Gardening meets art

With the help of his Buddhist community, artist Traven Pelletier has bought the historic barn on Baker Road that was formerly Dexter Gardens (before that, Bella Gardens, and still farther back, Sloan Nursery). His new business, Bloom!, continues to be a garden center, he says, “with a focus on ecologically sound well-grown plants.”

But it’s also an art gallery. Pelletier is an environmental installation artist whose large projects straddle the line between sculpture and landscape architecture. A pair of his metal tree sculptures stand in Ann Arbor’s West Park.

The first thing he did with his barn was tear out its drop ceiling to expose the building’s stately bones: the network of timbers of the enormous gambrel roof is an art installation in its own right. Beneath the striking ceiling is his first exhibit: the powerfully spare, minimalist ceramic pieces of Francesc Burgos, along with Tad McKillop’s small figure sculptures and Jeeheon Cho’s flower photographs. They’re not just there for calm, meditative atmospherics; all pieces are for sale, ranging from an impulse-purchase-level $65 to a major-commitment $7,000.

Pelletier, forty-one, came to the area in 2000 from the East Coast to join the Tsogyelgar Dharma Center. A full-time artist when he moved here, he got his builder’s license and became a partner in Lotus Gardenscapes (he’s left the partnership, but Lotus lives on). On the side, he’s continued to do his “architectural-scale, site-specific art.” Currently he has an exhibit in Cincinnati.

In addition to selling retail plants and garden supplies, Bloom! is a new partnership with landscape architect Serge van der Voo and with Cory Mann’s Poseidon Ponds and Landscaping. “We’ll be specializing in water gardening,” Pelletier says. “It will be a new resource for the area. No one around here is doing that very well.” And on Saturday afternoons another Tsogyelgar offshoot, White Lotus Farms, will park its cart on the premises and sell vegetables, artisan bread, and cheese.

Pelletier will also be hosting biweekly free classes and workshops, listed on Bloom!’s website (the June schedule includes water gardening, flowering shrubs, and gardening with kids). Because the building is not winterized, Bloom! will probably close in November for the cold months.

Bloom! Garden Center, 1885 Baker Road, Dexter. 426-6600. Mon.-Thurs. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Fri. 10 a.m.-7:30 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m.

Steve Poole laughs a little sheepishly about how long it has taken to open his seven-table B-Line Pizza Island, next to Stucchi’s in Busch’s shopping center–it’s been over a year. “We were such rookies, in terms of building from the ground up,” he says, despite the fact that his family has owned the B-Line Bar & Grill in Howell, a full-service dinner restaurant, for forty years, and that he and wife, Debbie, already have a small Pizza Island in Brighton.

He didn’t literally build from the ground up, but the former Wags to Wiskers needed to be outfitted with a full commercial kitchen. Finally, in late April, Poole was bringing in the food for a May 9 opening and deciding where to hang his Robert Dorman wolverine print. Dorman’s iconic watercolor is a common image around here, but this print is one of only five signed in pencil by the late U-M coach Bo Schembechler and athletic director Don Canham. It hung in his uncle Dino Chronis’s Lamplighter restaurant in Ann Arbor for years. (Uncle Dino, “the only Greek in the family,” also owned Ann Arbor’s Bicycle Jim’s and the Pin Room, and he’s now comfortably retired in Arizona.)

Poole says his pizza is of the thin-crust variety, with dough made on-site and hand-sliced cheese and veggies. Paninis, spaghetti, lasagna, salads with house-made dressings, and “take-and-bake” entrees–including breakfast casseroles–will also be on the menu.

B-Line Pizza Island, 7050 Dexter-Ann Arbor Road. 426-2700. Sun.-Thurs. 10 a.m.-11 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 10

Laura Keefer says her expertise in women’s fashion comes entirely from dressing herself. The former Ford engineer has always loved clothes but wasn’t able to give free rein to that love when working “in the guy world of black, grey, and brown.” Now she’s Dexter’s only women’s wear buyer. In March, she and business partner, Cathy Swan, opened Main Street Home & Apparel inside the Home Store, which Swan owns. (Swan is also co-owner of Nichols and Stafford a few doors down.)

Keefer’s summery inventory includes pastel ankle pants and vivid flower- and geometric-print dresses, guaranteed to be unique to the area: “Before we buy anything, I ask all our suppliers if it’s carried in a big-box store or in Ann Arbor.” She also sells jewelry and accessories, which she describes as “modern rustic”–like rings made of cork and silver-plated bronze, and large, heavy earrings that look like primitivist sculpture.

Keefer’s clothing mainly lives in the basement, with some samples scattered around Swan’s interior-design samples on the main floor.

Main Street Home & Apparel, 8122 Main St. 424-9140. Tues.-Sat. 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Closed Sun. & Mon.

The Life Is Good shop in downtown Dexter closed in early May. Owner Lisa Zahra opened in 2002, selling the trademarked message T-shirts and other merchandise featuring stick-figure primitives (hers is one of 4,500 “Genuine Neighborhood Shoppes” that are neither franchises nor company stores but independent businesses that agree to dedicate themselves to Life is Good products.) Life has been good in Dexter, Zahra says–and she is hoping it will get even better in early 2014, when she plans to reopen the store on Ann Arbor’s Main Street.