By Ashley Loaeza
In a quiet block of Mount Diablo Street in Concord, just a few blocks from the downtown area, sits a little gem unknown to many: A tiny, one-story home painted green and yellow surrounded by plants of all sorts, bordered by a green picket fence that is hard to miss.
Aside from the fact that it stands out from the rest of the homes on this block, many would be surprised to know that this place isn’t just any home, it’s a gallery.
The gallery, called aRt Cottage, is owned and operated by Frogard Butler, who has been running it for six years on her own.
Originally a fruit picker shaft, the gallery was bought by Butler without the intention of creating a gallery, but rather to create a studio space for herself.
In the late 1950s, Butler studied art history and took drawing classes at Diablo Valley College, a community college in Pleasant Hill. She was able to study in Florence, Italy through the school’s Study Abroad program, and it was that trip which made her fall in love with creating art and inspired her to invest her savings in the Mount Diablo Street space.
Forty art classes, a lot of passion and a few years later, what once started as a personal studio now serves as an art gallery open to the public. It is covered in countless, unique pieces of art, ranging from photographs to three-dimensional art created by artists from all over Concord and the East Bay.
“I know what it was like when I felt that I wanted to show my art and there was no place in my community to show it,” says Butler, who also attended San Francisco State University in the 1960s. “I want the artists to get out there and feel comfortable. This is a small and comfortable space that’s non-threatening. Get your stuff out of the closet and start showing it.’’
aRt Cottage is purposely spelled with a capital “R” to emphasize that Butler’s gallery is “Our” cottage. In other words, a place for everyone.
Every month, Butler—whose first name is pronounced fro-guard—sponsors individual and groups of local artists from all over Concord and the East Bay who want to have their art displayed. Anyone, including beginners, can exhibit in Butler’s gallery. She also has a call out for art that may be thematic.
“What my interest is, in doing what I’m doing, is to stay open-minded,” says Butler. “I’m open to anybody who has art, wants to make art and wants to show art. I promote the growth of art in this community.”
Visitors pay no admission fee, and the gallery is open to the public four days a week. In addition, art enthusiasts are able to purchase pieces right off the wall and can take them home the same day, something that many other galleries would not even dare do.
“An art purchase is always an emotional purchase,” says Butler. “I’m trying to honor the people who made their art by making it available. They’re worthy of that and a lot of this is not only how I feel about the art but also how I feel about the artist.”
Not only does Butler’s gallery serve as a place to exhibit art, but it also serves as a place to create art as well. What used to be a two-car garage behind the gallery is now a classroom where Butler teaches students.
She teaches a variety of different classes such as ceramics, watercolor, oil, acrylics, finger-drawing and much more, with a total of 18 students ranging in age from 4 to their late 70s.
“I’m a one-woman shop,” says Butler.
Since the very beginning, Butler has served as the owner, operator, gardener, maintenance worker, teacher and curator of her gallery, all without pay. She does it all by herself, and that’s the way she likes it, even in her 70s.
Despite so much on her plate, Butler still manages to bring in a crowd.
Her last exhibition, which featured an art show honoring veterans, brought in over 120 guests with Concord Mayor Laura Hoffmeister, Councilman Tim McGallian and a television crew in attendance.
“This is important to me,” says Butler. “It gives me a sense of satisfaction and a sense of security that I pulled it off. I’m very rooted here in Concord, and there’s a purpose for everything that I’m doing here.”
In addition, Butler has also managed to secure bookings for half of 2018 already.
In a city like Concord where an art scene is perhaps seemingly non-existent, Butler refuses to expand her gallery into a larger city where art would likely be more relevant and popular.
“I’m not about making money,” she says. “This is to give artists a chance to show what they have and also to encourage them. This will always be a funky little building because people are comfortable with it. No big galleries in the city for me.”
While the physical space is constantly evolving, Butler’s gallery and her love and enthusiasm for the arts and local artists will forever be known as one of the best little gems in town.
As she puts it,“I always wanted a dollhouse and I never got one, so I bought it.”
Note: Although she went by the surname “Butler” at the time the author interviewed her for this feature profile, Frogard is now using the surname “Schmidt.”