Photograph by Kayla Bell

Wandering Turtle Art Gallery & Gifts owner Jaime Sweany does paperwork in her office. Sweany opened the business in 2003 to showcase local and regional artists.

Sitting at a messy desk inside her tiny office enclosed by curtains, Jaime Sweany laughs at the fake Turtle University diploma that hangs on the wall. The diploma says she is a "Master of Turtles."

Sweany, 49, is the master of turtles at Wandering Turtle in downtown Bloomington. She's no stranger to owning a small business and the challenges that go with it. Before opening the Wandering Turtle in 2003, she owned two other small businesses in Bloomington -- Wild Birds Unlimited and Illuminessence Photography.

"I've never had a real big business," says Sweany. "I owned Wild Birds Unlimited for about seven-and-a-half years. It was still a small business, but it was probably a more established business."

Inside the small building that houses the Wandering Turtle, the artwork and photographs lining the walls and shelves range from local to international artists. One painting that hangs on the wall above Sweany's office is by an artist from Mongolia, the sole international artist in her gallery.

"Most of them are local or regional," she says. "I have one or two national artists."


Sweany moved to Bloomington in 1978 from Indianapolis. She went to art school, but dropped out after two years, eventually returning to earn her B.A. in Fine Arts Studio at IU.

"I first came down here because my parents used to bring me down to Brown County when it was actually an artist colony in the 60s," she says about Bloomington. "I loved the landscape down here, so I just wanted to live in southern Indiana really, really badly."

Sweany's love for artwork came from her parents, who were also artists. Her father is watercolorist, while her mother works with clay sculpture. Her father ended up being her art teacher at the private school she attended, as well as a mentor. As a little girl, she would write books and draw pictures to help tell the stories. She still has them today in her home and laughs about them.

"Art, that's all I ever wanted to do," she says. "I was an avid artist in my home."


Aside from having her own business, in 1999 Sweany established a Bloomington chapter of Bread for Journey, according to the Wandering Turtle's Web site. Bread for Journey is a non-profit organization that provides grants to artists to fund their projects. She read about the organization in an article and loved the idea. Sweany was involved for several years before succumbing to the challenges of owning a business.

"I've had to back off for the moment because I've been so busy with the gallery," she says. "It was a very cool organization, and I love it very much."

Mari Dagaz, the retail manager at Wandering Turtle, has known Sweany for six years. She says Sweany is an inspiring person who loves the community and environment around her.

"She cares deeply about local Bloomington businesses, the arts and the community in general," she says. "Jaime is a well-rounded, creative, and sensitive individual, who works endlessly to help maintain Bloomington's unique culture and gives of herself for many causes."


When it comes to competition, Sweany believes there is none between the Wandering Turtle and other galleries in Bloomington. She says everyone is friendly and supportive of each other and what they do. If the galleries don't have the artwork customers are looking for, they send them to one another.

"I think really the idea of having lots of galleries in one area is good," she says. "It just doesn't seem necessarily competitive to me. It feels more like a benefit than a bad thing, and I think it's more of a benefit to have a thriving arts community."

When Sweany opened, the store didn't have a name. She says her friend had a business called Wandering Turtle Graphics. She liked the name, and after he closed his store, she asked if she could use the name for her business.

"I liked it because it had a Native American significance to me," she says. "Some Native American lore said that the world was written on the back of a turtle, which I think is kind of neat."

Kayla Bell is a junior at the IU School of Journalism from Milltown, Ind. She can be reached at .