Gallery of Wisconsin Art owner Hartman retiring
Building to be for sale; gallery may go online only

By Jill Badzinski - For Conley Media

Feb. 7, 2019

 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

Ric 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 Wisconsin artists.

“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 exhibitions.

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 setting.”

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 space.

“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!”