After almost two months of renovations, Holly Averbeck proudly welcomed the community into Arizona Handmade Gallery/Fire on the Mountain’s new location for a soft opening during this month’s First Friday ArtWalk on Feb. 7. Almost 600 friends, supporters and community members stopped in to celebrate the large space previously occupied by Puchteca Indian Goods for more than 40 years.
Large west-facing windows bring in an abundance of natural light that shines through glass artwork, inviting passersby to step in and see what’s being offered in the newly renovated space.
“It was a lot of do it yourself, but I believe that creating something beautiful for downtown Flagstaff is worth it,” Averbeck said. “The town is worth it, and I’m not giving up yet.”
Arizona Handmade Gallery has been a mainstay of the community along San Francisco Street for almost 30 years. When Averbeck and her husband George, a glass blower, bought the place in 2010, they kept the name and added on George’s gallery, Fire on the Mountain. The face of downtown Flagstaff has steadily been changing, though, with local shops closing their doors and skylines rising. When Puchteca owner Steve Beiser announced his retirement last year, Averbeck began considering expanding her business to take over the historic space.
“Over time, as I talked to him about who was approaching him [as buyers], which were bars and a Chinese restaurant, I began to think, that should be a gallery,” Averbeck said.
She is hoping to carry on Beiser’s legacy—one of fostering lifelong connections—by continuing to host the artists who sold their work there.
“The diversity in Flagstaff is wonderful, and it’s something to celebrate, not to close the doors against,” Averbeck said. “I have had some of his artists approach me and there are others I’m calling, so we’ll see.”
Now Hand and Fire Gallery (as Averbeck and her husband have fondly combined their two gallery names) is located on the other side of San Francisco Street facing several other women-owned businesses, and its proprietors are finding it still has some life to give.
“Every couple of years I try to go somewhere I’ve never been, just look at art in a different place, and last year I was in Peru,” Averbeck said. “I saw so much that inspired me as a gallery owner, just keeping alive an ancient tradition of fine arts and craft.”
Averbeck gets by with help from employees like Stephanie Stinski, who has been with the business for the past five years. As a writer and occasional metalworking artist, Stinski said she appreciates being able to share ideas with the artists who supply the gallery with its wide variety of wares, from jewelry and pottery to dyed silk and vibrant canvases.
“There are people who are retired and this is what they’ve wanted to do for a really long time, and then there are people who are younger and starting out, and then there are those who have made it their career,” she said. “It’s really fun to see what they bring to the table.”
Stinski also enjoys meeting travelers on their way to or from the Grand Canyon who take the time to explore what downtown has to offer. Visitors from France, China and Latvia provide her with new ways to view art, the world and its people.
“I think that an art space is just a really open and welcoming space where people from other parts of the world can feel like they can have a conversation,” Stinski said. “Holly has put so much work into this place. She really does care. She could have retired, and this is what she chose to do.”
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