At Artisan Forge Studios, the public is free to walk in, look at the art, meet some of the artists, and even see the studios where they create both very large and sometimes very small pieces of unique art.

Soon, the public can enjoy one-of-a-kind paintings and sculptures right in their own home or business for free. Artisan Forge Studios is starting a lending library.

“We’re lending free to individuals’ homes throughout Eau Claire County and all of the seven contiguous counties, comprising the Chippewa Valley,” artist and library organizer Bilhenry Walker said.

In an ongoing effort to connect artists and their work with the public, the idea of the lending library was copied and tweaked from other programs around the country.

“We want to generate interest in real art,” Walker said.

Housed in the building at 1106 Mondovi Road, near the intersection of Clairemont Avenue and Hendrickson Drive, Artisan Forge is striving to become a fun destination for Chippewa Valley residents. Open for just over four years now, they’ve added artists, more space, a coffee bar, live music events, special exhibits and a chocolate shop.

Sweet Driver Chocolatier Rebecca Flynn creates award-winning truffles. As a tie-in with the lending library program, she has created chocolate bars decorated with art by their in-house artists.

“We’ve collaborated with all of the artists in the building to make bars. It’s called my ‘artist series,’” she said. “It’s nice. They get to see their work in something else.”

Walker is excited for the community to have an opportunity to meet the artists. Each artist has selected several pieces that will be available, ranging all the way up to a value of $6,500.

Artist Patricia Hawkenson purposely chose art that she feels exposes buyers to different aspects of her art.

“Most people know me for my colored pencil work,” she said. “I like to give people an opportunity to see the variety of work that I do. They don’t necessarily know me for my acrylics or my watercolors.”

Borrowers will sign an agreement and leave a credit card number with the gallery and can keep the art for three months. During this time, Walker and gallery owner Greg Johnson hope the art will grow on the person and they’ll want to buy it. The artists themselves will work with the borrower to hang or display the art in the home or business.

“You’re much more likely to engage and buy a piece from someone you’ve had a conversation with,” Johnson said. “It creates a great story and connects you with the artist.”

Homeowners will be allowed to borrow the art at no cost, but businesses will be offered six-month leases with an option to buy.

“We’re trying to build an art-appreciating audience,” Walker said. “That’s something we don’t have in Eau Claire.”

Starting the program before the holiday season begins is no coincidence. Walker believes this will allow greater exposure for the art. Organizers hope to grow the program and make it a permanent addition to their studio.

“We want to get art out there and get people talking about it,” Walker said.

Johnson is a free-lance writer who lives in Eau Claire.