Interview with Rising Moon Gallery: Thriving Against all the Odds
Right in the heart of Uptown Waterloo is a remarkably well kept secret. In The Regina Street Commons, tucked to the side, is an unassuming grey door that reads, “Torchlight Tattoo and Rising Moon Gallery.” Inside works Andrea Hildebrand, founder of Rising Moon Gallery, and her husband Chris Winterson, founder of Torchlight Tattoo. And there, on the third floor, they have a charming combination of creative space and art gallery. We were lucky enough to have a chance to talk to Andrea about her thoughtfully curated collection of works and how Rising Moon Gallery came to be.
Tell us a little about yourself, your art, and how Rising Moon Gallery got started.
Well, where to start! I’m from Waterloo and I went to the Ontario College of Design as well as Sheridan College. I did an undergraduate degree at OCAD in material art and design, so my areas of study were silversmithing, textile art, fibre art, and ceramics- I majored in ceramics. I was definitely a mixed bag of all those things; a little bit of woodwork, drawing, and painting here and there- but my main focus was in clay.
When I finished school, I took off to Asia for four years and taught ESL. I didn’t have much access to my craft there, I was living out of a little bachelor apartment in Korea and backpacking. For a few years I played music busking around Asia and travelling.
I came back ten years ago and just had to figure out what I was doing here! I worked five part time jobs just trying to keep an art practice alive, which is so difficult, but ten years later I have finally established a small business, and it is 100% the fulfillment of my dreams.
So, how did Rising Moon Gallery get its start?
When we first landed here on Regina street, it was established as Chris’s tattoo studio Torchlight Tattoo. I had a little creative space there, and over three or four years I started to put more pieces out and people were buying it. Chris and I have this great exchange because his clientele buy my work and the work of our other artists and my clientele select him as a tattoo artist because they love the feel of our space and the emphasis on quality.
He set Torchlight Tattoo up almost five years ago in the Regina street commons. We’re on the third floor. Being on the third floor, we get the perfect balance of visitors to our space as well as quiet time to produce our work. We have time and space here and we’ve developed a small following of people who are really loyal.
What was your focus when creating a retail gallery?
I’m really trying to maintain a gallery feel. I want people to walk in here and feel that it's thoughtfully curated, that there’s a connection between all of the artists in terms of concepts, themes, materials, and process, rather than just a retail shop where you can buy handmade stuff. So far it’s been successful!
I feel so blessed and so incredibly grateful for the pieces people give me to share here. This isn’t a space where we sell tons of stuff. Of course I want it to do that, part of the vision is to support artists and women makers in our community, but it’s not the only part of the vision. Rising Moon Gallery is about forming relationships, forming trust, and being able to create a space where people feel comfortable to express themselves and share their gifts. And as far as working with the Indigenous community, which includes 3 of the artists who joined our gallery, it’s about forming friendships because I think, to me, that’s a very meaningful way that I, personally, can approach reconciliation.
How did you grow your gallery to what it is today?
Well, we thought, if we have all this creative space, why don’t we have an exhibition?
We did three annual exhibitions. We had amazing participation from all different types of artists at different stages of their careers and then this great dialogue between the indigenous and non-indigenous community in an art space. We did a collaborative ceremony with a couple of women, Chloe Blair and Cara Loft. Together, we made a piece of art that’s a bowl teaching about the Two Row Wampum. The wampums were a method of recording agreements between people, for Indigenous people. They did this with beads, kind of like how we make written agreements. The two row wampum was about the agreement between the Haudenosaunee people and the Dutch settlers. It expressed the intention to live alongside each other, but never cross or fracture each other's journey. The Haudenosaunee have never broken this treaty, and creating the bowl together was a beautiful way for us to spark a dialogue in a community arts space. We also had an outdoors ceremony where Cara was able to do a community smudge with Chloe singing and drumming.
So it went like that for 3 years as we developed this exhibition space in the Earth Day Festival. Then I realized that this space is not being used to its full potential during the year, so why don’t we invite these people we’ve met to become part of a retail space? So Rising Moon Gallery evolved from exhibition into retail.
What’s the Earth Day Festival?
Five years ago, I proposed a collaborative Earth Day Festival with the other businesses on Regina Street, which as the time were Seven Shores Cafe, Kultrun Market, and Fearless Heart Yoga. I pitched the idea to have an arts and music festival to engage the community in thoughtful dialogue and action around climate change. This will be the fifth year that we would run it (fingers crossed!), although last spring we had to cancel it for obvious reasons.
Earth day became the opportunity I needed to do group exhibitions. We primarily reached out to indigenous artists for it because if we’re going to talk about climate crisis and land protection then these are the people that need to be at the forefront of the conversation.
Some of the participating businesses have changed. Kultrun Market is no longer here and Fearless Heart Yoga has evolved, but we now have The Crumby Cookie Dough Company!
We’re meeting in a week to start planning an Earth Day Festival in the hopes that we can do it. I’m not sure what it will be this year though!
Your Gallery showcases the work of many local and Indigenous artists, how’d you find them?
We have twelve artists, most of them are women, two are nonbinary, and three are metis women. It’s a beautiful collage of people!
Some of them are personal friends, some of them are people whose work I’ve seen and thought that they’re the type of artist who fit the vision and idea of what we have here.
Mackenzie, she’s one of our metis artists, I saw her work and just felt “I need to connect with this person.” We’ve become great friends and she’s such a support for me. Chris reached out to another one of our artists and told her “hey, have you ever considered that your work would be really well suited for tattoo?” She said that tattooing is something she would love to do. So he took her on as an apprentice for 10 months. Her work was integrated into the gallery and she was here as a tattoo artist too.
My husband Chris is a tattoo artist, so this is a very unconventional business and collaboration of artists. He has clients coming in daily who support my business, and he’s also a very excellent charcoal artist
How has the covid-19 pandemic been treating you?
Covid has been extremely difficult for us, like so many others. But Chris and I decided from the very beginning that we would be very intentional about where we focused our energy and attention. Because of that, we’ve been able to navigate the loss of our home, the deaths of beloved family members and friends, and, of course, the loss of income that comes with having your business closed for many months. We truly have been able to make the most of this experience by evolving in our creative practices, deepening our meditation practice, and considering ways to improve our self-care and care for others in our community.
There are many gifts in times of change and adversity. When you can be open to that, even when you feel pain and fear, you can discover a well of grace and blessings you may not have accessed before. And that can be not only what gets you through, but ultimately what makes you stronger, wiser, and more compassionate.
I launched Rising Moon Gallery in November 2019, so four months before the first lockdown. It was not what I had planned, but by making the best of the situation I was in, a few great things ended up coming out of it. It gave me time and the space to be very careful about how I wanted to develop my Gallery. It gave me time and space to think about what kind of online presence I want to have and how I want to construct that. And it gave me a lot of time for meditation and for making, which is every artist’s dream.
The first lockdown I didn’t produce anything! I thought, “I had such a good flow of production going and now I’m not making anything. I’m just going for walks and meditating every day,” but that was so essential to the long range creative process. It was a gift.
What did you do after the lockdown?
When June came around, I thought “Okay, people aren’t comfortable coming inside. I have to think of another way.” So I developed my idea called Lemons to Lemonade! It was me setting up a table out on Regina street I called my lemonade stand. Every day we would take work from different artists out. It just had a bright energy to it, it was beautiful! It's really important for me to meet people; I want to meet the people interested in the work, I want to share the artist's story with them, I want to tell them about the process and materials, and I want to know who’s supporting my business.
That spring and summer I got to meet lots of people. I think they were really happy to see me because the artist shows, sales, and craft events were all cancelled; so this was a beacon of creative light in Uptown Waterloo. Not too many people knew about it, but the Seven Shores Cafe crowd and the people walking by and working in the area got to know me. I would just sit outside and make jewelry, so people would get to see the work in process too.
I wouldn't have done that if life had been as per usual, I wouldn’t have been motivated to go out. You can’t expect people to come into your gallery if you don’t go out and meet them and welcome them and reassure them that this is a warm space, it's a friendly space, and we’re upstairs! And people would be like, “Wait, you do tattoos? Can I sign up for that?”
What’s an obstacle you've encountered during the pandemic?
Honestly, I’m the most resistant to doing things online and not in person, I’m all about things being done by hand and in community, in communion, and the ancient way. That’s totally my thing. But I recognize that that’s not where the world’s at. My inclination to preserve that way will be valuable and beautiful, but there’s opportunity in communicating in the online language the world is now speaking. It’s a real challenge for me to go online, and I feel like a lot of artists feel that way- especially the older generation of artists. But if you can find ways to take small steps towards that, now is the time to do it.
Any advice for your fellow artists during this weird time?
Focus on the blessings! There are so many gifts in this. Your work can evolve.
Relish every moment of the creative opportunity. If you need it, see where you can find support right now and focus on your work.
Also, find partners that you can collaborate with! I’m really truly grateful for meeting Crissy and finding Iguana Beads. I have other suppliers, but I drive to Cambridge because I feel so honestly valued by her and I feel so much more passion in her business. And she’s sharing my story too through this article and that’s such a beautiful thing. I think these opportunities are really presenting themselves to artists right now if we wake up and grab them!
So, what does the future have in store for Rising Moon Gallery?
Near future? Well, Chris’s birthday is in a couple weeks and we made a reservation at a restaurant, so that’s a huge deal. And I’m really looking forward to some warmer weather so I can be outside, comfortably making work, meeting people, and enjoying physical activity.
Long term? I’m looking forward to the continuing gong show that is life! Being completely unpredictable, always changing, throwing stuff at you that you think you can’t handle and then finding that you emerge stronger.
That’s kind of how life as an artist goes. With this pandemic, a lot of people are extremely distressed, and many people’s mental, physical and spiritual health is being negatively affected. I have certainly had moments of feeling scared and disturbed by the uncertainty of everything, but for many of us when we choose a life as an artist, much of our time can be like that. Not to diminish the difficulty so many artists and individuals are having; I truly understand. But recently I’ve been wondering, “why am I not freaking out?” It’s because my whole adult life has been this! I’ve never had financial stability, I’ve never known where I was going to live in a year or two, I could never count on routine, so I’m somewhat adapted to this chaos. I hope that artists are recognizing that they were secretly training for this their whole life. It’s honestly all in how you look at it. So, I guess I'm looking forward to….. Everything!
Andrea Hildebrand runs Rising Moon Gallery in The Regina Street Commons at 8 Regina Street North in Waterloo, Ontario and shares the space with Chris Winterson’s Torchlight Tattoo. She shows off the gallery’s beautiful collection of pieces, available to buy, on her website and social media. Keep an eye out for Andrea’s lemonade stand when spring comes around, and check out the gallery inside!