HUDSON — It might seem like a crazy notion. Really, who in their right mind would open an art gallery in this sluggish economy in, of all places, Hudson, Fla.? Those not looking for it are likely to pass by the Art Asylum without even noticing the little shop wedged between an insurance agency and a title company on the west side of U.S. 19 just north of State Road 52.
But this is a starting place for four local artists who decided the time was right to pool their talents and their resources. A couple of months after checking out commercial rentals and finding the right spot at the right price, they're keeping busy, churning out work and filling the walls and shelves with a modest offering of paintings and drawings, jewelry, baskets, pottery and ceramics.
Everything's for sale out front, some things created in the small workspace in the back where aspiring art students can develop their talent in a laid-back atmosphere.
A little cramped, perhaps, but right now it's a dream come true.
"Every artist wants to open their own place," said Cherri Pearson, 54, a 1975 Hudson High graduate and self-educated commercial artist who moved her existing airbrush business from the USA Fleamarket. "With rent and overhead, doing a co-op kind of thing was the only way we really could do it.
"We wanted a place where we could all pursue our different talents, and we wanted to offer something to the community. We wanted to do it in Hudson — not some place like downtown New Port Richey, because there's never been anything like this in Hudson. I grew up here; I know."
Along with Pearson, there's her good friend Susan Walton, a self-supporting muralist, wildlife painter and book illustrator from Missouri.
"We can dream here," said Walton, 42, who got her start when her seventh-grade art teacher handed her a box filled with paint and told her to get going on a mural on the school cafeteria wall. "We can be our own boss, work our own hours."
There's Jerry Padot, who can pinstripe cars, motorcycles and just about anything else, but is there only on the weekends because he has a day job working for a local electrician.
And there's Clay Verge, a former art teacher from Hudson High who's enjoying his time throwing pots and creating larger-than-life paintings and drawings — some with a satirical political edge like the portrait of Charlie Crist that he's putting the finishing touches on.
It's a good way to spend retirement, but Verge, 59, still wants to be in the business of teaching.
"I miss the kids enormously," said Verge, who retired in August after 37 years in education — 35 at Hudson High.
And so, of course, that's why art classes are part of the equation. The Art Asylum is currently signing up students for small classes in ceramics, drawing, acrylic painting, beginning airbrush and hand-built pottery.
"We want this to be a place where creativity can become a reality," Verge said. "We want to showcase the art of northwest Pasco."
The four artists also hope to expand their offerings to customers and fellow artists. They offer photo transfer work, Christmas and note cards, commissions for portraits and such, and have the artwork of four other artists for sale in the shop.
"There's a lot of artists right here in this area and we'd like to bring more on board," Verge said. "We just need to get the word out."
While foot traffic has been light, word of mouth, Facebook chatter and the holiday season has brought in more customers. Many of Verge's former students, now scattered in schools across the state and the country, also stopped by while home for the holidays.
"It's always a rough time when you're an artist," said Pearson, who once worked in local law offices and shoveled horse stalls before supplementing her family's income selling her airbrushed tee shirts, tire covers, motorcycle tanks and most any kind of item customers brought to her.
"We're not as big as we'd like to be, but that will happen. … You have to walk before you can run," she said. "It might seem a little eccentric. Doing this right now — stepping off this deep end. But we're all a little crazy here. We're in the Art Asylum after all."