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The Bakery Gallery: An unlikely partnership helps two Quad-Cities endeavors thrive
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Photo: Paul Colletti

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Photo: John Greenwood
Nikki LaTray owns East Side Bakery and Pizza, 1330 E. 12th St., Davenport.
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Photo: Paul Colletti
Patrons sample goods from East Side Bakery while taking in an art exhibit at the Bakery Gallery at the combined bakery/gallery in Davenport.
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Photo: Paul Colletti
A family enjoys a treat from the East Side Bakery, 1330 E. 12th St., Davenport. Also located inside the business is the Bakery Gallery.
DAVENPORT -- It's 7 p.m. on a Thursday evening. Armed with a ladder, a pair of carpenter's levels and 240 pushpins, artist Rebecca Ann Rakstad and gallery owner Joseph Lappie work to hang 113 letterpress prints along two walls in preparation for a show featuring Rakstad's work that opens the following night.

While they discuss the best way to position another tier of prints — both the floor and the ceiling slant, making the rectangular prints look askew — a customer steps into the gallery space. He glances at the art, pulls a wallet from his back pocket and walks to the cash register in back. He has come to pick up a pizza.

Welcome to the Bakery Gallery.

Located in the East Side Bakery at 1330 E. 12th St., Davenport, the gallery is an alternative art space opened by Mr. Lappie in late 2009, shortly after he moved to the Quad-Cities. Mr. Lappie, himself a print maker and art instructor at St. Ambrose University, always wanted to run a gallery, but the high rents he would have had to pay in the previous cities where he lived — Portland, Ore., and Chicago -- prohibited him from achieving that dream.

When he stepped into the East Side Bakery, though, he knew he had found the space he had been seeking. It has long, open walls and a wide space where people could gather. The fact that it was an active bakery made it more, not less, desirable.

"I always wanted to be in an alternative space. Sometimes galleries can be scary for people — it makes them think the art has to be raised up and held in awe," says Mr. Lappie. "Art isn't always easily digestible, but here it's in a space that allows people to digest it."

And, yes, having a slice of pizza or a cheese Danish to chew on while looking at the art plays a part in that. It gives people an excuse to linger and look at the art, says Mr. Lappie, and, unlike in a hushed museum space, people feel more comfortable talking about the prints in a lively location like a neighborhood bakery.

The baked goods help bring attention to the art, too. "Food is universal," explains Mr. Lappie. "Most everyone likes baked goods, so being in a place like this allows the work to be seen by more people."

Among the people who have encountered art in the bakery that they might not have seen otherwise is Nikki LaTray, the East Side Bakery owner. Though she doesn't have a background in art, says Ms. LaTray, "It's fun to see the artwork and to meet the artists. I've learned a lot."

Ms. LaTray, who has operated the bakery for a little more than five years with the help of her two sons, Justin and Quenton Schutter, says the business was born out of a dream of her own. Although she loves it — before opening the bakery she worked in information technology for a railroad — the bakery is sometimes "more fun than profitable," she says with a chuckle.

Just as the gallery artists have benefited from having their work shown in a bakery, so too has the bakery benefited from the ever-changing displays of art. "We've gained a few dozen customers we wouldn't have had otherwise," says Ms. LaTray. "I'm so small, that makes a difference."

"It's been such a wonderful thing. It's just fun to support one another's endeavors," she says.

As part of their arrangement, the bakery doesn't charge the gallery rent, and the gallery doesn't charge commission on the art it sells. "Unless the artist makes more than $250 -- then 10 percent goes to the bakery," says Mr. Lappie. Part of what drew him to the idea of an alternative art space was the opportunity to support a small, neighborhood business.

Since opening, the gallery has featured the work of more than a dozen artists from across the U.S. and even across the globe -- the closest came from the Quad-Cities, the farthest came from Glasgow, Scotland. Their artwork has ranged from small boxes printed to look like Lego sets and tiny, hand-bound books set on shelves, to oversized posters that have blanketed the walls.

The evening after Mr. Lappie and Ms. Rakstad finish hanging Ms. Rakstad's art — a colorful jumble of text inspired by a bowling alley turned concert space in Chicago — groups of people in twos and threes enter the bakery to see the newest offerings and speak with the artist. Soon a small crowd forms. A disc jockey sets up in one corner. A few young children toddle and play between the clusters of visitors sipping punch and discussing Ms. Rakstad's work.

On a table in the middle of the room, Ms. LaTray and her sons have set up platters of the bakery's most popular items: peanut butter cookies, cherry and cheese Danishes, brownies, slices of baguette and pizza straight from the oven. Gallery visitors circle the table selecting a few items to nibble before returning to the art.

Ms. Rakstad is standing next to a glass case of baked goods, talking about her art and selling small postcard prints. With a grin, she shows a visitor her thumb, blackened from a late night of pressing thumbtacks into the wall. "Isn't this great?" she asks, gesturing toward the crowd with a sweep of the hand. The event easily could pass for a block party. Instead, it's an art opening.

Mr. Lappie, standing behind her, nods. "Yeah. This is good."

The Bakery Gallery and East Side Bakery are open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturdays. For information on upcoming artists and openings, visit thebakerygallery.blogspot.com.

Supporting the dream

Who: Bakery Gallery owner Joseph Lappie and East Side Bakery owner Nikki LaTray

Quote: "It's been such a wonderful thing. It's just fun to support one another's endeavors." -- Nikki LaTray



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