Craft & Material Studies


Heather Caverly

Sleeping Bear Gallery


From towering bluffs to the crashing waves along Lake Michigan’s picture-perfect beaches, it’s no wonder the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was voted “Most Beautiful Place in America” by ABC’s “Good Morning America.” But this breathtaking landscape has the power to do more than attract tourists. It inspires. That’s why Heather Caverly chose Empire as the location to realize her dream of opening a gallery.

“My husband introduced me to Empire when he brought me here for our honeymoon in 1979,” said Caverly. “I have been smitten with this area ever since then! We’d had our eye on the look out for a retirement home in Empire for many years. In fact, I had been pondering purchasing the Clipper Building (which now houses the gallery) ever since it went on the market about five years ago. It’s taken that long for my thoughts/idea of creating a gallery/living space in this building to come to fruition and manifest itself into reality.

“Sleeping Bear Gallery opened its doors last May (2012) and has been a dream come true. I can’t imagine a more perfect place to live and work. The topography of the land—abundant with so much natural beauty— inspires me to create more work myself. This is where I feel closest to my Maker, where I can reconnect with who I am. And I am so privileged and thankful to have the help of my close friend Becky Willis, whose 23-years of experience teaching jewelry making in Franklin Village, has been a great asset.”

The Sleeping Bear Gallery features a gallery where quality artists can exhibit metals, wood, glass, fibers, paintings, sculptures, ceramics and photography; a 300-square foot workspace and 1200-square foot living space where the Caverlys will make their summer home and hope to eventually be able to provide lodging for visiting artists to the area.

“I want Sleeping Bear to be an interactive gallery where visitors can come check out quality art as well as watch artists work,” said Caverly. “We’ve already hosted a blacksmithing demo, and Albert Young of Michigan Hot Glass visited the weekend of July 21 and 22 along with two CCS students. His glass blowing demonstration was thoroughly enjoyed by many.

“We’ve only just opened, but so far it has been really rewarding to hear our visitors’ reactions to the space and the art. Their expressions, kind words and warm gestures have let us know that our efforts have been appreciated.”

While the opening of the Sleeping Bear Gallery has been one of Caverly’s proudest accomplishments, it hasn’t been smooth sailing. The Clipper Building is over 100 years old.   Although the previous owners renovated the building Caverly opened walls between the retail spaces, installed gallery lighting, designed and commissioned displays and signs. Add to that the time Caverly has devoted to researching legal requirements and other start up business expenses, networking with artists, devising consignment agreements, marketing, social media and participating in local business/art-related organizations.

“The process has taken a lot of effort and dedication,” she said. “I’ve had plenty of opportunities to use my education.”

Originally determined to study fine arts at the College for Creative Studies, Caverly had a change of heart after falling in love with the malleability of metals and decided on crafts.

She explained, “It’s incredible to me how a material that is so strong can be stressed through heat, easily manipulated and then return to its full strength. I find it very similar to human nature.” 

While Caverly was a student, she recognized several talented artists among her peers. What amazed her most about them was their dedication to their work while facing the College’s rigorous curriculum, extracurricular demands, high costs (tuition, tools and materials) and finding a way to pay for it all.

“I felt privileged to be able to pursue my degree because it was my passion rather than a career move. “The experience was one of the best of my life! I enjoyed the environment and opportunity to learn from my expert mentors. And what I received from witnessing the accomplishments of my fellow students whose determination despite their daily struggles gave me invaluable inspiration.”

“The gallery is one way I can help these talented individuals. I’d love to host visiting artists here and teach them about our gallery operations. I see it as a way to give back to the College as well as a chance to connect with up-and-coming artists.

“Living and working here at the gallery—constantly surrounded by such great art—is what feeds my soul. Inspiration abounds here. I’m grateful to be where I am today. The gallery is only a short walk from Empire Beach, which overlooks Sleeping Bear Dunes. People come from all over to enjoy the spectacular sunsets here.

“Leelanau County is home of many award winning wineries and other art galleries as well as one of the most outstanding places to hike, bike and camp in its beautiful state and national parks. Plus, we’re only a half hour drive from Traverse City.”

As Caverly anxiously awaits the opening of her second season, she will continue to feature CCS artists in addition to artisans she has discovered during her travels this winter.

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