Modern American art and craft partners Ried and Kathy Knapp started an online business in lllinois that featured art from only living contemporary American artists, and only with a distinctly modern aesthetic.
“Deciding to sell only work from American artists made a lot of sense to us for several reasons,” Ried explains. “The U.S. is obviously a huge dynamic cultivator of artists. There is an abundance of wonderful art schools in the country turning out talented and highly skilled artists and craftspeople. When you think of modernism or modern art, people often think of Europe.
“We knew Europe didn’t have an exclusive on fresh thinking, and so we wanted to celebrate modernism happening here. There is a made in America component to our thinking as well. We represent studio furniture makers from coast to coast. Why do we need to ship furniture across oceans? As environmentalists, it makes sense to us to produce and shop local.”
With some early success and a steadily increasing number of artists and disciplines represented, Ried and Kathy decided to expand the business with a physical gallery location. “We looked at many places in Michigan and Wisconsin before we considered Mineral Point,” says Ried. “We initially fell in love with the idyllic charm—reminiscent of a Cornish village. But it turns out Mineral Point has been an artist colony for generations. There are currently about 70 visual artists, writers, and performers who live in the area. In fact, it’s the highest per capita home for artists in Wisconsin. It made our decision easy.”
Wantoot’s gallery became part of the Mineral Point arts scene in the summer of 2012, but the journey wasn’t a smooth one. Ried says, “We’re also preservationists, and we wanted to contribute to the landscape of restored buildings in the commercial district. Mineral Point is actually the oldest nationally designated historic district in the state.”
The 1891 building Ried and Kathy chose needed more attention than they originally thought. The project involved the National Park Service and the Wisconsin Historical Society, and included completely rebuilding the exterior: restoring window openings, replica windows, new roof, replica skylights, and replica storefronts.
High ceilings; original maple floors; and a north-south building orientation, which provides consistent soft light, are just a few benefits of the finished restoration. “We love people’s reaction when they step through our authentic 19th century storefront and time travel forward to experience cutting-edge 21st century design inside,” says Ried.
Wantoot features original paintings, mixed media, and sculptures from artists across America. Rarely are these pieces not one of a kind. The only prints available are limited edition silver gelatin prints or hand-printed lithographs.
Much of the functional art—jewelry, pottery, wearable art, and studio furniture is made by artists in small limited editions or are one-of-a-kind pieces. The subtle differences of work done entirely by hand makes even those pieces limited edition and unique.
Wantoot features a highly curated collection of artists and artworks. Every artist shown is carefully selected, and each piece of work by that artist is individually chosen. This ensures that visitors to the gallery will always find something unique. “We show pieces from many artists who have no other representation in the Midwest, let alone in Wisconsin,” says Ried.
Because of the extensive selection of original large-format artwork as well as the large number of handcrafted furniture designs, Wantoot has a burgeoning consulting business with architectural design firms and interior designers. Services include making artwork recommendations for specific spaces as well as helping clients choose pieces of custom furniture. “One of our artists has over 20 wood species available,” says Ried. “Different woods lend very different personalities to furniture. In the end, it’s always about creating something that speaks to the client and is unique.”