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Mt. Lebanon and Shadyside shops promote local artists

Six years ago, Kate McGrady began making her own jewelry. The beaded pieces were a hit with her friends, and many encouraged the Mt. Lebanon mom to share her work. But McGrady quickly found out it wasn't such an easy task.

"We as a society are not supporting our local artists," said McGrady, 47. "People told me good luck trying to sell my jewelry, so I just made a way for it to sell."

And so was born Koolkat Designs, a Mt. Lebanon shop that gives more than 100 local artists a platform from which to sell their work. From origami earrings to handcrafted jewelry boxes, every item on the shelves has a back story. Each piece is handcrafted by an artist who otherwise wouldn't have a steady venue to sell work.

The artists featured at Koolkat come from very different walks of life. Some are professional artists who do nothing but sell their work; others are retirees. It's common for artists to work another job and make jewelry on the side. Those folks often don't have time to attend art shows regularly and to devote hours to peddling their goods.

"The arts community educates people how to make things, but we don't do anything to help them sell their work," McGrady said. "If you talk to artists, most aren't businesspeople. They just have the talent to make beautiful things."

Ellen Chisdes Neuberg offers artists a similar outlet in Shadyside. Neuberg handpicks each piece of jewelry and art she sells in her art gallery, GalleriE CHIZ. Neuberg, 71, of Shadyside, said consumers need to be aware of the "gorgeous" work being made locally.

"These artists need to make a living," Neuberg said. "They can't wear it all. It's important to me that we support artists and give them a venue to reach people through."

For artists like Kim Tyrrell, that's important. She's been selling her hand-strung crystal jewelry at Koolkat almost since the store opened in 2006. Tyrrell, vice chair for academics in the University of Pittsburgh's department of epidemiology, needed someplace to sell her work that wouldn't require her to be on site.

"Making it is the easy part, selling it is the hard part," said Tyrrell, of Upper St. Clair. "A lot of artists, including myself, wouldn't be able to do what we do if we didn't have a way of selling the product. It's great."

Mt. Lebanon resident Stefanie Hertz said Koolkat reminds her of the boutiques she frequented when she lived in California. Hertz, 47, said she can get lost in the shop.

"It's a great place because it supports people in the community and provides something very unique," Hertz said. "It's great to have a place like that here in Mt. Lebanon, helping our artists."

On the Web

www.imakoolkat.com and www.galleriechiz.com

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