A new art gallery recently opened in downtown Decorah. Dream Operator opened during Nordic Fest and is operated by Toby Cain, the Sustainability Coordinator at Luther College. Toby's new gallery operates out of an 80 square-foot rental space in the Peace & Justice Center in downtown Decorah.
Toby intends for Dream Operator to be a gallery for a variety of local artists. "I want this studio to be full of the ideas and craft of all my friends who make great art."
Toby offers lemonade as I enter Dream Operator; I decline, but note the sleek glass pitcher and petite glasses. On the opposite wall, ceramic pots gleam on a small bookshelf. Overhead, young plants nestled in ceramic pots dangle from macramé hangings; they sway charmingly as I clumsily brush against them repeatedly during my interview with Toby. The macramé hangings are made by local artist Freda Brook. Toby envisions Dream Operator both as a vintage clothing boutique and a local art studio.
Toby has dreamed of operating an art gallery for years. When she learned this space was available to rent, she quickly contacted the Peace & Justice Center and set things in motion.
The main attraction of Dream Operator is Toby's collection of vintage clothing. Her collection is enormous and mostly devoted to women. She has an eye for color, a fondness for tasteful floral prints, and loves hand-made clothing. Toby has a bright, energetic presence and her collection reflects this.
Her collection includes blouses, skirts, dresses, crop-tops, jackets and coats, flared blazers, short classy dresses, overalls, sundresses, jeans, short flared skirts, and much more.
Toby's interest in clothing started as a teenager and grew in high school, where it helped shape her identity. "Clothing is a source of strength and self-expression," Toby says. Vintage clothes helped Toby learn about herself; and it also helped pay the bills.
Toby's family was hit hard by the recession, and in 2011, shortly before Toby graduated from college, she and her mother opened a road-side antique and vintage clothing shop in a parking lot near a highway. It went well and soon they rented a booth in an antique mall. Business got even better and in 2016, Toby's mother opened her own 1,800 sq. ft. antique store in Colorado.
At their road-side antique stand, Toby and her mother earned $350. "That money helped put food on the table," says Toby. She wants to create a similar retail outlet for her friends. "I want Dream Operator to be a retail venue for my talented friends, so they can sell their art."
Dream Operator will be open Saturdays from 10 A.M. to 2 P.M.