Jo’s Gallery on the “Avenue of Fashion” has painted an impressive picture of survival.
The “second generation African-American owned art gallery” has stood the test of a decline in business along the once bustling commercial district on Livernois, between Seven and Eight Mile in Detroit, an area frequented in the past by some of the city’s most prominent individuals.
“It was the ‘Avenue’ for the ‘Who’s Who’ to enjoy themselves,” said Mari Byrd of Clawson, who manages the gallery. “Then it was sort of a big drought. Businesses were coming in and out, and were not being able to sustain with all the challenges. It was very dark and gloomy — not very customer welcoming.”
“Now, it’s like a rebirth, just like the downtown (Detroit) area,” she continued. “It’s like a fresh anointing on it. People are excited, and they feel the comeback. Motor City Match is very involved and reaching out to the area and the Avenue of Fashion to bring it back to the glory it once was. New businesses are popping up all the time.”
Joann Griffin opened Jo’s Gallery in 1980 inside her home in the historic Boston Edison area, located in the middle of Detroit. “At first, it was just a passion of hers to collect art. She had friends who also took interest, and she began selling out of her home,” explained Byrd. “Then it became so popular that, in 1991, she went into a commercial space in Greektown’s Trappers Alley, which is now the casino. She had a small art store, and she was there about five years, or so. She moved from Trapper’s Alley to the Avenue of Fashion district in 1996, where we reside today.”
How did Jo’s Gallery survive the prolonged drought that forced others along the “Avenue” to close their doors?
Byrd said, “Legend has it that Ms. Griffin was very involved in the community. She had some outstanding relationships with politicians and a lot of professionals in the downtown (Detroit) area, who fell in love with art and were very passionate about collecting art, and expanding their collection with various new and non-local artists. She also had a special relationship and rapport with artists, from local to international, and because of those relationships, she was able to stand the test of time of the transformation of the area.”
After Griffin died in 2012, her daughter, Garnette Archer, became the owner. “She works a day job for an automotive company, so it doesn’t lend her to be here as much as she would like,” stated Byrd, who was asked to help “run the gallery” in her absence.
The gallery sells art by local and national award-winning African-American artists. “We sell open edition prints, limited edition prints, and originals. ” Artists include William Tolliver, Lashun Beal, Willie Tolbert and Frank Morrison.
Byrd said customers are “passionate about placing a specific piece of art in their home, or place of business. It’s amazing to me how many men are interested in beautifying their home with art. They really take their time.” And, she finds many, both men and women, are “true collectors, who are interested in the authenticity of their art and the meaning behind it.”
Jo’s also sells handmade jewelry, figurines by Annie Lee and Thomas Blackshear, Ivory Coast masks and sculptures.
The gallery also does custom framing. “Last summer, we got a lot of Cuban art, because a lot of our customers went to Cuba and brought some amazing stuff in that were originals.”
Frames are created from natural wood moldings with “very elaborate” finishes, including gold leaf. Customers consult with master framer Paula Stephenson of Harper Woods, who said, “We provide custom framing at a really reasonable cost, and we put a lot of effort into helping people select art and framing that will work in their home or workplace. We also do restoration of art and framing.”
Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade.
Contact Jo’s Gallery (19376 Livernois, Detroit) at (313) 864-1401, or on Facebook. Email: mbyrd.josgallery@ gmail.com.