an eclectic gift shop and everything in between," Bell said. "It's always a revolving door."
Bell lived around the Bay Area of California most of her life, except for a short spell in Washington. She worked in the corporate world, but was interested in art for many years and also dabbled in interior design.
"I've been drawing since I was about 9 years old," Bell said. "I was working in corporate America, but doing as much art as I could do. I like art, I like being around creative people."
Plus, when she retired, she wanted to do more with her sudden free time than just sit around.
"I don't think you should ever just retire," Bell said. "I think (retirement) should allow you the to go do something you want to do."
She might have considered that she already was in the right place to enter the art world after her retirement, because northern California, and especially the Carmel/Pebble Beach area, is considered one of the country's prime spots for working artists and galleries.
But Bell was interested in her father's ancestry, which led to a trip with him to the Appleton area where he was born. She was not necessarily planning to move from California, but she said the friendliness and openness of Wisconsin clicked with her.
"This is what Sunnyvale (her California hometown) used to be like," Bell said. "Here, people come up to you and say 'hi.' They're nice."
On the return trip, Bell and her father talked about moving to Wisconsin. When she got home, she started checking out properties in Northeast Wisconsin for sale on real estate website Zillow, and that's how she eventually found the place on State 29. She was drawn not just by the charm of the building and its rural setting, but also the location on the side of a well-traveled highway, which could attract customers.
Bell isn't sure about the entire history of the building that houses the gallery, as well as the building on the other side of the driveway where she and her father now live. She said she was told by members of the Schmelter family, which owned the property, that the gallery building was built between 1860 and 1870, and a Bohemian woman lived in it until the Schmelters bought it in the 1970s. The structure she and her father call home was built in 1901.
Bell closed on the property in July 2017, then set about cleaning and renovating the building that would become her gallery. She said the birdseye maple floors and door casings are original to it, and one of the first display settings one sees upon entry is a stove from between 1905 and 1910 that Bell believes the Bohemian woman used for cooking, still in its original creamy light blue colors.
She redecorated the gallery with what she called a "Victorian sensibility," mingling a variety of styles throughout the cozy rooms.
"It took a lot of time, a lot of money, a lot of elbow grease," Bell said. "When we came in and cleaned up, that's when I realized how beautiful it was. It's homey, but it's still a business."
The Downstairs Attic opened for the holiday season last year, closed at Christmas and briefly re-opened in May before health issues for Bell and her father caused her to close temporarily.
Now, the gallery is again open for holiday gift shoppers through the weekend before Christmas, then will re-open in June, after which Bell hopes to maintain regular hours.
The original works offered are mostly by local artists, with the quilts made by three members of the Kewaunee Artisan Center. One artist is from the Madison area — Janet Nelson, with small, whimsical animal paintings — and Bell is working to bring in illustrations next year by a Paris-based fashion designer.
Bell said she thinks The Downstairs Attic fits well in the area, with unique art and gifts at a reasonable price in a quaint roadside building.
"What people tell me is, this is something you'd find in Door County, but not with those prices," Bell said, with a laugh. "I say to them, 'I could raise them.'"
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
The Downstairs Attic is at E1289 State 29, Luxemburg. Open hours are from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Fridays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays through Dec. 21, as well as Dec. 22, with plans to reopen June 10. For more information, call 920-536-3630 or visit facebook.com/theDownstairsAttic.
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This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: 150-year-old house in Kewaunee County now home to eclectic art gallery