THE RISING COST OF EVERYTHING: Economic Uncertainty Interrupts Retirement, Travel Plans for Cheyenne Artists
Couple get creative to weather the downturn
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Sep 09, 2022
By Jonna Lorenz
Special to the Wyoming Truth
CHEYENNE, Wyo.–After a year in retirement, former Cheyenne East High School art teacher Dave Rowswell is returning to the classroom as a substitute teacher.
Rowswell, 63, who sells handmade jewelry under the name Rawhide Studio, planned to spend his retirement years traveling with his wife, Georgia, 66, a professional studio artist who owns Blue Door Arts, to art shows throughout the country.
But rising gas prices and other financial uncertainties led the couple to reevaluate their plans, keeping in mind a lesson from a retirement seminar that described retirement in three phases: go-go, slow-go and no-go.
“I think that I am capable of supplementing the income now, and later on, maybe not so much,” Dave said.
The couple have faced cost increases related to materials: the price of niobium, the hypoallergenic metal Dave uses to make his earrings, has risen continually over the years. And sales have cooled, with one art show dropping by about a third in 2022 compared with last year. But high gas prices have had the biggest impact on the couple’s plans.
The Rowswells turned down appearances at arts festivals in Georgia and Alabama this year. When they attended those shows in 2021, they paid much lower gas prices, recording $2.87 a gallon at one stop. By the time they had to decide about this year’s attendance, gas prices hovered around $5 a gallon.
In April, when the Rowswells attended an art show in Galveston, Texas, gas prices had already skyrocketed, so they packed their display racks and jewelry in their Toyota Prius and a rooftop cargo carrier rather than pull a trailer.
Early in the summer, they combined art shows in Billings, Montana, and Cody into one trip, along with a stop in Powell to drop off artwork for an exhibition at Plaza Diane Community Center for the Arts and a side trip to Bridger, Montana, where they bought elk rawhide for Dave’s jewelry.
When they returned to Powell in mid-August to pick up Georgia’s artwork, they took the Prius, a tent and an inflatable mattress and camped at Buffalo Bill State Park.
“It was a one-night deal, and I just didn’t want to pay $300 for a hotel to pick up my art,” Georgia said, laughing about their adventures, which involved using a collapsible bench to shore up their tent that was missing a segment of the strut.
High travel expenses weren’t the only factor in their decision to sit out larger shows. The couple also faced uncertainty about their studio space, located in the historic Hynds building in downtown Cheyenne. The mostly vacant building was sold earlier this summer, and the Rowswells’ days of occupying a highly visible downtown storefront for $400 a month are numbered.
“We both knew that this is an unusual situation,” Georgia said. “The former owner, David Hatch, was very arts friendly and only wanted to pay the utilities and have some life here so that when prospective buyers came they could see the potential, even though the space is unfinished.”
Georgia said the new owners have agreed to continue the arrangement for about a year. She speculated that once remodeling is complete, the space will rent for closer to $2,500 a month.
The Rowswells were shocked to discover spaces going for three and four times their current rate when they began to look around.
“We would need to sell our house if we wanted to get anything in the downtownish area that had the ability to have some traffic,” Georgia said.
They plan to put their house on the market in the spring.
“It won’t be hard to sell,” Georgia predicted. “I think the market will still be pretty active. So, my dream situation would be to have a small, maybe two bedrooms, area and a large workspace. We don’t need a lot of living space anymore, but we do need space to work. …”
They also are turning their attention to the internet. Dave got $8,000 worth of upgrades to his website, with American Rescue Plan Act money administered through the Wyoming Business Council last year.
“After the complete upgrade of the website, we had, as far as I could tell, a 0% increase in sales,” Dave said.
So, Dave is working with Melissa Neylon, who helps local artists market their work on social media.
The Rowswells are familiar with adapting to economic uncertainty.
“We’ve always been people who don’t need to buy a lot of stuff,” said Georgia, who buys the materials for her fiber art, along with the clothes she wears, from thrift stores. “We’re used to understanding how to live in a modest way.”