My Biz: Cedar Rapids Museum of Art store sells items complementing exhibits

Store offers wide range of local artist's merchandise

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By R’becca Groff, correspondent

CEDAR RAPIDS — Lou Wendel considers her art background a plus and one that serves her well in her roles as museum store manager and visitor services coordinator for the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art (CRMA).

“You can have the best products,” she said, “but if they are not displayed well, then you won’t get the job done quite as well. It’s important to have a certain eye for placement.”

Wendel has been with the CRMA for 12 years. The last three have been spent managing the day to day operations of and acquiring merchandise for the CRMA Museum Store.

While many might refer to the diversely stocked store as a gift shop, she explains that it is about more than that.

“It really is beyond just a gift store because we are mission related,” she explained. “It is a museum store and we belong to the Museum Store Association (a Denver, Colo., organization representing museum store professionals).

“The products we sell in here are related to the exhibits that we have in the galleries, When they change the featured exhibits out in the galleries, we are allowed to bring in different types of merchandise that will relate to the exhibits.”

“I love that part of this job, because we are always changing,” she added.

The store offers a wide range of merchandise, handmade by local artists as well as a limited number of international artists.

“I work with a lot of art consignment in the store right now,” Wendel said. “We have about 80 different artists mostly Midwest-based, and many of them come from Iowa, and since this is the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, it is very important that we support these artists.”

Wendel travels to Midwest art fairs seeking merchandise for the store, and has gone as far as Atlanta, but said that she enjoys the fairs held in Ames, Des Moines and Madison, Wis.

“I do try to keep most of my artists from within the United States, but there was one from the outside who was just too wonderful to say no to,” she laughed.

There are actually two outside artists, and part of that is because of the Roman collection at the CRMA.

Guest satisfaction is another key factor where Wendel feels the CRMA Museum Store makes a contribution.

“While it is important to support the museum financially, another big part of our job is to get and keep the excitement up for this art museum,” Wendel said.

The CRMA gets many foreign visitors who come looking specifically for Grant Wood “because he is ours here in Iowa, and then they’re excited to discover Marvin Cone and learn about how the two artists worked together.”

“They love the size of our museum and they like the way our curators lay things out,” Wendel said.

“It’s just the right size where they can spend a couple of hours and actually get through it and enjoy it all.”

“We meet people from all over the world in here and we get to hear the most wonderful stories,” she added.

Approximately 25 percent of the merchandise sold in the store is related to Grant Wood or Marvin Cone.

Wendel said she is lucky to have such a beautiful building to work in every day. “It’s hard to stay stressed in here because it is a very calming space and I am honored to be in this job,” she said. “Meeting and working with the artists is a huge joy for me.”

AT A GLANCE

Manager: Lou Wendel

Company: Cedar Rapids Museum of Art store

Address: 410 Thurd Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids

Phone: (319) 366-7503

Website: www.crma.org

Know a company in business for more than a year that would make a good My Biz? Contact George C. Ford at George.Ford@thegazette.com

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