The J. Petter Galleries began in 1972 as Prashna where founder Joyce Petter imported and sold fine jewelry in the Mermaid building on the riverfront in Saugatuck. Joyce had always had an eye for fine art and traveled extensively growing her personal collection. Eventually, the passion for collecting for her home turned into curating for her retail space as it evolved into a fine art gallery. She renamed the business the Joyce Petter Gallery and move its location to Butler Street downtown Saugatuck. The gallery was the first to show curated international fine art in Saugatuck and quickly became the premier gallery of West Michigan attracting collectors from the Metropolitan areas of Chicago and Detroit.
Joyce Petter continued her travels throughout the United States gathering the best art from across the country. Those trips coupled with Joyce’s discerning eye and immense energy lead her to represent amazing talent. In 1977 as Joyce was traveling through the East coast on one of her art-finding excursions she attended the Fall Gallery Stroll on Newbury Street in Boston Massachusetts. Galleries up and down the historic street were collaborating, bringing in artists for talks and demonstrations as well as live entertainment, the energy was contagious. Upon returning to Saugatuck Joyce reached out to the other local galleries and Jewelry stores to create her own version of the gallery stroll an event she knew would work well in the area. The gallery strolls evolved and grew each year becoming one of the premier events in the Saugatuck Douglas area.
In the early 1990s, Joyce had the opportunity to purchase the historic River Guild Gallery Center built by Carl Hoerman in the 1930s. Born in Bavaria, Germany, Hoerman was a landscape painter who moved to the United States in 1904, where he studied and worked in architecture until the 1920s. After that, he devoted his time to painting and building a studio in Douglas, Michigan. At that time the studio was called River Guild Gallery Building. Known as the “dunes painter,” Hoerman’s paintings of West Michigan, as well as of west and southwest America have captured art lovers for decades.
The building needed extensive renovations and Joyce transformed the barn-like building by raising the ceilings, adding a metal roof, and enhancing doorways and fireplaces with architectural carved wooden doors from salvaged buildings creating a 12,500 Square foot, two-story fine art gallery. During the renovations, a secret treasure hidden in one of the walls was discovered. Joyce had uncovered a carved wooden door, which was formerly the entrance to the River Guild Gallery that Hoerman built. In the center of the beautiful door was a figure of a craftsman with a chisel and hammer in hand, as if still guarding the gallery as a place of creativity. The craftsman figure now lives as the symbol of the J. Petter Galleries, paying homage to the original artist and facilitator of art that built the space so many years ago.
In 2007 after more than 40 years in the art world, Joyce Petter retired and the gallery was directed by Connie Petter followed by Arthur Fredericks. In 2013 with the future of the gallery in question Joyce’s Daughter-in-law Juli Anne Petter left the corporate grind to transform a large section on the main floor of the gallery to showcase handpicked selections of old and new world wines, as well as a collection of unique cheeses and hand-poured chocolates creating the areas premiere wine shop appropriately named the Petter Wine Gallery.
Juli Petter had spent her childhood surrounded by art. Her mother Mary-Ann Perry taught at Kendall School of Art and Design and Aquinas College and was also a founding member of the still-thriving Grand Rapids art group, Grand Valley Artists. Juli had visited the Joyce Petter Gallery frequently over the years with her mother and considered it her favorite years before she met her husband Doug Petter. Even though Juli spent most of her career outside of the arts, her eye for art and love of wine were a constant. She moonlighted as an independent interior decorator and also studied what she calls the art of wine. In 2015 Juli became owner and director of the renamed J. Petter Galleries breathing new life into the historic space.