By Jessica Johnson
Many Hands Gallery is a local gem hidden in plain sight. Located in Capitola and sharing a parking lot with Gayle’s Bakery, Many Hands Gallery features an extraordinary selection of work by local artists – from carefully crafted jewelry to large ceramic pieces and just about everything in between including blown glass and fiber arts.
Originally opened by Kate Nolan in downtown Santa Cruz, Many Hands Gallery has been around for decades. Following Nolan’s retirement from the business in 2007, the gallery has been lovingly tended to by owner Lauren Warwick. She celebrates her 10-year anniversary as owner on March 1.
Warwick initially discovered Many Hands Gallery while on a quest for a wedding gift over twenty years ago. She went in looking for a particular artist’s work and although they didn’t have any pieces in the gallery, Nolan called the artist while Warwick waited.
“He lived up on Beach Hill and he put some items in the basket of his bicycle and rode his bicycle down to the [downtown] store,” she recalled. “I thought, Wow, these people really go out of their way!”
By the time the artist arrived, Warwick had been offered a job as holiday help and hasn’t looked back. Even while working full-time for the county, she would work nights and weekends until eventually taking over the business. “I had always wanted to own my own business, but never thought it would happen,” she said. “When Kate decided to close the shop I thought, why not?” Six weeks later she was running the show.
The show is actually an ensemble act, as the gallery staff has worked together for over 20 years. In fact, two of Warwick’s employees have been with the gallery longer than she has. “It’s very much like a family,” Warwick shared. “We really support each other.”
The business is essentially a consignment gallery, with artists and gallery both keeping a portion of sales. Many of the artists have been exhibiting with the gallery for years, and Warwick rotates the wall art on a bi-monthly basis and regularly showcases theme driven pieces. For example, several artists are contributing pieces to the upcoming Birds & Bees theme.
The gallery features artists from Santa Cruz County and represents about 100 different artists throughout the year. Jewelry is one of the gallery’s traditionally best-selling categories, although Warwick is sometimes surprised by what sells and what doesn’t. For example, for many years, photography didn’t sell well, although that has changed – even in the era of iPhone photographers.
I asked Warwick if she was herself an artist. “I was hiding behind the door when they handed out all those talents,” she laughed. The oldest of seven, she claims she “can’t draw a straight line with a ruler.” However, she is the eye behind the placement of every piece in the gallery and that is no small feat. “I am more spatial. I can look at a room and see where everything needs to go,” she humbly admitted.
As many small business owners are wont to do, Warwick works essentially every day of the week. Even if she is not at the gallery, she is working at home and always on call if any question arises. Whether she is helping her regular customers pick out an item for a birthday or anniversary or arranging to ship a purchase across the country, Warwick is dedicated to the work. “It’s been a labor of love,” she said. “I enjoy supporting the local art scene. There are not a lot of places for [local artists] to show their work.”
Many Hands Gallery is located at 510 Bay Avenue in Capitola. They are open every day from 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. Call them at 831-475-2500 or go to their website www.manyhands-capitola.com for more information.