Dexter Statesman
The former Daily Statesman is now The Dexter Statesman.

As one door closes, another opens

Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Noreen Hyslop Photo Carol and Joe Vinson stand at the counter at Chrisman Art Gallery, where they have conducted business in downtown Dexter for the past 30 years.

It's the end of an era.

For over 30 years, Chrisman Art Gallery has served as a landmark in Dexter's downtown shopping district, offering wildlife and outdoor prints and custom framing. Next month their doors on Stoddard Street will close for the final time.

All is not lost, however. Joe and Carol Vinson, proprietors of the gallery, will open a down-scaled version of their business right across the street from their existing location, where their son and daughter-in-law, David and Vicki Vinson, will operate the online sale of gallery prints.

It's all about progress, in a way, and the evolution of technology, as Joe Vinson explains.

"About 95 percent of our business these days comes from our online sale of prints," he attests. "And so to keep a building this size open for walk-ins is just not really feasible anymore."

Indeed, the downtown building that has housed the couple's gallery since 1976, has 7500 square feet of floor space.

"The building is in need of some updates," Carol Vinson says, "and so we'll work on that and probably lease the building out later."

In the meantime, literally hundreds of framed art pieces still adorn the walls and displays at the Stoddard St. location, their price tags seriously slashed in hopes of not having to be transported elsewhere. The new facility will accommodate only the office space needed to conduct online sales, with no allowances for wall or window displays as in the past.

As unique a business as the art gallery has been in the area, so has its operation been. Joe and Carol Vinson, husband and wife for the past 51 years, have lived, loved, and worked side-by-side and by all indications, have done so with a harmony that is seldom seen in today's business world. The two seem to know what works both in a marriage and in a workplace.

The two first opened the framing business in 1972 in the building that currently houses Chrisman LP on Highway 25 and where their daughter and son-in-law, Sherri and Terry Burleson, still conduct business as Chrisman LP Gas.

"We were in Kentucky Dam Village," Joe Vinson recalls of the period when the framing operation was conceived, "and we found some Gene Gray prints. They were selling for about $15 to $20 a piece and I didn't buy any at the time, but it gnawed at me; so I eventually found out more about the artist and his work and purchased some of his pieces."

The couple then had to take the prints to Paducah, Ky. to be properly framed.

"And we thought, 'Well, this might be a good business to get into,' so we went to framing school and learned the trade."

It was as simple as that. The young Vinsons learned the trade well. Little did they know in 1972 that their newfound skills would serve them for a lifetime. The business expanded and in the fall of 1979 the couple moved to the Stoddard Street location, in the building formerly owned by an aunt and uncle of Joe's, Howard and Lollie Chrisman. The Vinsons saw no reason to change the Chrisman name, long associated with Dexter business. For more than 30 years, the operation has remained there and thrived.

Over the years, the couple attended annual seminars where wildlife and western artists display their artwork and meet with distributors and shop owners. As their inventory expanded, their reputation spread. They were soon noted as the primary source for wildlife and western art between St. Louis and Memphis.

The gallery offered artwork from a variety of artists, some regional and others from all points of the globe. In the world of wildlife art, names like Gray, Harper, Bateman, Frace, Brenders, Harms and McCarthy, became synonymous with the Vinson name and quality of work on display at Chrisman Art Gallery.

The couple soon became vested in another gallery in Kansas City and hired a local woman to run that facility in their absence. The Vinsons owned the gallery there until 2001.

An incredible history adorns the office walls at the downtown gallery. Over three decades of memories are displayed, including a pair of authentic beaded Indian moccasins under glass, a gift from The Greenwich Workshop, one of the Vinsons' suppliers. The moccasins join a wealth of memorabilia from other suppliers, friends and artists.

Works that remain close to the hearts of Joe and Carol Vinson hang on the walls as well and include favorites of Charles Harper and Gene Gray. There are works of wildlife artists who are long gone and others who remain and rank among the world's most noted in their field. There are favorite photos of friends and fishing buddies who fish no more and a favorite photo of a blonde, freckled granddaughter named Claire, posed with a pet hawk resting on her head. Unlike the others, it is not for sale.

Life will take a turn for the Vinsons later this summer as the inventory is diminished and the move is made across the street, but Joe Vinson, at least, is not about to call it quits.

"I doubt I'll ever retire," he contemplates. "Carol comes and goes and has outside interests and she may retire some day, but not me."

There's something to be said for spending a lifetime doing what one loves to do, and more to be said for doing that with someone you love. As rare as it is these days for a marriage to sustain for 51 years, rarer yet is a couple sharing the day-to-day operation of a business venture as Joe and Carol Vinson have successfully done, with a class and style that will be missed in downtown Dexter on Stoddard Street.