The Secret Gallery of Geist: Statue-making couple work in woods at Fall Creek Gallery

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Julie Hollis describes herself and her husband, Chie Kramer, as hippies who live in the woods and create art.

“It’s where art and love meet,” she said. “Basically, it’s just two people who love and adore each other making art together. We try to live a simple, peaceful, happy life.”

The couple owns and operates Fall Creek Gallery, “the secret art gallery in the woods,” as Hollis puts it, at 7752 Fall Creek Dr. in Lawrence. The large property, which Kramer has owned for 25 years, is right on Fall Creek, the backdrop for where much their work – mostly wood statues – is created.

It’s off the beaten path, both artfully and the geographic location. Hollis and Kramer spend most of their time carving wooden cigar store Indian statues that are shipped domestically and around the world.

“It’s nice being able to be an artist in the woods,” Hollis said. “We live as full-time artists. This is what we do and breathe in every day and night. We make flowers, statues, paintings, etc. We definitely don’t have idle moments.”

Kramer has been making large, wooden statues for three decades. Hollis joined him in carving five years ago.

Kramer began his career in statue-making with Greek and religious figures.

“That was more of his personal interest, but he found that not everybody wanted Jesus in their living room, and people kept asking him, ‘Would you make me a wooden Indian?’” Hollis said. “So, instead of just making a wooden Indian, he spent time researching all of the original artists, which there is very little documentation of, and decided to make a modern-day statue shop like they had.

“We do supply cigar shops and cigar bars, but we don’t just do tobacconist figures. We do that primarily, but it’s like we’re a weird niche, because we make wood statues, but we’re not chainsaw carvers. We make tobacconist figures, but we also make the Blessed Mother, Ganesha, Greek goddesses.”

The couple work together as statue makers in a statue shop, housed inside the gallery.

The gallery building itself was designed and built by Kramer 20 years ago. Ever transforming, it takes a while to notice all the small, interesting features. Bay windows shelve antiques and collected glass pieces. The ceiling has mirrors – no two alike – with nearly everything wrapped in an ornamental, gold frame. Painted ceilings resemble something in an upscale, European gallery — all of which is accented by unique furniture and the statues that fill the floor space.

“The gallery basically is one of the few artists’ colonies here,” Hollis said. “When people think of (Indianapolis-based) art, they think of Irvington, Broad Ripple, Mass Ave. They don’t think of Geist.”

For more, visit the gallery’s Facebook page, facebook.com/cigarstoreindian.

HISTORY OF THE CRAFT

“There used be shops back in the 1800s, and so many of them had shop figures, which is what we do,” Julie Hollis said. “Some of those wood statues that are still around actually sell upwards of a million dollars. Each of the shops would have a figure carved to represent their shop. It was a very prideful thing to have a beautiful piece of art, but it also drew customers in. Eventually, the sidewalks got really cluttered, so they started passing sidewalk laws, and then things like the Great Depression happened, and everyone was just burning their own furniture for firewood.”

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