Sondra Gerber, owner and self-described curator of Blue Pomegranate Gallery at 66th and Maple streets, opened the shop in July 2001. She and former business partner Anne Nye attended their first Benson Business Association meeting shortly thereafter. Their first and last.
“We came in with so many ideas,” Gerber says, laughing at herself. “We’re gonna change Benson! I left that meeting crying.” Virtually every suggestion she made was shut down. A business confidante patted her on the shoulder, chuckled, and offered these words of wisdom: “You’re just going to have to wait until some of these people die.”
So Gerber shelved her dreams of Benson as an artistic hotspot and concentrated on evolving Blue Pomegranate and her metalworking skills. The gallery now represents several artists—mostly local but some national—and she and Nye still display their own work, though Nye is no longer a partner. The two work in metal and glass respectively, sometimes collaborating on pieces that combine the two elements. “It has to have the Blue Pomegranate look,” Gerber says of any art piece displayed in her gallery. A glance around the shop tells visitors what that look is: brushed aluminum, textured glass, bright colors, and simple design.
Among Gerber’s innovations in her own art over the past 12 years are increasingly detailed brushwork to allow for more complex play of light on aluminum, and transparent powder coating and dyes for color variety beyond the airy metal’s typical silver. Since hiring Stephanie Heller, formerly of Heller Art Images, to man the gallery itself, Gerber is turning her focus to another innovative challenge—her large-scale aluminum sculptures.
“Her material is so elemental,” Heller says. “There’s no room for bad composition. She has to keep it visually interesting and exciting and still accessible. It’s a flat piece of metal, and she has to conceive of all that light and shape and shadow and dimension. How’s she going to bend it, cut it, display it—I just can’t wait to see her larger-scale pieces and what she’s going to do with them.”
Heller and Gerber have known each other for 20 years, and Heller says she can tell that Gerber hit a pivotal point in the last couple years. “To me, that’s the optimal time to buy an artist’s art,” Heller says. “Those experimental pieces are bursts of inspiration that only happen once.”
Gerber has produced sculptures for backyard poolscapes, installations for donor art at hospitals and nonprofits, and commissions for corporate décor. That’s in addition to showing in about 50 to 60 galleries nationally, producing a line of unique Christmas ornaments each year, and maintaining a garden worthy of the Munroe-Meyer Institute Guild Garden Walk.
Gerber laughs at the observation that she likes to stay busy. In addition to her own annual garden show on Memorial Day, she’s a pioneer of First Fridays, hosting a festive late night once a month for the gallery since 2008. That’s three years before the rest of the neighborhood came together for Benson First Fridays, an idea that the business association wasn’t interested in when Gerber first mentioned it as a fledgling shop owner.
Since last spring, most businesses in Benson are open later for the crowds coming to see what’s new on the neighborhood’s creative front. Bars have special happy hours, movies are projected on outdoor walls, and pop-up galleries showcase businesses that may not have their own storefronts yet. “You don’t really know what you’re going to get each month,” Gerber says.
With a photography studio next door, a woodturner in the basement, and creatives popping up all over the neighborhood, Gerber is finally seeing a response to the question she asked in the early days of Blue Pomegranate: “Dundee’s really cute. Why aren’t people doing this in Benson?”