Old town Bluffton has transformed over the past ten years. The sleepy streets have been awakened with art galleries, restaurants and boutique shops. The Pluff Mudd Gallery has been a constant through those years. It celebrates its 10th anniversary Thursday.
Many studios have come and gone, but the co-op gallery in the yellow cottage off Calhoun Street still remains. In fact, March was its most profitable month ever, generating about $15,000, according to general manager Vickie Jourdan, also a founding artist of the gallery. About 21 artists are featured, meaning jewelry, sculpture, photography, pottery and a wide-variety of painting fills just about every room of the house.
Like old town itself, the mix inside is eclectic, but put together, it's managed to find a successful harmony.
The gallery was the idea of Bluffton artist couple Peggy Duncan and Jon Nelson. At the time, old town was a shadow of what it is now. Many of the cottages that now serve as galleries were still residences. But an artist community was starting to thrive. Nelson and Duncan were seeking a venue to bring together Bluffton artists and show their work. They started with seven artists on the first floor of the old Planters Mercantile building on Calhoun Street in April 2002. They called it A Guild of Bluffton Artists.
"In my first year, I don't think I sold anything," Jourdan said. "(Nelson) said to me, 'Don't get discouraged. People will come.' And they did."
After four years, the guild moved into Duncan's frame shop in the yellow cottage across the street called Pluff Mudd. The cottage afforded room for more art and more artists. They opened membersip up to artists outside of Bluffton. Duncan, who's hushand died in 2004, eventually moved out of state. But the guild members continued on.
'A TRUE CO-OP'
Of the 21 total artists, 14 of those are full-time voting members. When one leaves, which isn't very often, the remaining members vote on a replacement. They share expenses such as rent or utilities. Each member works two days in the gallery. Each member helps with upkeep, wether tracking finaces or mowing the lawn.
"It's a true co-op," said Lynda Potter, a founding artist. "It's not like just a few are in charge. Everyone has a role."
New member Irene Williamson said she decided to join because the gallery's reputation for being a destination for art lovers in Bluffton. She felt her abstract work would find a niche there.
"I don't feel like the artists are not competing with each other; we're complementing each other," she said. "I think the artists are all talented but there are no big egos. They're all great fun to work with."
Potter remembers a time when tourists would stop in the gallery looking for old town. They'd be surprised to learn they were in it.
"In the beginning," she said, "all we'd hear was 'Is this it?' Now we have enough going on that people can spend a day here and find plenty of things to do.
Times have changed."