Stepping inside the Day in the Life gallery feels like what I imagine stepping into a corner of Bruce Wayne’s expansive manor is like. I can picture him striding in Italian leather shoes over the intricate hand-laid white oak parquet floors run with brass trim and matching walls. He walks up to the jaw-dropping $12,000 hand-carved whiskey armoire made from one massive walnut burl, before pulling it open to reveal lighted glass shelves with the finest liquors and pours himself a drink. Maybe he swirls his whiskey underneath the four-foot-wide handblown glass installation by Portlander Andy Paiko as he wrestles with his inner Batman demons or brainstorms a new gadget for his famed collection.
Then he walks under the soaring 16-foot ceilings, past the cabinet where leather attaché cases with hand-tooled patterns—arguably art as much as they are functional items—sit, before passing through a library of books and fine goods. There he pushes a secret button and one of the walnut-paneled walls slides to the side, revealing a large brick room bursting with immaculate suits.
Bruce Wayne may not be real, but all the rest of it (and so much more) is, at the new Day in the Life Gallery downtown. Founded by Wildwood & Company (a maker of high-end custom suiting and accessories) owner Joe Mueller and his wife, fiber artist Holly Mueller, the space is equal parts fine craft gallery and educational spot, where the Muellers love to fill visitors in on the detailed labor and process that goes into each artisan piece.
“I grew up in a house just packed with fine craft. No individual object was super expensive, but my parents, my mom in particular, are really avid lovers and collectors of fine craft from around the world—gorgeous textiles and masks and puppets and graphic artists,” Joe says. “As a kid, I thought it was super weird, but I think you osmose a certain amount of that and appreciate that as you grow up. I think that was kind of the root of it.”
Their love of craft shows up all throughout the gallery, which opened early this year. The secret door in the library opens up into Wildwood & Company’s beautiful space, where Joe has been outfitting folks in pristine suits for years and displaying fine goods for customers with appetites for them. When he decided to take over the adjoining space, he began sourcing pieces both near and far. That meant calling on existing relationships but also using his network for referrals, cold calling artists in town and internationally, and scouring sites like the Smithsonian Craft Show for even more ideas. He encouraged the ones he knew to make their dream pieces and not to concern themselves with budget. Now, he says, detailing this process is how he gets new customers (if their budget works) or superfans (if their budget doesn’t).
“It's the opposite of a high fashion brand. [That’s] a product where so much of the value is in the name stamped on it. In our case, we're not going to stamp our name on really anything. We want it to all be about the individual artists and their methods and their materials,” he says. “And so the more that you can encourage people to learn about that and engage with that, even if they've never experienced it before, I think the more potential there is for long term relationships of trust that blossom into business relationships.”
The Muellers say that in addition to in-person visits, they’ll educate visitors about their crafts with events and demonstrations as the world begins to open back up. One example he gives is having fourth-generation master weaver Francisco Bautista, originally from a Zapotec village in Oaxaca, Mexico but now residing in Sandy, Oregon, come in to do one of his hand-dyed large scale weavings in the gallery’s window for folks out on SW 3rd Street to watch in real time. Installations like these, they hope, will encourage shoppers to return to downtown after a year without tourists.
“It's important to me to think, even in a city like Portland where a lot of the action happens in the neighborhoods, there's some magic to downtown,” he says. “And one of my explicit goals beyond profit with this gallery model is to do our tiny part to try to keep a vibrant downtown core alive during this really challenging times.”