Hand-blown glass flowers decorate the display shelves at Austin's Gallery, a Coronado co-op that sells artistic treasures. Little do customers know, the delicate glass creations are made by a young man who is still in high school.
His name is Hunter Streetmcquaide. "I've seen him skateboarding throughout Coronado," owner Linda Austin said. "From what I hear, he really enjoys doing glass work, and that's all he wants to do."
The slender flowers are just some of the one-of-a-kind crafts created by the Coronado and San Diego area artisans whose wares are sold at Austin's. The gallery's unique gifts include: island-style jewelry and colorful beaded necklaces, tote bags made from recycled material, artisanal ceramic mugs and plates, framed watercolor art, and more.
The concept of a co-op means any person who wants to participate in the business has to take part in the company's many functions and work toward a common goal as a group. The goal in this case is to bring the work of local artisans to Coronado.
"I don't make commission from other artist's work. That's not what we do here," Austin said. "Any artist that wants to cooperate has to work as a team. Meaning, they pay a small fee to rent a space in the store, they display their pieces for sale, and they work in the store, too."
Many artisans struggle to find a venue or storefront to sell their work, especially in the current economic downturn. In Austin's Gallery, each artist works one day per week (the gallery is open seven days a week), and each has a voice in the store's business plan.
When a customer comes into Austin's, that customer will most likely meet the artisan who created the attention-grabbing piece in the window display, which usually features stylish jewelry with a mix of colorful, funky accessories. Photographer Pete Holmes, for example, receives customer requests to shoot specific pictures of Coronado. (The Coronado Bridge is one of the most popular requests.)
Paul Nasri, who also gets custom requests, creates ceramic kitchenware in earth tones that would easily complement any chic home. Valerie Hebert creates children's clothing with a felting technique, and Joann Siegfried is known for her Hotel Del Coronado watercolors.
"It's a give-and-take relationship," Austin said. "Hopefully the artists can hear constructive criticism from customers, which helps them learn how people view their work."