An Interview with a Dealer: Peter Vale, Vale Craft Gallery

Each week CGN interviews a local art dealer to discuss the ins and outs of running a gallery in the city of Chicago. This week we caught up with Peter Vale of Vale Craft Gallery.


Age: 54

Current Position: Owner/Director of Vale Craft Gallery

Hometown: Chicago

Previous Occupation: Instructor in museum education programs


Favorites from this week:

1.     Restaurant: Tallboy Taco

2.     Shop: Jeni’s Ice Cream

3.     Read: American Craft Magazine

4.     Neighborhood: Old Town

5.     Music: WFMT


Chicago Gallery News: Tell us about your background and how Vale Craft Gallery came to fruition?

Peter Vale: Since childhood, I have always enjoyed making art and looking at art. As a high school senior, I took two courses in Art History and Ceramic Sculpture (both with James Mesplé) that would influence my pursuits later in life. After earning a Bachelor’s degree in History I worked for several museums in the Boston area, including the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. I was an instructor in a community outreach program, which combined looking at art in the museum with hands-on art making projects.

I decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Art History and chose a program at Boston University that included a Museum Studies diploma. I already had a strong interest in contemporary crafts and earned course credit while working on an exhibition of American craft. The exhibition addressed issues of social concern for the B.U. art gallery, as well as another project researching the history and future plans of the Society of Arts and Crafts, the oldest contemporary craft gallery in the country. 

After receiving my Master’s, I returned to Chicago and began to think about starting a gallery focusing on contemporary fine craft. I also returned to making ceramics by taking classes at Lillstreet Art Center, something I have continued to do ever since. My mother was an artist (as well as a great salesperson) making jewelry at the time. She gave me support and encouragement to pursue my interests. My aunt and cousin were also both in the gallery business. When I decided to open my gallery, my aunt gave me a copy of her gallery’s consignment form and said that the first thing I should buy was a fax machine. This was new technology at the time.

I rented a small space in River North at 207 W. Superior (now occupied by Jet’s Pizza) in the fall of 1992 and contacted artists I had seen at art fairs and craft shows. With no business background or sales experience, I learned by doing. After three years at the original location, I was fortunate to move the gallery into its current home on the lower level of 230 W. Superior, where we have great visibility on a corner location. It’s hard to believe that Vale Craft Gallery is celebrating its 25th anniversary this November.


CGN: Share a typical day in the life.

PV: I live in Old Town and usually start my day with a walk to the gallery. The best days are busy with customers, who are always priority. We have a diverse clientele that includes established collectors as well as first time art buyers and shoppers looking for gifts or decorating their home. We also see tourists exploring the gallery district looking for a unique souvenir of their Chicago visit.

We frequently receive new artwork, and I enjoy changing our displays on a regular basis to add new energy to the gallery. Many of our artists are from the Chicago area or nearby states, so they deliver their art in person and we enjoy visiting with them and learning about their work. When we are not busy with visitors, we are emailing with artists and customers, or we are researching artists on the Internet, packing and shipping work, updating the sales journal and sending artists their checks. At home, I spend a lot of time gardening and playing with my cat, Frankie.


CGN: Best sale you ever had?

PV:  The best sale was my first sale when I opened the gallery 25 years ago, because it gave me confidence in what I was doing.


CGN: Share some successes as well as challenges from this year.

PV: We changed our July opening on short notice so that we could honor Steve Rebora, a beloved long-time gallery artist who passed away in June. Our July opening turned into a celebration of Steve Rebora’s life and work, with many sales to the artist’s family, friends, and collectors. An ongoing challenge had been to get River North galleries to coordinate their openings on a set schedule, but this year the galleries banded together to make it happen, starting with a fantastic mid-summer gallery night.


CGN: How do you see Chicago’s art scene in comparison to other cities? What do you think makes it unique?

PV: I think the Chicago art scene is more accessible and approachable than in other large cities. The diversity of Chicago’s art scene, including the wide range of galleries in various neighborhoods, world class museums, architecture, a collection of public art, international fairs such as EXPO and SOFA and fantastic local artists, makes the city a unique destination for art lovers.


CGN: How have you seen technology directly affect/alter the art world?

PV: Because people can now buy art on the Internet through galleries, auctions, and artists’ websites, there is increasing competition but also new opportunities in the online global marketplace. Although some people may choose to shop for art on websites, I feel that an image viewed on a computer does not offer the same experience as seeing (and touching) the actual object in person.


CGN: What do you want to tell a young person considering this business?

PV: I would suggest starting with a pop-up gallery in a visible location near other galleries.


CGN: One piece of advice you would send back to yourself when you started out?

PV: I would hire an assistant much earlier, rather than running the gallery by myself for the first five years.


CGN: Favorite work of public art in Chicago?

PV: Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate, also known as “The Bean”


CGN: Artists you admire most.

PV: Michael Sherrill and Janet Kelman. I admire artists who continue to experiment with their work throughout their career, learning new techniques and exploring new ideas.


CGN: What's coming up next at the gallery?

PV: We will be changing our display for the holiday season to focus on pieces that are popular for gift giving. We also plan to redo the gallery website and add e-commerce in the coming months.


Peter Vale is the Owner and Director of Vale Craft Gallery in Chicago. For more information about the gallery please visit: Vale Craft Gallery.