The Little Art Shop

Business and creativity go hand in hand for The Little Art Shop’s owner.

Photos by Michael Van Auken

Mary Williams, a former engineer, never aimed to be an art shop owner—although she grew up with artistic influences.

“In my youth, my grandmother was a china painter,” she says.

“Her work is actually in the Smithsonian. She’d paint on bisque, china vases, and other things with different pigments and liquid enamels. That’s why I got into fused glass art … I’ve approached my glass with the mindset of china painting: with many layers. You paint, you fire, you repeat.”

The Little Art Shop, which started out as a business in Fairfield, has lived in First Street’s Tannery Building for about six years. Early in Covid times, Williams had gotten a spot as an artist here, and was then approached to buy it by the previous owners who were looking to sell. Williams reflected on the current art offerings and decided to take the plunge into ownership.

“Part of the reason why I decided to go ahead and buy the gallery was, at the time I was asked, the Laguna Arts Festival was going on,” she shares. “I went down to benchmark how the big dogs do it, and The Little Art Shop can really compete with any gallery out there.”

Williams’s deep passion for highlighting local artists shines through when she speaks of the 30-35 artists she has in the shop. She also takes pride in its environment being an approachable, unique, and welcoming one that truly will speak to anyone, from art newbies to absolute pros.

“The special thing about our little gallery is the support for local Benicia artists,” she says.

“If I really like the art, I’ll accept as far as Sacramento, but I really like to keep the focus on local talent. And I’d describe our space as fine art all the way to fun art. There’s something for everyone, at all price points. That’s what attracted me to The Little Art Shop to begin with. There’s a place for fine art galleries, and I love them, but it’s not me. I like to be comfortable and unpretentious. Anyone, even new lovers of art, can come in and feel comfortable and find something they just love.”

If you’re an artist who’s interested in finding a home at The Little Art Shop, Williams is always open to it. There’s a natural attrition rate that leaves spots open once in a while, and Williams won’t care what your creative resume reads like.

Sign for The Little Art Shop on the sidewalk in front of the water with a couple sitting on a bench and Neptune's Daughter statue on either side.

“[If someone is interested], all they do is leave their name and number and I’ll call, letting them know how the gallery works and what makes it special,” she says. If it’s a fit for what we need for artwork, then I will bring them on. I don’t pay attention to someone’s pedigree, or education in the art world. I want someone who has a natural love and talent and a fire in their belly for creating. For example, a couple of years ago, I had a woman in her nineties. It was always her dream to be in a gallery and showcase her silhouette art—you know, like the kind they have at Disneyland? She was masterful; just really, really good. She’d whip out this amazing silhouette in less than a minute. That’s what I try to find, the rare and special talent. We just have a cool group of people.”

However much experience with art you do or don’t have, be sure to pop into the Tannery Building and say hello to Suite E which, along with all of their art, has a wonderful view of the water and “Neptune’s Daughter” statue. Their current hours are 11:00am-5:00pm daily.

Events

*Little Art Shop’s upcoming artist of the month schedule:

March highlights needle felting artist Carolyn Appenzeller. “She makes the most incredible felted animals,” says Williams.

April will focus on quilling artist Kathy Canfield-Shepard, who uses paper strips to create masterful designs. “I call her my quilling queen shepard,” Williams says.

May will feature acrylic artist Kerry Lee, who’s “specializing in intentional creativity and art with meaning,” says Williams.

*This year’s Art Walk will combine First Street art galleries with Benicia Art at the Arsenal for a two-day extravaganza. Williams is hoping to hold a chalk art competition in the outdoor walkway by “Neptune’s Daughter.” Join them on Saturday, May 4th and Sunday, May 5th.

*Williams plans to have artists set up tables in the hallway for demonstrations and mini classes. To keep up-to-date on when these and more will take place, be sure to follow The Little Art shop on Facebook, on Instagram at littleartshop.benicia, or sign up for their email list at thelittleartshop.com.