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On The Map: Odd Jobs - Artist

You don’t have to look far in central and northern Michigan to see locally produced art. Art shows… fairs… and galleries are part of the heartbeat in tourist communities. But the creators may wonder if they are as appreciated as their creations.

Today our occasional series On The Map takes Max Cobb to Charlevoix county to look at the underappreciated job of artist, and  learn how the art industry has supported one family for nearly 40 years.


Ray Bier said he was 15 when he first saw the old red and white schoolhouse in Charlevoix. Right away he had a vision for it.

“When I travelled north with my father I saw this old schoolhouse and I loved old buildings I’ve always loved the history of places since I’ve been very young. So I thought to myself, that would make a really neat art studio.”

It’s located on a busy road, but Bier said that wasn’t always enough to bring people in.

“We’d go weeks sometimes without seeing anybody stop, and my wife and I used to stand in front of the window and look at the cars going by and she’d always ask me, ‘so do you think they’ll ever stop?’ and I would say they’re all pointing and what they’re saying is someday we’ll have to stop there, and so over the years just more and more people stopped.”

Bier said visitors told their friends and family about the gallery; and before he knew it, more and more visitors stopped by.

Bier, his wife and kids, and an assortment of friends are the primary contributors of art to the gallery.

“A lot of these artists have been doing this 40 years or better, so we know everyone from fantastic steel artists to metal artists to ceramic artists to blown glass, fuse glass artists, to painters; a lot of sculptors are involved in the business. So everywhere you look there’s fine art.”

There’s no real theme in this gallery and Bier said that was intentional. He said he wants to give artists the opportunity to create whatever they want, because those are often the highest quality pieces.

“If it’s done of quality someone will come in and find the piece. There’s something about a piece of artwork that when an artist puts their heart and soul into a piece of artwork, that someone along the line will come walking through the door and connect with that artist in one way shape or form. It’s just got to be of quality, and the gallery gives our artists the ability to create what they want to create.”

I asked Bier if he had a favorite piece in the gallery, his answer was: essentially all of them.

“I try to look through my customer base eyes, meaning that everyone who comes through here has a different taste in art, everyone sees something differently than the other person. So what I’ve done over the years is I’ve built an inventory of art that can be liked by thousands of people. So I tend to appreciate most all artwork, I appreciate what people put into it.”


Bier has owned Bier Art Gallery & Pottery Studio for 37 years.

He said it’s still unclear when exactly the school was built... by his calculations it was around 1878. It was converted into the art gallery in 1981. He said thru the years, he’s found that art is a seasonal business … for his gallery, the slow time is winter.

“Winters can be long for anyone in northern Michigan. The hardest part is that it’s not an easy place to do business, you have a window of opportunity. So you never know what given day someone’s going to come in and make the galleries day or make the artists day. Maybe it’s rewarding in the fact that it hasn’t been all that easy, because we’ve all had to work hard for this.”

There are other art galleries in the area, but Bier said he doesn’t see them as competitors, he encourages them.

He said he loves to see people make a living off of their own creations, and the more people who do that, the happier he is.

Whether it’s the excitement of the art-creator or the art-admirer, Bier said he just loves to see people connect with artwork.

“Oh my God, look at that, how could this end up here, and they have something of true value. True value doesn’t go away on a good art piece, people find a piece of artwork that is just the biggest treasure they ever found, that’s what artwork does to people it’s a part of their life it’s a part of their soul.”

Bier said being an artist in Michigan isn’t easy, but the joy of creating something beautiful is worth the work.

Any one piece of art may not be beautiful to everyone, but to the person who creates it and the person who discovers it, it’s a true treasure.

It’s people of passion like Ray Bier that bring art to life in northern Michigan, and it’s that passion and hard work that puts Bier Art Gallery, On The Map.