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Jewelry show will benefit disabled in Big Sandy


A Montana transplant from Turkey will be in Big Sandy this weekend, showing his jewelry to benefit an art gallery and coffee shop opened last year to aid the developmentally disabled.

Karahan Balli of Missoula will exhibit his own and other jewelers' pieces at Big Sandy Senior Citizens in a show sponsored by Tumble Weed Gallery. The gallery is owned and operated by Big Sandy Activities, a nonprofit corporation providing transportation and activities for developmentally disabled adults.

The gallery will receive a percentage of every sale made during the show.

Balli said Monday he will bring his own work, made both in Montana and his native Turkey, as well as work by other artists including his wife, Jamie, and friends of his who still live in Turkey. During the exhibit he will take orders from people for custom jewelry in his unique style. Balli learned to make jewelry from his father in Turkey.

His wife, the former Jamie Conant, moved to Havre when she was a sophomore and graduated from Havre High School in 1980.

"I'm hoping (the show's) going to be really interesting, really different," Balli said.

Instead of just buying jewelry, he said, the people who attend can learn how he makes jewelry and help him design pieces for them.

Lorrie Merrill, the day service manager at Big Sandy Activities, said the idea for Balli's show began when she met him at the Made in Montana show in Great Falls this spring. She said she talked to Balli and other artists there about supporting the gallery, and Balli later called her back.

"He contacted us and wanted to come, so that was pretty exciting," she said.

Big Sandy Activities opened the gallery in April 2002 with a dual purpose - to provide a cultural outlet for the area, and to better integrate its clients into the community.

Merrill said the gallery has had some success with both goals, and she hopes - and expects - it will continue to improve.

Karin DiSalvo, who operates the gallery for Big Sandy Activities, said it typically has a couple of hundred pieces, ranging from small jewelry to larger works of art on display, and a couple of hundred pieces have been sold since it opened.

The gallery has displayed works by about 75 artists, and is always looking for new artists to display, she said.

Merrill said the gallery, a nonprofit business, sells by consignment, taking a percentage of each sale to cover operating costs.

Big Sandy Activities, which receives funding from the state, faces difficult times because of state budget cuts. Funding is down, and costs are up, she said. If the gallery starts generating more money, it could help provide more services for the center's clients, she added. The intent of opening the gallery was to attract tourists, Merrill said, rather than to compete with local businesses. The gallery is located across from the rest stop on U.S. Highway 87 in the middle of town.

DiSalvo said highway traffic has kept the gallery busy, especially over the summer months.

The story of how Balli moved to Montana begins with his meeting of Conant in Turkey, where she worked for a company under contract to the U.S. Air Force.

They dated for a few years in Turkey, then married. The Ballis moved to the United States about nine years ago, and lived in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. They moved to Missoula a few years ago when the jewelry company he works for had an opening there, Balli said.

He added that his wife is originally from Big Timber, and wanted to come back to Montana.

Balli creates jewelry with a variety of materials. He learned to make jewelry by using pieces of prehistoric pottery found in Turkey. He also uses fossils, including bones and fossilized trilobites.

He said he often uses pieces of elk antler, and both sells and donates pieces to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, which has its national headquarters in Missoula.

Some of his special pieces include jigsaw puzzle rings and keychains with the customer's name translated into Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Balli said he expects to display bracelets, loose stones, charms, rings, earrings, rings and other jewelry in Big Sandy.

Merrill said other shows are being planned for the gallery, including a poetry reading and a concert, and a show by Rudyard artist Diana Twedt next fall.

Some of Big Sandy Activities' 22 clients work at the gallery, doing cleaning and yardwork. Merrill added that one of its star artists is a client.

Nick Fry is at the gallery more than most of the center's clients, working on his art, Merrill said.

"Nick is down there all the time. His studio is there," Merrill said.

It has been very profitable for him, she added. In addition to the sales of his art at the Tumble Weed Gallery, he has put on shows in other communities. Merrill said he recently sold $600 worth of art at a show in Helena.

He also has a following in the community, she said. People go to the gallery frequently to visit with him and see what art he is working on.

Other Big Sandy Activities clients go down to the gallery, usually between 1 and 3 p.m., and visit with people from the community or work on crafts or other activities, she said.

Balli will be in Big Sandy today to set up his show in the senior center, at 166 Johannes Ave. DiSalvo said the gallery itself is closed for about a week for cleaning and repairs. The show will be open Friday from 1 to 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.


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