A milder climate, the beauty of the Oregon coast and proximity to family members in Vancouver, British Columbia, drew DragonFire Gallery owner Eeva Lantela to Cannon Beach 14 years ago. With those, Lantela found fulfilment interacting with artists and customers at the South Hemlock Street location.
Lantela lost her partner, artist Mari Rockett, six years ago, but their mission continues as DragonFire heads into its 15th year.
“We wanted a beautiful, artistic coastal town,” she said. “And I think we picked well.”
Q: How did you get started in the art community?
A: My partner Mari and I relocated from New Jersey. When we moved here, we were looking to start some kind of business. We started out with paint-your-own pottery, and the upstairs in this building carried some local art. But this is too small a town to sustain a paint-your-own pottery business. We found that out pretty quick. So over the years, we just kept expanding more into art.
Q: To what would you attribute DragonFire’s success and longevity?
A: I think it’s having a very unique persona. We never went around looking at what other galleries were like. We just wanted to do what we thought was cool. So we developed this very colorful place. We wanted to have a lot of mixed media. We wanted anyone to be able to afford to buy something. And we wanted it to be original art. Partly because we have a very strong identity. And partly because I have this saying, “Even if it’s a dark, miserable day out, you walk in here and there’s so much color and brightness and people feel happy.” We’re not tough salespeople. I don’t want anyone buying anything they don’t want to buy. We’re totally unpretentious. We let people come in with their dogs and encourage people to get engaged. So I think it’s partly the welcoming, because we have really great artists and because we have an affordable price range.
Q: What does DragonFire have to offer?
A: We have everything from garden art to large paintings. We have lighting, we have sculptures — there’s something for pretty much anybody. You’re not going to see what you just saw down the street. Probably the biggest thing we have to offer is that variety, that array of artwork.
Q: Explain how you work to support area causes through the gallery.
A: I just don’t have the time or energy to volunteer. So we decided to create “Wild,” our own little area where we sell books and cards and different things for animal organizations: Clatsop Animal Assistance, the Wildlife Center of the North Coast and the North Coast Land Conservancy. Last year we raised $7,600.
Q: Are all of the artists you work with from the Pacific Northwest?
A: Ninety percent. There are artists from further away that we’ve somehow met that are doing things nobody else is doing. We like to have more of a direct relationship with the artists. I don’t want to just do things by mail. We really love when the artists come in. Many come to events even when they’re not featured. We’re like a family.
Q: What’s new right now in the gallery?
A: I have some new artists who came in this year. I have some artists who have been with us since the first year of opening. Everybody is always creating new pieces of artwork. I have this really great fused-glass artist named Jenn Ferrante. She does this really unique type of art. Kaia Crowell does woven baskets. She’s the newest artist we’ve taken on.
Q: What sort of events do you hold over the year?
A: Of course we do the Spring Unveiling Art Festival, which all the galleries do, the Plein Air and More and the Stormy Weather Arts Festival. We used to do a Chinese New Year’s Celebration every President’s Day weekend, but we did not do it this year. I find that if you do too many special events, they start to be less special when you have them. I find that the most important thing is to always just be presenting the gallery the best that we can and the artists the best that we can rather than doing event after event after event. Sometimes we do things spontaneously. We often have artists come do demonstrations because they want to come to town and they want to interact with customers.
Q: Any big plans for DragonFire’s 15th anniversary?
A: I don’t know yet. But I will do something. Fifteen is kind of a big number.