BELLE FOURCHE — Designs by Daphne Gallery is set to open Saturday in downtown Belle Fourche and will offer artistic opportunities for those wishing to gift refurbished furniture or artsy wall hangings.

Daphne Johnson, owner, retired to the Black Hills last July after a 30-year career working for the state of Michigan. During her tenure with the state, Johnson, an attorney, served as an assistant attorney general for 10 years, general council for the state’s department of corrections, deputy director of the Talent Investment Agency, and even a probation officer. 

“She was actually Tupac’s probation officer for a while,” Paul Johnson, Daphne Johnson’s husband, said of his wife. 

He explained that the now dead rap artist was doing a show in Michigan many years ago and had gotten into an altercation with someone involving a baseball bat.

“And got arrested … and convicted,” he said. “So she has Tupac stories.”

Paul Johnson, who worked as a commercial and farm underwriter with Farm Bureau Insurance, said the couple had been looking out west for a place to retire for 10 years. Paul Johnson, a member of Hamsters USA, a philanthropic motorcycle group, visited the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally many times over the years.

That’s how he fell in love with the area.

“The first time I came out for the Rally, I really liked the Black Hills a lot,” he said. “It kind of checked a lot of boxes where a lot of other places … really didn’t.”

Two years later, he brought Daphne Johnson out. She too fell in love with the area.

“There’s something special about the Black Hills,” she said. “Within 24 hours, I was looking for real estate.”

“It just immediately felt like home for us,” he said.

The couple bought a home in Spearfish 13 years ago and has since spent five to six weeks a year in the Northern Hills.

Daphne Johnson, whose father was a woodworking artist, always had a love for art and the Zen it provided her.

“It’s really very therapeutic,” she said. “I come in here and turn the music on and I just paint.”

Paul Johnson said that back in her collegiate days, Daphne Johnson was regularly doing artwork and projects but “just hadn’t gotten a chance to do that for 30 years.”

“She is a Type A, highly-motivated go-getter,” he said. “Daphne needed a hobby (after retirement).”

She agreed.

 “I used the left side (of my brain) for a really long time, and I wanted to get back to using the right side,” she said.

The left side of the brain performs tasks that have to do with logic, such as in science and mathematics. The right hemisphere coordinates and performs tasks that have do with creativity and the arts.

The pair had been considering real estate options that could provide the artist with more space to store her art and work on new ones. 

“It didn’t take long for my garage (to go) from a motorcycle shop into a woodworking artwork shop,” Paul Johnson said. “My whole motivation in all of this was just so that Daphne had a creative outlet and something that she could focus on and turn her energy to.”

They started looking for a space in Spearfish and didn’t find anything that fit their needs. 

On a whim, the couple decided to take an afternoon and explore Belle Fourche area real estate and found the 4,000 square-foot storefront located at 614 State St. The building had been vacant since the Butte County Post newspaper, which formerly utilized the space, closed in November 2017.

“We really thought the building was great; it checked a lot of boxes,” he said.

The retail space in the front of the building, paired with the open floor plan toward the back, made for the perfect mesh of circumstances the couple was looking for.

“We walked in and it was like, ‘This is perfect,’” Daphne Johnson said.

The building wasn’t all that attracted the pair to open a business in Belle Fourche.

“We kind of noticed that it looks like things are happening in Belle, too,” Paul Johnson said. “Some of the buildings are being remodeled and some things are going on down here. And it just felt like we could get in early on a revitalization down here and be part of it.”

He said Belle Fourche has its own soul, “which, we kind of liked. And yet, it’s still very connected to the rest of the Northern Hills.”

The gallery, which will deal in rehabilitated furniture, knick-knacks, wall décor, and more, is going to be a little different, Daphne Johnson said.

“You’re going to find a lot of one-offs, you’re not going to find a lot of repeat things because they’re so unique,” she said. “Some are going to be antiques; some are going to be from overseas.”

“There’s going to be all kinds of stuff if people want a unique gift or they’re looking for something unusual,” she said. “I’m big on taking things and having people love them again.”

Daphne Johnson encouraged those with wooden furniture tucked away in a basement, garage, or storage to bring those things to the gallery and she’ll work to turn those family heirlooms into modern pieces that will be enjoyed for generations to come. 

“So many times I’ve heard people say, ‘My grandmother gave me this table and chairs, and I really love it, but I don’t know what to do with, what can you do?” she said. “A lot of it is just giving it a fresh look so people love it again.”

In addition to unique, one-of-a-kind, and antique furniture, Designs by Daphne Gallery also creates original artwork and crafts and offers custom furniture painting and refinishing.

“Some things look tired; it’s not that they’re bad or anything, they just need a little TLC,” Daphne Johnson said.

The gallery, which will be open Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and by appointment, is set to host its grand opening celebration Saturday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10:15 a.m.

For more information about Designs by Daphne Gallery, visit the shop at 614 State St., call 723-1640, or visit the gallery’s Facebook page.

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