One look at the expertly selected stock at Marion + Rose and no one should be surprised that owner Kerri Lee Johnson has a background as an artist and curator. In addition to co-directing art consultation company BayVAN (Bay Area Visual Arts Network) — which she also co-founded — Johnson ran Blankspace Gallery in Oakland before opening her current brick-and-mortar. She’s also shown her support of the creative community around her by starting “Plaid Friday,” the neighborhood’s answer to Black Friday, which helps encourage shopping small local businesses instead of just the big box brands.
Inspired by her commitment to local makers, we wanted to learn a bit more about Kerri, including how she got her start in the art world, how being a curator helps her be a shop owner, and how she’d spend an ideal afternoon in Oakland.
It seems like you've always been a creative. What's your background in the arts?
Yes, I have a BFA in photography from the San Francisco Art Institute. I’ve been making art since the day I could pick up a pencil.
Before Marion + Rose, there was Blankspace Gallery. Can you tell us how you transitioned from one to the other?
It was kind of a natural transition. During the time Blankspace was open, we would do a holiday event called Holidayland where we would turn the gallery in to a holiday pop-up shop. We’d invite local vendors to put items on consignment. It was fun; there would be a photo booth and themed parties. For the rest of the year we turned the small office in the front into a tiny shop and started selling products made by the artist we were showing and then slowly added in makers from around the country. When we closed the gallery (we lived in the back of the old storefront space and had moved out), it was a natural transition to open a shop that sells artisanal goods and featured art on the walls. I love being able to support the creative economy by putting checks directly into the hands of the artists.
I look at each product as a little work of art and think of the shop as an ongoing group show.
How does your work as a curator lend itself to running a successful shop?
I think I bring a different perspective to the shop by curating a selection of products that look good together and create a vibe. I look at each product as a little work of art and think of the shop as an ongoing group show. Customers appreciate the visual experiences they have when walking into the shop. I also think it’s important to offer a comfortable feeling: I encourage smelling candles, trying lotions and spraying scents, and let people take their time to discover all the beautiful things.
Tell us about Plaid Friday.
Plaid Friday is the more relaxed, enjoyable, and inspired shopping alternative to the big box “Black Friday” experience. It is designed to promote the many social and economic benefits of spending your time and your dollars with independently owned businesses on the busiest shopping day of the year (and all season long). Commercial business districts and individual merchants, restaurants, bars, service providers, artists, and artisans participate by offering entertainment, holiday decor, sales, extended hours, special events, pop-ups, gift wrapping, and lots of love for their local community. The Plaid theme represents the weaving together of the creative and diverse community of small business owners, their shops and products, to create a strong and beautiful fabric.
You're clearly a champion of local makers, artists, and craftspeople. Tell us a few of your favorites.
So many! A few current faves are paper goods by Worthwhile Paper Co, Native Bear, Hello Paper, and Ladyfingers, candles by local Oakland maker Illuminate Waxworks, jewelry by Clouds and Ladders, art from Post Alchemy and Attalie Dexter, and ceramics by Julia Claire and Bean + Bailey.
Fill in the blanks:
If Oakland were a song it would be _________.
“I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross.
In five years, the city will be __________.
The place people say they are visiting instead of SF!
My favorite thing to do on a leisurely afternoon in town is _______.
Meet a friend for coffee and wander around a neighborhood.