On the Westside of Colorado Springs exists a portal into the minds of others.
The Chavez Gallery is a curious place filled with nostalgic glimpses into the combined psyche — memories, curiosities and ideals — of married couple Kris and Liese Chavez.
Kris, primarily an enamel jewelry-maker, and Liese, a painter, opened the 500-square-foot gallery and studio at 2616 W. Colorado Ave. in April after five weeks spent filling it with their whimsy.
“I think we’re both reaching for a place that pushes a nostalgia button for people,” Liese said. “I think we’re both trying to preserve things that are good about humans.”
Kris and Liese had always shown interest in visual art.
Kris, a California native, and Liese, originally from Massachusetts, had been creating art since high school, but regarded it as a hobby rather than a career.
“I really only used art as a way to make gifts for friends — I didn’t really view it as a viable career choice,” Liese said.
In 2006, they came across each other’s artist pages on Myspace.com. In early 2007, Kris moved from California to be with Liese in Colorado Springs, and the following year, they wed.
Kris had been taking college art courses and encouraged Liese to pursue her own talent for drawing and painting. By 2009, the couple had developed their skills enough to enter e-commerce with an Etsy page, working nights in a shared 200-square-foot basement to craft its inventory.
“We thought maybe we could just stop our day jobs altogether if we made enough money to, so we made a goal of doing that,” she said.
They gradually decreased their days at work (Kris worked at Michael’s, Liese at a decorative art gallery) until quitting last year to pursue their craft full time. But the dimly lit basement was a tight fit, and Liese said their small post-war home was no place to host art collectors.
“When we saw how much it cost to rent in Old Colorado City, we thought maybe we could just rent one of these rather than pay for studio space somewhere,” Kris said.
Out of the basement
In April, after a DIY renovation, the Chavez Gallery opened.
The gallery, like the art that fills it, was greatly influenced by children’s literature and childhood experiences. To inspire interactivity with their pieces, Kris created several flourishes: a mysterious buzzer on the wall that prompts a surprise for its pushers, a peephole that provides a peek into the life of one of Liese’s many Flemish-faced characters, and plenty of arty props for people to play with.
“I’ve really loved watching people who have never really thought too much about art become connected to it here,” Liese said. “I like the feeling of a gallery that respects the artwork, but the people that come in should also feel empowered to have an opinion or to make a comment. I want them to feel like it’s for them, not some imaginary rich person.”
Paintings of top hat-wearing pandas and pale, kinky-haired Dickensian children hang salon-style on the walls near clusters of robot-like necklace pendants and round, ceramic faces.
On any given day, visitors can find Liese painting while sipping jasmine tea near the front door, and Kris is often seen (also sipping tea) melting and manipulating glass pieces behind a zoo-like layer of glass in the back hall.
“We don’t want to distance ourselves,” he said.
From here on out
Since the gallery’s grand opening, Liese said she can hardly work fast enough to meet demand.
Aside from keeping the OCC and online stores stocked, both artists take orders for commissioned pieces of jewelry and acrylic and oil paintings. The price of each work is not determined by content or aesthetic, but is based on a $20-an-hour rate for each of the artists.
“We want to keep it under a certain price point, which is what we think our collectors will be willing to pay for it,” he said.
In an attempt to prepare for potentially slow winter months, the Chavezes frequently discuss new ideas for revenue streams, including concepts for the online store and possibly licensing their characters. But business is great for now.
“Ultimately, after a few years here, we would like to move to a larger space,” Kris said. “We’ve made so many more leaps in the past two years of running our business from home.
Address: 2616 W. Colorado Ave.
Business started: 2009