Free Lending Library at Artisan Forge Allows You to Try Out Art

Lauren Fisher, photos by Andrea Paulseth

ART-A-GO-GO. Sculptor Bilhenry Walker has curated a lending library of artwork at Artisan Forge, which includes the painting in the background, “Aquarium Abstract II” by Milwaukee artist Diane Balsley.
ART-A-GO-GO. Sculptor Bilhenry Walker has curated a lending library of artwork at Artisan Forge, which includes the painting in the background, “Aquarium Abstract II” by Milwaukee artist Diane Balsley.

A new program to cultivate a community of art buyers in Eau Claire comes at a reasonable price: free. At Artisan Forge, 1106 Mondovi Road, sculptor and gallery curator Bilhenry Walker has organized a lending library for visual art ranging in value from $75 to $6,500. Any person older than 18 years old can borrow paintings, sculptures, and more from artists near and far for up to three months absolutely free of charge.

“You develop an audience that appreciates work, and then they become collectors. And when they become collectors they can support the artists that are within our community. It’s a wonderful circle to close.” – Bilhenry Walker, sculptor and gallery curator

“This is all about developing our community,” Walker said. Many Eau Claire art collectors purchase pieces from outside the Chippewa Valley, venturing instead to the Twin Cities or Chicago.

“Instead of being depressed about the art market here in Eau Claire, let’s do something about it,” Walker said. Energized by the project, he approached artists working within Artisan Forge, Eau Claire painters and sculptors, and his creative network from across the country to work toward the cause. Lending art to private residences comes with a bit of risk; galleries are insured, while individuals might not be adequately covered for the cost of damage or loss. Lessors agree to pay for any such damages out of pocket.

In return, they get three months of high quality art in their home. The artist who created the piece will personally deliver and install it in the borrower’s home to make sure it looks its best during its visit. Art lovers can borrow one piece at a time, and of course they may choose to purchase the work at any time during their lease.

Walker expects this will allow locals to get to know artists, access beautiful work, and familiarize themselves with different styles. He uses painter Jane Gates as an example.  Gates’ abstract brushstrokes might seem obscure at first glance, but given time to examine them, they clarify into trees, a park bench, a dog’s wagging tail. Those who borrow her work have the chance to explore the piece thoroughly before making a purchasing commitment.

The program will also offer art leases to local businesses – at a cost with a rent-to-own option.

“You develop an audience that appreciates work, and then they become collectors,” Walker said. “And when they become collectors they can support the artists that are within our community. It’s a wonderful circle to close.”


The works available for rental will be displayed at the Artisan Forge Gallery beginning Tuesday, Nov. 19. Viewing hours are 10am-5pm Nov. 19-21, and borrowers will be able to take their selection home on Friday, Nov. 22. For more information about the project, visit Artisan Forge Studios or call (715) 864-7965.