Butte High art teacher and wife duo open art gallery and clothing boutique

At the Kartel Factory in Uptown Butte the gallery walls are lined with industrial art: hard-edged pieces of copper and tin morphed into the shape of dragonflies. A steel door, meanwhile, welded in the fashion of "steam punk," leads to a clothing boutique in a room next door.

The scene seems more Los Angeles than it does Mining City, but Kartel Factory owners Staci and John Bercier say Butte residents want to see more art in their community.

"I really think they're going to like having big city in their small town," said Staci, noting that the art community in Butte seems to be growing.

Staci and John said they opened Kartel Factory — which is now a stop on the city's summer art walk — on Wyoming Street in July because they wanted a space to display John's art. 

John — who's a member of the Chippewa-Cree of Turtle Mountain Band of American Indians — has an MFA from University of Montana and makes art of all stars and stripes, including installations, paintings, photographs and ceramics.

But John isn't just an artist, he's also an educator.

For 17 years he's worked as an art teacher at Butte High School and says the best part of his job is "seeing the creative, enlightened students making their way and learning new things."

And some of John's students are getting involved.

Kartel Factory is currently showcasing apparel designed by two of John's former students — Kal Leamer and Kenna Allison of Krowned Clothing.

When asked why he thinks art should exist in people's lives — especially for students — John said he sees the discipline as a path toward knowledge.

"I think it helps to encourage the path of enlightenment — creativity, moving from one place to another," said John, who identifies with the Renaissance — a time when people saw all disciplines, including art and science, as gateways toward greater understanding.

"They wanted to learn about philosophy, they wanted to learn about science and math and art," said John. "And by doing that we had some of the greatest inventions ever during the Renaissance."

And although he's living in a modern, post-industrial town, John may very well be a man of the Renaissance, taking an interdisciplinary approach to his art.

Working in several mediums, he often creates art consisting of recycled objects and a variety of materials, ranging from junk-yard metal and small glass bottles to thin pieces of animal bones.

Staci — who has a degree in psychology and left her job as a social worker to start the business — says featuring clothing and art made from repurposed material is something that's important to Kartel Factory.

She calls the concept "upcycling" and said that she envisions a boutique where customers can purchase, among other things, value-added vintage clothing.   

Today the store has only a few items, but Staci said Kartel Factory is now accepting applications for consignments. She said she's especially interested in handmade and upcycled garments.

In the fall, she added, the store will also begin accepting portfolios for the gallery.  

So how did the store-slash-gallery get its name, Kartel Factory?

John said "cartel" is often associated with drugs, but the connotation is not the original meaning of the word.

Instead, the couple said, cartel is "a collation or cooperative arrangement between political parties intended to promote a mutual interest."

And for them that mutual interest is the revitalization of Uptown Butte.

"Everyone in Butte wants Butte to grow. Everyone in Butte wants more culture. Everyone here wants more people coming here, so we're trying to get involved in that," said John.

Staci, meanwhile, said she sees Kartel as a growing community of artists in Butte.

"A Kartel of good energy, amazing talent and creativity in a factory that makes it happen."

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