KOBO: The little gallery that could

Dicky Stone, vessel of live oak wood, 7.5 x 5 inches

The aptly named “Perseverance” show opens this week at Barnard Street’s Kobo Gallery. 

As the press release says, “By definition, Perseverance means to be persistent in achieving success. Over the past 15 years in its exact founding location, Kobo Gallery and its army of contemporary, locally based artists has persevered.”

On Friday, May 6, the partners will celebrate their journey with a reception from 5-8 pm. 

As they say, “The last couple of years has tested not only the tenacity of Kobo Gallery artists individually, but also the business model of selling art. ‘Perseverance – Kobo at 15’ is a beacon show, a strong-hold of art, concept, design, and visual proof, regardless of medium, symbolizing that Kobo is here to stay.”

I sit down with Daniel E. Smith, David Kaminsky, Doris Grieder, and Dicky Stone, four of Kobo’s more senior members, to hear their thoughts on persevering and, indeed, of prospering.

Long-time Savannahians will remember the fabulous Chroma Gallery that sat on the corner of Barnard and W. Congress Streets, overlooking Ellis Square. The primary venue for contemporary art in the city, partners Lori Keith Robinson and Jan Clayton Pagratis represented such highly acclaimed southern artists as Betsy Cain, her husband David Kaminsky, Daniel L. Smith, and Cedric Smith.

Jeweler, Heather Lindsey Stewart. sublet a small street-facing space at the front of Chroma and when she became pregnant, Pagratis suggested she start a co-op so she that didn’t have to give up her business. Following her advice, Stewart, who embraces a Japanese aesthetic in her work, recruited Christi Reiterman, Kristi Jilson and Rachel Ormison, and Kobo Gallery was born. 

The name means atelier or workshop in Japanese.

Woodworker Dicky Stone joined the women the following month, and fiber artist Doris Grieder came soon after. 

“When we first started, we sublet from Chroma. We were not allowed any painters. So, for the first years they were only jewelers, 3-D artists, and a photographer,” Stone recalls. But then, Chroma sold and,” We had the opportunity to take over the back space of their gallery that had been used for framing. David (Kaminsky), Daniel (Smith), Betsy (Cain) and Jan (Pagratis) all came in April of 2012.”

Kobo flourished and, over the years, has shown work from such immensely talented Savannah artists as Ikeda Feingold, Tobia Makeover, Melinda Borysevicz, Mary Hartman, Dana Richardson, Peter Roberts, and Matt Toole. 

Today there are 14 partners who commit to working in the gallery two or three days a month, attending a monthly meeting, and serving on a membership, finance, maintenance, or PR committee. It takes an army.

David Kaminsky’s “Evening Wake”, archival pigment print on canvas, 36 x 18 inches
David Kaminsky’s “Evening Wake”, archival pigment print on canvas, 36 x 18 inches

Kaminsky shares they are looking for two more artists to join them. 

“When people apply, the committee does the initial vetting but then all members will meet to review their work, and the decision to accept must be unanimous.” 

Grieder adds, “Now it’s easier. We can view their work online. But before they’d have to come in and hang it in the bathroom!” 

Applicants still bring in five or six pieces to leave for a month so that each member can look at the physical work in person.

“What makes us work is the fact that not only must the art be of a certain quality, but also that personalities matter,” says Stone. 

“We are all a family, and we all must get along. Our vetting process requires a unanimous decision. If someone has a problem with a particular applicant, then it’s not going to work.”

We talk about the pandemic and how so many small businesses closed during the mandatory shutdown. Kobo closed for two or three months, but, Stone says, “We have an incredibly understanding landlord. When we were faced with COVID, we got all the members of the gallery to commit to stay through at least the end of that year (2020) and went to him and told him we needed help. He said, ‘Tell me what you need.’ We made an offer and he accepted. We could not be luckier in the landlord department.” During the closure, the partners busied themselves in setting up a stronger online presence and store that is attached to their website. “2020 and 2021 ended up being incredibly good,” Stone adds.

Now that life has returned to normal, Kobo Gallery is open seven days a week. 

I appreciate how it is constantly reconfigured and refreshed. Work is rotated on a regular schedule so that every two months the gallery seems new and different.

Daniel E. Smith’s painting “Farm Ponds.” 12 x 12 inches
Daniel E. Smith’s painting “Farm Ponds.” 12 x 12 inches

Dicky Stone uses local woods to turn his one-of-a-kind pieces that often incorporate intricately carved waving tendrils. He talks about his partnerships with other gallery members and shows me a collaborative piece he created with jeweler Nancy Boyd. “That’s part of the wonderful thing about the co-op aspect of the gallery. We feed off each other. I hope to make a piece with the other jewelers – Gillian Trask and Susana Guerrero.” Stone often works on the sidewalk to engage passersby, and kids especially love to see him turn wood and learn more about the process.

Similarly, fiber artist Doris Grieder can create while fulfilling her gallery-sitting duties and is rarely seen without knitting or crocheting needles in her hands. Originally from Basel, Switzerland, she moved here from Cincinnati fifteen years ago and wanted to be in a gallery. Chroma intimidated her. 

“I was more of a crafter,” she says, “But I saw Dicky on the sidewalk and walked into this little artisan gallery. I thought, ‘I’m a good craft person but I don’t know how to be an artist.’ Jan Pagratis took me under her wing and said, ‘A craftsperson can see something and copy it, an artist sees an idea, takes it, and runs in a different direction.’ That’s what she taught me – to experiment.”

As mentioned above, painter Daniel E. Smith was originally in Chroma Gallery. His work is featured in collections all over the world, with 12 architectural abstracts and two abstract landscapes in Savannah’s Telfair Museums’ permanent collection. 

Today he has his own workspace and gallery on nearby Jefferson St., but remains in Kobo because, “This is very visible. I encourage visitors here to come to my studio to see my larger work and my more architectural subject matter. Mostly I sell low country marshes at Kobo, usually smaller in scale.” 

Smith has recently returned to ceramics and has begun to sell pieces at the gallery.

I have known Smith for many years and respect the work he’s put in to place Savannah on the global map as an art destination. Savannah’s art scene is much, much more than SCAD, and I feel that the City, Chamber and SEDA all need to step up to support artists and foster art tourism. Smith left Kobo for two years to work on this mission when he was President of ARC (Art Resource Collective) and Savannahians may remember the comprehensive art map of galleries, artists, and studios that Peter Roberts designed, and the State, through Smith’s advocacy, funded.

David Kaminsky also originally showed in Chroma. He holds a master’s in photography and owns Savannah Color Separations on Broughton Street which provides high- resolution digital photography and giclee printing for local and regional artists. His work at Kobo is highly distinctive – entailing a “stretching-out” of the underlying image, separating it into horizontal bands of color. 

Doris Grieder’s mixed media “Three Candles.” - 12 x 12 inches
Doris Grieder’s mixed media “Three Candles.” 12 x 12 inches

The initial photography is often inspired by views from the marsh-side home he shares with painter Betsy Cain.

In addition to Stone, Grieder, Smith and Kaminsky, current members are painters, jewelers, photographers, and mixed media artists Morgan Adler, Nancy Boyd, Susanne Carmack, Antoine De Villiers, Joy Dunigan, Susana Guerrero, Marta McWhorter, Jessica People, Gillian Trask and Teake Zuidema.

Kobo Gallery is located at 33 Barnard St. and their 15-year anniversary show opens Friday, May 6 from 5-9pm and runs through May 31. Find out more at kobogallery.com or on Instagram @kobogallery


About The Author

Beth Logan

I am originally from Portrush, Northern Ireland, and emigrated to San Francisco after attending the University of Belfast. My photographer - and ex - husband brought us to Savannah, and it has been my passion to get to know and to be involved in the local art community ever since. I look forward to profiling artists,...
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