Owner Ric Hartman
poses for a photo on the first floor of the Gallery of
Wisconsin Art in West Bend. Hartman will be retiring
after opening the gallery in 2017.
John Ehlke/Conley Media
Hartman swelled with pride as he walked through the
Gallery of Wisconsin Art, which he established two years
ago. The former tire shop, 303 Water St., has been
transformed into a two-level, 6,500-square-foot gallery
displaying early and contemporary work by exclusively
“I am tremendously proud of what has happened here,”
Hartman said. “This old building that many people
thought should be torn down has become a special space.”
Located a short walk away from the Museum of Wisconsin
Art, the Gallery of Wisconsin Art completes Hartman’s
vision to develop a space for artists, collectors and
the public to learn about, view and purchase important
art with deep roots in Wisconsin.
“Wisconsin art, and early Wisconsin art in particular,
has always been of great interest to me. I’ve collected
it for years,” Hartman said. “I wanted to provide a
market to sell and save many wonderful works that are
winding up in attics, sheds and rummage sales.”
In the past two years, Hartman has represented the work
of 140 living artists and 60 deceased ones, displaying
paintings, sculptures and other pieces in rotating
He has also created a unique synergy in the building by
leasing its west side to house The Hub — Social Good
Brews, the Volunteer Center of Washington County coffee
shop and community space.
“Having a coffee shop in the same building and
encouraging people to walk through the gallery with a
cup in hand sends a message that we are not a museum,”
Hartman said. “Nothing against museums, but I wanted
this to be a place where people could talk loudly, ask
questions and experience the art in a comfortable
Now it is time for Hartman to move on.
“I’m an entrepreneur and an artist,” Hartman said. “I
love what the gallery has become and am really satisfied
with what we have accomplished. Now it is time for this
to become someone else’s vision.”
The Gallery of Wisconsin Art will host a final
photography exhibition, “Images 9,” from March 2 to
April 26, before Hartman steps away.
Meanwhile, he will focus on selling the building and
potentially the business.
“This building has so much potential, I’m excited to see
what it will become,” Hartman said. “In the ideal
scenario, it would stay a gallery. I think it’s a
wonderful place for one. But whatever happens, I think
it will be great.”
The Hub is under a longterm lease and will stay in the
building, regardless of what will become of the gallery
“We are forever grateful to Ric Hartman for the
opportunity he has afforded us at 303 Water Street,”
said Sue Millin, Volunteer Center executive director.
“The Hub – Social Good Brews has provided us a platform
to bring so many new people together for common good. We
will surely miss is smiling face and visionary ideas
around here when he retires.”
If the Gallery of Wisconsin Art business does not sell,
Hartman will convert it to an online gallery, a fate
shared by many former brick-and-mortar galleries.
As for Hartman, the future will hold more time for
family, travel and community involvement.
“Owning a gallery has been a lot more work than I
thought it would be and it’s time to take a little more
time for myself,” he said. “As for what the future will
hold for me, we’ll have to wait and see!”