Inside the Geisler-Penquite Gift Shop at the Center for Arts & Artists are items that manager Terri Ayres says can be found nowhere else in Newton.
Much of the merchandise for sale are one-of-a-kind art pieces by mostly Iowa painters, sculptors and other types of creators. Each sale — from the art kits and handmade decorations to the heavy sculptures and framed art pieces from the Maytag guest house — go toward art education projects in the community.
“We’re really proud of the growth that we have seen in our merchandise, and the quality has always been there,” Ayres said. “And because our profits go toward art-based learning or creative-based projects, we charge no sales tax. Some projects can be hiring someone to give an education talk to the public.”
Everything the gift shop makes is recycled back into the community, including the sales of donated pieces like an ancient bell from Asia displayed near the front desk. There is certainly no shortage of originality in the gift shop, and Ayres said that is why it stands out from other retail shops in town.
Linda Klepinger, executive director of the Center for Arts & Artists, even calls the gift shop a “hidden gem” in Newton, precisely because of its unique selection of items and its community-based philanthropy. The shop opened in 2017 with the purpose of not only fueling artistic efforts but also to encourage an interest in art.
Especially when it comes to youth in Jasper County.
“The younger the kid is, the more free they are to create,” Ayres said. “We don’t want them to get through school and as an adult one day say, ‘Oh I don’t have a creative bone in my body.’ That isn’t true. Maybe they won’t become a Grandma Moses, but they’re going to express themselves in some fashion.”
Ayres doesn’t consider herself an artist, more so a “creative” than anything. Either way, she is contributing her own decorative trinkets to the gift shop.
“For me, the goal isn’t to sell stuff. The goal is to create. If it sells that’s great, but my stuff is all donated. If it doesn’t sell, it doesn’t sell. One of the reasons why I do so many things to donate is because of the fact that I want a variety of things,” she said. “When people come in and take a look all over, I want a lot of variety.”
Geisler-Penquite Gift Shop is open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Center for Arts & Artists, 501 W. Third St. N., in Newton. The shop is also open to appointments beyond the hours listed.