The Art Guild of Hope is taking its presence from the physical to the virtual.

The organization has launched a virtual gallery on the HSJ Online web site where visitors may peruse and purchase artwork by nearly one dozen area artists.

Talks about taking the art guild’s work from the real world to online began nearly one year ago when the Visitors Center relocated from the former Irwin Union Bank building on the corner of Harrison and Jackson Streets to the space it now shares with the Yellow Trail Museum on the northwest side of the town square.

“For three years, the guild had a really nice gallery with foot traffic,” says Michael Dean, CEO of the Heritage of Hope, Inc. “That was one of the concerns about the art guild itself when the center moved.”

However, Dean says he had a plan.

“I said, ‘Wait a minute, we have an art gallery if we want to take advantage of it,’” he says. “It is not one where people can walk in, it can be a virtual gallery. It is 24/7 and people can see exactly what the pieces are and, in some ways, it is just as good, if not better, than a traditional gallery.”

Local artist Rhonda Bontrager says keeping up with trends is essential.

“You have to stay in the times with what people want,” she says. “People just don’t go to galleries like they used to and the new generations want to see it now and get it now.”

Not only is giving people what they want important, but keeping the importance of the role of art in society at the forefront of community consciousness is also of great significance, Bontrager explains.

“Art has always been important throughout the ages,” Bontrager says. “That is how you keep record of things that happen throughout history.”

Visitors to HSJ Online can click on the Art Guild of Hope link, which will take them to a virtual gallery, Dean says. The gallery will feature artwork of various mediums, including sculpture and watercolor and acrylic paintings, by area artists with details about the work, artist info, price, and how to contact the artist directly to view or purchase the piece.

The site will be consistently updated as new pieces are made available, Bontrager says. And she hopes increased exposure for the artists will also help to build the Art Guild of Hope.

“We would like to grow in numbers,” the 59-year-old Hope resident says.

Currently, interested artists may submit their work to the Guild’s jury for consideration. Those who wish to become associate members may do so by foregoing the jury process, she says.

When asked if artists would consider replicating pieces that are in high demand, Bontrager says it would be up to the individual artist’s discretion.

However, she cautions that replicating a piece and expecting a spot-on result is very difficult as there are variations with each production.
Bontrager hopes the virtual gallery will assist artists, like herself, to become more well known since self-promotion is oftentimes a bit of a challenge in the art world.

Dean, likewise, hopes online exposure will help grow the guild and recognition for Hope’s talented artists.

“I don’t know if anyone there does it to be famous or rich, they do it because they love doing it,” Dean says. “If their work gets out there, people see it, enjoy it and buy it then that’s great.”