Chait Galleries features a range of local art


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Chait Galleries—called “the best kept secret in Iowa City” by gallery co-owner Benjamin Chait—is touted as the hidden gem of Iowa City, providing local and regional artists the chance to display their work and a venue for members of the community to experience contrasting artistic styles.

The gallery, located at 218 E Washington, represents 150 local and regional artists. The artwork continually changes to give artists a chance to exhibit. Besides the ever-changing styles, the costs vary widely, so anyone in the community can take home an interesting piece of art. 

“A lot of people are intimidated by a gallery, thinking it’s more of a museum, but when they come in, they see that we’re just a retail gallery,” Chait said. “We try to offer things people can afford. We’re always putting things up, taking things down, moving things around, having new work come in, and when we [see] something, we put something else up.”

The affordability also struck Bethany Fischer, the marketing assistant.

“Initially, I was really surprised by the selection and the range of prices,” she said. “People who have never been in before think it’s for the rich and wealthy, but there is such a huge range of pieces, almost anybody can find something that he or she likes and can afford.”

A wide range of art decorates the plain white walls. There’s everything from woodwork by Craig Miller to assorted busts by Linda Folden. The back of the gallery displays colorful portraits of farming landscapes, accentuating the importance of local artists.

Local artists Louise Rauh and Lee Iben currently have their artwork displayed. Rauh makes sculptural metal pieces, and Iben uses acrylic latex to paint portraits of marshy scenes, demonstrating the diversity of art at the Chait Gallery.

Rauh starts with industrial bowls and paints them with asphaultum in a specific pattern. She then puts the bowl in an alkaline bath to dissolve the exposed metal. She etches the pattern each time while adding more layers until the bowl is almost covered and the edges start disappearing after 20 to 30 rounds. This process takes eight weeks before the bowls can be bleached and colored with acrylic ink for the final product.

“Because elements in nature often surface in my work, ‘transition’ is a recurring theme,” she said. “The etched pieces reflect change, grace in cycles of grown and eventual decline. I strive to capture the fragility of life belied by the strength of materials used.”

Starting as a dental hygienist, Rauh discovered an interest in art at the University of Iowa. This led her to continue pursuing art while opening her own gallery and participating in numerous exhibitions.

“I love the process,” she said. “I like having steps to take and the completion. I like that my art’s really happy. It’s happy-looking, it’s colorful, it’s cheerful, and it elicits a really nice response from people.”

Iben also found a passion for art at the UI. He changed his focus of studies to graphic arts but then got back to fine arts in 2007.

“That’s when I really started to explore the landscapes,” he said.

His process of creation is different from Rauh’s. He works uninterrupted to achieve the desired effect of the piece, he said.

“My intent is to develop a tranquil landscape usually centered on a marsh-type scene,” he said. “It’s pretty much a nonstop process from start to finish because it’s so fluid.”

Iben’s imagination evokes imagery and emotion in which he prides himself.

“When you walk into the gallery, it should first cause you to just stop and take a breath of fresh air,” he said. “When you look at one of my pieces, you should not feel any kind of conflict whatsoever or angst. Each person has a different reaction, but you’re not going to feel agitated or conflicted when you look at my paintings, and that’s naturally the desire.”

Chait has continually supported these two artists.

“He’s been great to me,” Iben said. “I have no desire to really go to other galleries locally because he does such a good job, and he has a national presence, and he knows a lot of folks, and so it works out well.”

In addition to representing local artists, the gallery also takes the opportunity to display special exhibits. Korean jewelry from five makers is on display currently. Three of these artists sent their work from South Korea, garnering international attention to the gallery.

Youngjoo Yoo, a jewelry maker and part of the exhibit, described her jewelry as delicate, unique, and embodying beauty.

“The viewer or customer can wear my jewelry and enjoy art,” she said.

She combines geometric shapes with organic designs such as flowers or leaves.

“That’s why I pursue not only aesthetic values but also practical value in my artistic journey,” Yoo said. “This pursuit, in turn, acts as a catalyst for my artistic maturity, arousing aspirations to create other unique works of art.”

The divergence of styles and techniques brought together in the Chait Gallery resemble the variety of customers as well. Fischer described the clients as coming from all walks of life, representing all ages, states, and various countries.

“[There are] all kinds of people looking for anything,” she said. “So we’re just trying to do our best to figure out what they’re looking for and see something that speaks to them.”

The Chait Gallery — tucked close to other artistic stores, including Beadology and the Paper Nest, 220 E. Washington St.— continues the Iowa City tradition of creativity. Talented local, regional, and occasionally international artists come to display a variety of visions.

“It’s interesting [to work at the Chait Gallery],” Fischer said. “It’s definitely an inspiring environment. There are so many new pieces that come in and rotate through and all the different artists you get to meet while you’re here.”

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