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When a dozen artists joined together to open the Gallery 54 fine art gift shop in Skaneateles, they never thought to keep track of how many more artists would showcase their work there.

Now, as the the shop celebrates its 10th anniversary, several of its current owners can only estimate that hundreds have become part of what they describe as a community of artists.

Part of what's helped the gallery thrive for so long, said former co-owner, current consignee and nature photographer Tom Dwyer, is its uniqueness. Not only is everything in the store handcrafted, but the individual artists frequently cycle out the items in their own collections for new ones. That allows for guests to always find something new when they visit the store, and also gives the artists the motivation to experiment with new materials, techniques and styles, said co-owner Lisa Maffiore, who specializes in jewelry and metalsmithing.

"That's how you grow as an artist," she said.

On top of that, the store features work from 40 to 50 different artists at any given time, according to woodworker Fred Weisskopf, another co-owner.

New artists are regularly invited to bring their work to the store, but only after being approved by the owners, who act as a sort of jury.

"As a group, we carefully curate each and every request, but few from outside our central New York community make the cut," co-founder and potter Sallie Thompson said in a release.

Weisskopf himself went through the same process after an earlier owner noticed his work, which includes everything from cutting boards to pepper mills, at a craft fair.

Besides being a great way to display their work, the store lets the artists interact with customers and see them admire and appreciate it, Dwyer, Maffiore and Weisskopf all said.

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“It's validation,” Dwyer said. “To have somebody come in and be somewhat in awe of it makes your work worthwhile.”

There's always an element of self-doubt in the artistic process, Maffiore said, so seeing customers enjoy what she's created is absolutely rewarding and validating. And working so closely with other artists means everyone is sharing ideas and boosting each other's creativity, she added.

“It's really like a close little community of family,” Maffiore said.

In addition to serving as a source of personal pride, the store lets the artists serve as representatives for the Skaneateles and greater central New York art community. Since customers come from all over the world, including Canada, Australia and England, as well as all over the U.S., the owners take great care to ensure all the art in the store lives up to that responsibility, Dwyer said.

“They wouldn't be in this store if they didn't think they were representing this community and the artists in the community as well,” she said.

Another way Gallery 54 represents the region's art community is its guest artist program, which invites both well-established and up-and-coming local artists to feature their work for several months.

Currently, the program is highlighting the work of painter and BBC Wildlife Artist of the Year David Kiehm and Roycroft Artisan porcelain pottery artist Leslie Green Guilbault.

To commemorate the anniversary, the gallery will host a party as part of Skaneateles' First Friday Art Night from 5 to 8 p.m. Sept. 6, and will include an opportunity for visitors to meet the artists, along with music, wine and refreshments.

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Staff writer Ryan Franklin can be reached at (315) 282-2252 or ryan.franklin@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @RyanNYFranklin.

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