By: Nick Perkins
She didn’t know what she was doing. Claire Marlow will be the first person to say that when she purchased Goedickes Custom Framing and Art Supply in 2014, she had no idea what the “plan” was.
“I moved here from Seattle in 2012 and I worked as a project manager at a local company and I just wasn’t super stoked on the work,” Marlow stated. “I couldn’t find a job that fit my skill-set that I moved here with. I was just randomly looking for businesses for sale, not even to buy one, just to kind of see what was going on in the business world and then there was a listing for an art supply store in Wyoming.”
As luck (or God, or the universe, or whomever) would have it, that art supply store was located in Casper, which is where Marlow lived. She met with the owner at the time and he showed her around the shop and its adjoining space that acted more like storage than anything at the time. If this was a movie, the actress who played Marlow (probably a Bryce Dallas Howard or Jessica Chastain-type) would envision almost immediately what this shop-cum-gallery could be. But, life is not a movie and the reality was- this place needed a lot of work and Marlow didn’t even know where to begin.
“I met with the owner and walked in and it was old and dirty and messy and disorganized.” She paused, mid-sentence, to let the memory wash over her. Then, she closed her eyes, smiled, continued: “…and it had so much potential.”
It was that potential that sealed the deal for Marlow. She didn’t have a plan. She didn’t have assurance. She didn’t have any idea about how much work it would take to turn this old, messy building into what it is today. She didn’t have any of that. What she had, was potential.
That was all she needed.
Marlow could have rented out the extra space next to Goedickes, she supposed. She could have just focused on the art supply and framing shop, but she knew that this big, empty, incredible space could be more, could do more, could offer more.
“I didn’t know I was going to do an art gallery when we started the remodel; I just wanted to clean this space out,” Marlow confessed. “I think I just kind of evolved into it. I wanted it to be taken seriously, but I also knew that I didn’t know what I was doing. I just wanted to create a space for art to be shown in Casper.”
She knew that she didn’t know what she was doing. It was that attitude, that layer of humility that kept Marlow grounded. She didn’t make any grandiose pledges about what her space could be. She just wanted to offer what it was, and she hoped the community would be receptive.
Marlow purchased Goedickes in early 2014, and by October of that same year she was ready to open Scarlow’s Gallery.
“My opening night, for sure, was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” Marlow said. “We had a huge turnout. It wasn’t the Art Walk. It was just an opening. Everyone came to support me. I had 20+ artists that barely knew me, and they decided to share and put their work up. It just really felt good to have the community come in and I got some thumbs up from some locals that kind of know what’s going on [in the art scene].”
When Marlow opened Scarlow’s Gallery in October of 2014, she wanted it to be a space where artists could show their work. That’s all. She didn’t have a grand vision of transforming the art scene in Casper. She wasn’t planning to turn The District into a destination. She didn’t intend to change this city.
That part came later.
As Marlow and Co. (great band name, ps) were busy with their gallery, Holly Turner was hard at work, too. She was in the final stages of turning her own vision, ART 321, into a reality. Like Marlow, Turner saw so much potential in Downtown Casper, and if nobody else was going to realize that potential, she would.
Turner heard what Marlow was doing with Goedickes, and approached her one day without a plan, but with a dream.
According to Claire (great book title, ps), as Turner was building what ART 321 would become, she was also eager to start an ‘art walk.’
“We just kept talking about it and talking about it,” Marlow said. “We pulled a few big artists in town and we pulled a designer in. I think there were, like, 5 of us at that initial meeting and none of them believed in it. They said ‘No, it’s never going to work.’ So, we said, ‘Alright, you’re out.’”
Turner and Marlow were only interested in people that believed in them, believed in this town and believed in art. Anything less than that was unacceptable.
Luckily, they found two people who were just as enthusiastic about what dreams may come, regarding Downtown Casper. Those two people were Tony and Amy Elmore, two employees of ART 321 who had the same vision that Turner and Marlow did. The four of them collaborated to create the very first Art Walk in Downtown Casper and it was very much an example of guerilla marketing.
“The first year, it was the four of us,” Marlow stated. “We didn’t know what to expect. I knocked on every door downtown with information about what we were trying to do. Some people didn’t get it, but it turned out great.”
The Art Walk has since turned into a real highlight of the summer in Downtown Casper, and it’s all because one, and then two, and then four people saw the potential for what could be. Marlow has taken on more of an advisory role in recent years, and she said that the Elmores have really taken the proverbial ball and ran with it.
“The second year, people kinda knew about it and it got a little bigger,” Marlow said. “It was a ton of work the first 2 years. The third year, I had a kid and didn’t have as much time to work on it, and Tony and Amy really stepped in and that’s when they made the website and then this last year, they’ve pretty much taken over the management of it.”
The four of them didn’t necessarily have any experience when it came to creating a community-wide event. They just had passion, work ethic and the belief that art is an important aspect to any community.
“I think the art culture for any place is extremely necessary to have a well-balanced city or town or state,” Marlow admitted. “I think it’s what brings community together. You can really, kind of, have a safe place with art that allows any person, whether they know anything about art or not, to just enjoy something about life and then inspire something. It triggers something in your brain. Art is so important just for brain development in general. It’s just a happy space and it’s just creative.”
And really, that’s all that Marlow wanted when she opened Scarlow’s Gallery- a happy space that inspires creativity.
There are events almost every week in The District and beyond, but when Claire Marlow decided to take a chance and buy Goedickes, there was very little activity downtown.
“When I bought Goedickes, it was still quiet down here,” Marlow remembered. “There wasn’t much going on, but I was talking to everybody. I was talking to the artists, I was talking to the people who buy art and have it framed, I was talking to the people who sell art supplies, but none of these people were talking to each other.”
“I kinda thought that I know all these people; what can I do to connect them and so the Art Walk was part of that vision.”
That vision has taken a few years to be realized and it’s still not quite where Marlow, Turner and the Elmore’s want it. But it’s close.
My vision for the gallery is to have phenomenal artists because we’re such a small little blip in the world,” Marlow said. “Nobody thinks Casper can have that.”
If there is one thing that one should never do, it’s tell Claire Marlow “no” or “you can’t” or “this won’t work.” Yes, she can and it will. Scarlow’s Gallery, Goedickes Art Supply and Framing and the Art Walk are all proof of that. Whether it was luck, timing or something even bigger, Downtown Casper was on the verge of something big, and Marlow knew it.
“I think the timing is right,” Marlow agreed. “I think there’s a younger population in Casper, they’re educated, some of them have some money, they want a little more trendy things, they want a little more culture. The older generation is fantastic, and they have allowed us to be here and do this, but I think the younger blood, as with any town, craves a little bit more culture. I think people wanted it. Once the ball started rolling, people could see that we could do that here.”
The Art Walk has given way to a multitude of community-driven events downtown and it has turned The District into something that everybody can be proud of.
But that was never Marlow’s plan. She never had a plan. She still doesn’t, not really. When asked what drove her to create Scarlow’s Gallery and what is currently driving her to continue it, she just shrugged.
“My focus is to bring something to Casper that isn’t here yet, in the world of culture and art.”
She has done that. More than once. And she will continue to do that, despite not having a plan. She just continues to roll with the metaphorical punches.
“I’m constantly trying to figure out what I can add, what can I take away to keep these doors open,” Marlow said. “They’ve been open for 65 years- I don’t want the doors to close on my watch.”
If the future is the result of the present and the past, then Marlow shouldn’t have to worry about keeping the doors open. Scarlow’s has continued to provide artists with a canvas in which to paint their story. The Art Walk has continued to be the premier event every week in Casper. Marlow, herself, will continue to innovate, inspire and dare to dream.
And, even if it wasn’t hers, maybe that was the plan all along.