Tucked unassumingly on a shaded block just beyond Pearl’s West End—where brick retail shops give way to a quiet residential neighborhood—is the historic Montgomery House at 741 Pearl Street.
On the sidewalk outside the tall, narrow Queen Anne Victorian home—which is painted in cheerful shades of butter yellow, dusty blue and forest green, with accents of bright plum—is a chalkboard sign beckoning passersby to come inside.
Since October 2022, the 142-year-old abode has been filled with new life as The New Local, a gallery and art collective for artists, designers and makers. Those who heed the sign’s suggestion are bountifully rewarded, for within lies a thoughtfully curated treasure trove of fresh flowers, botanically-dyed silks, hand-woven fiber art, artisanal chocolates and more.
A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, The New Local (TNL) started as a pop-up exhibit in 2019, when founder and executive director Marie-Juliette Bird called on her community of women artists to form a collective, sharing the expenses of setting up a gallery space in a defunct janitorial supply shop. In just six weeks, the group collectively earned $48,000 and each artist retained 100 percent of her profits—a feat nearly unheard of in the art world.
After the community responded positively to the pop-up, Bird spent two years incorporating the group as a nonprofit during the pandemic.
TNL’s ethos is not to take money from creatives, Bird says—a radical idea in times like these, when artists must often share a large chunk of their profits to display their work in a gallery. Her hope for the nonprofit is to create a different model that ensures makers are paid what they’re worth.
Wearing a breezy, caramel and white polka-dot dress—and with her brunette tresses cascading in long curls—Bird proudly shows the work of TNL’s collective: lathe-turned wooden bowls, mixed-media paintings, hand-bent brass wall sculptures and statement cowgirl boots. They’re all lovingly displayed throughout four rooms on the building’s main floor, which is part art gallery, part shop for one-of-a-kind and handmade artisan goods to wear, gift or adorn the home.
Bird grew up in Boulder and has spent much of her life involving herself in creative endeavors, including a musical project called Blackbird and The Storm. Her fine jewelry business, Blackbird and the Snow—a line of exquisite, nature-inspired pieces she handcrafts using pre-industrial era artisanal techniques—has been featured in luxury fashion magazines like Vogue and Elle. Her lush spring line includes tourmaline and diamond beetle earrings set in f14-carat yellow gold, and a moon necklace that features a stunning rose-cut Ethiopian opal. Those interested can take a peek at her wares for themselves inside the warm and welcoming gallery space.
Bird notes that opening the brick-and-mortar gallery space has helped to build a bridge between the creative community and the public. There’s also something special about highlighting the types of work that pioneer women would have done—such as leatherwork and functional ceramics—thus carrying on pioneer-era traditions in a home built in 1880, she says. In addition, showcasing and validating such work helps to shatter historically misogynist views that “women’s crafts” cannot be considered high art, she says.
“All creative work has value, regardless of the medium. All creative work deserves to be in an elevated space,” Bird says.
TNL holds open calls for work, welcoming submissions from all female-identifying creators and focusing outreach to underserved and minority communities. A board of diverse experts from the University of Colorado Boulder vets artist submissions “with an eye toward quality and originality,” Bird says. She personally curates TNL’s featured collection for each six-month rotation. The inaugural exhibit featured all women-made art from local artists—about 90 percent based in Boulder.
In addition to the gallery and shop on the main floor of the Montgomery House, TNL offers affordable studio space for four artists. And in April, the collective opened an additional space called the Annex, located just a few doors down at 713 Pearl Street, in a painted concrete and brick building that once housed a small grocery store. Through the Annex Artist Program, TNL highlights the work of a single artist in a fine art exhibit that rotates every six weeks.
“We also currently host elevated workshops and special events in the space,” Bird says.
Later this summer, TNL plans to launch “Clay Club” in the Annex’s back room, known as “The Grotto,” where participants can work on pottery on a drop-in basis. Bird’s vision for the Annex is to “create a space where we can interface with the public,” she says.
The group is working to be inclusive with its educational programs, says Bird. One such outreach initiative is the availability of sliding-scale mini-workshops on Saturdays throughout the summer, making participation accessible to more people in the community. As part of their membership agreement, TNL artists volunteer their time and skills to teach these community art programs. On International Women’s Day this past March, for example, TNL hosted school field trips.
Bird’s goal is to “create something of value for the community,” she says.
Bird also hopes to spearhead an extension of First Friday Art Walks, a monthly event held in artists’ studios and creative businesses in the NoBo Art District along Broadway. She thinks downtown Boulder could benefit from an elevated community experience, and envisions TNL hosting live music in addition to having the gallery space open for visitors during art walks. TNL would emphasize “an organic cross-pollination of mediums with an emphasis on art,” Bird says.
“We want to cultivate a destination, to spread the word and let people know we’re here,” she says.