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Guthrie: A repurposed dream in a town of memories

By Susen Foster

As the economy began shrinking a few years ago, so did checkbook balances. Business owners renting office space needed to save a few dollars and chose to move into their homes, leaving behind many empty spaces within once thriving business communities. As the exodus marched on, building owners were forced to get creative and look for solutions to their own challenges.

Randy and Carie Robison, two lemonade making type of folk, realized that what some might consider a depressing dilemma, could be for them an opportunity to tackle something they had long wanted to pursue.

Their joint dream had been to share with the general public the wealth of magnificent arts and crafts created by Oklahoma residents. Their own beautiful historic two-story brick building at 108 S. Division in Guthrie, Okla., was one of those left awkwardly emptied, so they shook the dust off their dream and chose this as the right moment to build their showcase for Oklahoma artists.

Though both had full-time careers, they put all their spare time into renovating the 12,000-square-foot building and contacting artists and artisans they admired. The concept caught like wildfire. Soon word of mouth brought many works of art for them to look at. Then began an artistic endeavor of their own; hanging and displaying the various artwork and incredible blend of mediums in a manner pleasing to the eye. In time their dream became a reality.

In 2008, Simply Oklahoma opened its doors and today several thousand works of art by over 150 artists are on display for all to see. From pottery to mosaics, oils and acrylics to watercolors, natural stone jewelry, hand-carved musical flutes and iron eagles filled the space upstairs and down--so much that soon the Robisons determined the downstairs would be a sampling of the fine art collection upstairs as well as home for the broad spectrum of spectacular handcrafted merchandise. Thus began The General Store and The Gallery.

The concept of showcasing--in a static environment--thousands of artistic products and art forms that were created exclusively by the hearts and hands of everyday Oklahomans was indeed unique; and Guthrie, Okla., the ideal location since this historically significant town had long developed a bright reputation as a tourist destination along Interstate 35 north of Oklahoma City.

Though some of the artists are nationally and even internationally recognized, the majority of artwork and craftsmanship comes from people who once produced as a hobby, a love, a passion--not a business. But with the economy still on a slippery slope, the opportunity offered by the Robisons was well met by these talented people. In addition, having their "heart" work on display was validation and encouragement especially when a visitor found something they loved and took it home. Many of these once hidden treasures are now in personal and corporate collections.

Whether the thousands of visitors who enter Simply Oklahoma's portals are from far away or down the street, they invariably find one or two pieces that must go home with them, or be shipped elsewhere. This is how the legacy of Randy and Carie Robison continues to blossom year round.

The store number 405-260-1558, take a virtual visit at www.soartgallery.com, or see the dream in action at 108 S. Division Street in Guthrie. Contact Guthrie Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce toll free at 800-299-1889 for accommodations, events, and other area attractions.

Editor's note: Susen Foster is the owner of Pecan Cottage Bed & Breakfast in Pauls Valley, Okla. She is the author of numerous travel books. Susen can be reached at www.greatersuccess.com or call 580-622-5408.

Date: 05/21/2012

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