Cleaning out forty years’ worth of woodworking and metallurgy equipment and detritus from the old workshop in Tetonia was a labor of love, said new owner Michele Walters. She plans to offer impromptu art workshops, children’s programming, and retail goods at the Tribe Artist Collective.

Artist opens Tetonia studio and co-op

Artist Michele Walters has set up shop in a historic Tetonia building and hopes to establish a thriving art co-op and educational resource for the community.

The big, character-filled house and showroom on the main drag across from the Tetonia Club has been around for decades. According to a 2002 Teton Valley News article, the building once housed a gas station and restaurant called Melba’s, then Amy Beard’s greenhouse and nursery, then Mortise & Tenon, a workshop and showroom for a custom furniture business occupied by D.J. Freese and Robert Zavodny.

Zavodny, or Bob Zee as he was affectionately known in the valley, was a virtuosic percussionist who was infamous for his pizza box solos. Freese built drums as well as furniture and invented the cacaphone, a multi-user instrument that includes strings, chimes, rattles, and drums.

Walters can feel the presence of the creative people who occupied the building before her.

“I have big shoes to feel,” she said. Many Tetonia residents have stopped by the shop to visit with her while she works and share stories about the former occupants.

Walters has years of experience as a business owner and art educator, first in Jackson, then in Teton Valley. When she saw that the Tetonia building was on the market, she knew this was her chance not only to own a home but also to start the Tribe Artist Collective, a communal art space in the north end.

She thinks Tetonia is the future.

“There’s so much potential here for young people, because there’s nowhere else in the valley where we can afford to buy property,” she said. “There is so much history here and great businesses, and it’s so beautiful. The community has been very supportive and warm and welcoming.”

Walters moved into the upstairs apartment in March and dove into renovations. First the workshop needed to be thoroughly cleaned and organized, a massive undertaking. She sold or donated most of the machinery and woodworking equipment to bankroll construction.

The sunny showroom up front, with a big bay window and warm brick floors, will house products from local craftspeople and artisans, and the shop will serve as a space for art classes. Walters is excited to offer after-school programs to the kids of Tetonia Elementary, only a quick walk away.

However, in order to house public classes, the space needs to be safe and accessible. That’s why Walters launched a Kickstarter late last month in order to fund more renovation phases. The first priority is a public bathroom and utility sink on the ground floor. Visit the project site at http://kck.st/2pUxtm0.

Walters is hosting an open house on Nov. 16 and 17 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. with hors d’oeuvres and a full schedule of family-friendly demonstrations and projects, including paper making, natural fabric dyeing, printmaking, wreaths and leaf rubbings for kids, painting, bookbinding, and mixed media. The event and classes are free but donations are recommended.

“It’s exciting times for Tetonia as people mosey up here,” she said. “I want the space to be original and funky, I want to figure out how to get people to stop instead of driving through town.”


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