By Marcie Hahn-Knoff Explorebigsky.com Contributor
BOZEMAN – Between tart’s cherry red and rain slicker yellow walls, every nook, shelf and rack is occupied by something unique—it’s a menagerie of creativity.
Feathered earrings and other handmade jewelry are neatly arranged on a fuzzy pink tablecloth. Screen-printed and appliqué skirts and shirts hang amidst quirky wine racks, bins of buttons, greeting cards printed on antique letter press equipment and fine wall art with imaginative subjects.
Amazingly, Montanans created everything here.
This is tart, the brainchild of Montana native and creative virtuoso Anna Visscher, who’s known affectionately as ‘the tartress’. The lower case ‘t’ is part of the store’s mystique, she says.
Visscher’s shop is a cornerstone of the Emerson Center for the Arts and Culture, a repurposed historic school at the corner of Grand and Olive in Bozeman. tart is a go-to spot for handmade, one-of-a-kind items, each one a genuine little piece of Montana.
The tartress is a different sort of business owner. Driven to see her artists succeed, she thinks holistically about tart and how it meshes with the local community. Her positive energy and enthusiasm about art is contagious, and her out of the box approach has made tart a success story during one of the darkest economic times in recent memory.
Give us some background on the tartress.
I was born in Bozeman but soon moved to the east coast so my father could complete his medical training. My family ended up moving back to Montana and spent several years living in the Northern Cheyenne and Crow Reservations before finally settling in Dillon. I think I developed a wider view of the world as a result. I was voted most likely to leave and never come back in high school. But after spreading my wings and moving out of state, my heartstrings pulled me full circle back to Montana. So, I guess I get the homing pigeon award.
I met my husband Kent Davis shortly after moving back to Bozeman. We share a rather hilarious sense of humor, which was apparent in our mythical costume wedding. When we tied the knot, I rode in on a real live unicorn. Kent rode in on a John Deere tractor. It was pure ridiculousness. Kent and I hope to leap into the wonderful world of parenting soon with the adoption of our first child.
How did you end up as a shop owner?
I have always been crafty. I picked up beading when I lived on the reservation as a kid and moved into making jewelry for myself. Friends began buying pieces off of me (literally) at dinner parties and social events. So, I began selling my work at shows and shops. I finally decided to take the plunge and open tart originally to sell my own jewelry in February 2007. Right off the bat I had friends interested consigning pieces and it’s grown from there. I worked another job for the first three years to keep tart going—even so it still felt right. Since then tart has moved across hall, I’ve hired several tartistas (employees), and expanded into an adjoining shop.
Where did the name tart come from?
While painting my original shop space, I was brainstorming with friends and tart popped up as a suggestion. It was perfect. Since then the name tart has morphed into many variations. We hold tart walks where tartinis are offered. Our artists are known as tartists and our art gallery is called tart gallery. I’m the tartress. You get the point.
What to you attribute tart’s success to?
I opened tart in 2007, right before the economy began to tank. Even though retail has taken huge hits lately, tart has managed to grow every year. Bozeman was ripe for a store featuring things made in Montana—people here are well acquainted with the local food movement and Bozemanites want a connection to what they are buying. It’s about a sense of place and building relationships.
What makes tart different?
tart is bigger than me. Like any business owner, I want to make enough money to support myself, but I’ve also made a choice to run my business a bit like a nonprofit. My mission is to support my artists. Many tartists who once were only able to do their art on the side are now able to focus on art full time. This makes me deeply happy.
At tart, we treat art as approachable and fun—a step away from traditional gallery white walls and pedestals. We have 63 tartists right now. Many of our tartists have turned traditional Western art on its head, producing papier maché trophy heads, clothing emblazoned with jackelopes, and bones turned into jewelry.
What is on the horizon for tart?
We opened an online store in 2010, which has been expanding. It’s focused on bringing Montana goods to the nation. We have an exciting lineup of fine art shows rotating through the tart gallery with a percentage of each going to a nonprofit of the tartist’s choice. The Red Ants Pants party takes place this fall, allowing local ladies to purchase award-winning women’s work pants. tart’s birthday party, the biggest shindig of them all, takes place next February—tart will be six. I feel like a proud parent. I love where this business is going.
Marcie Hahn-Knoff has been a tartist since February 2010, hand building collapsible travel hula hoops. When not hooping or skating in circles with the local roller derby team, she sells real estate as a broker for Winter & Company. More at mtwinter.com.