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Cornering the art market

By Lori Lindner
Solon Economist
ELY– A new art gallery and studio in Ely offers not just space for art, but a place where artistic spirits can soar.
It’s not entirely a new gallery; Ely Corner Art Studio and Gallery is a reincarnation of a dream.
The Shueyville Art Gallery opened just one year ago, at the crossroads in the center of the small Iowa community. The vision of Hal Hart, musician and abstract artist from Cedar Rapids, he created the gallery as a beautiful and welcoming space for regional artists to showcase their work.
Sadly, Hart passed away this past spring. Gallery manager and local artist Susan Kennicott was faced with closing the Shueyville space as Hart’s family sold his properties after his passing.
A chance visit by neighboring business owners Dave and Holly Rasmussen turned into the opportunity to keep Hart’s dream alive.
When the two stopped at Shueyville Art Gallery and found the notice of closing posted on the door, they contacted Kennicott to say they had an opening in their Ely property. On the corner of Dows Street and Ely Road, the gracious old two-story home has been renovated to accommodate various commercial ventures like a coffee shop, a fitness studio, and now, the Ely Corner Art Studio & Gallery.
“The Rassmussens are very community-oriented,” said Kennicott. “They like to do what they can to promote growth in Ely.”
Hart’s family donated some of the display equipment and furniture from the previous gallery to help Kennicott get started in the new location.
“When they found out we were re-opening here, it meant a lot to them that Hal is remembered somehow,” Kennicott said.
In August and September, Kennicott prepared the Ely location to exhibit the work of more than 20 Iowa artists in mediums from acrylic and oil paintings to photography, fused glass, woodworking, beaded jewelry and batik prints.
“We focus on more of the fine arts than on artisans’ crafts,” said Kennicott. Some of the artists were exhibited at the Shueyville gallery, and some are new to the collection. “We have so much talent here in Iowa, it’s good to give them the opportunity to show and sell their work.”
Another upcoming opportunity is the Ely Arts Festival, Oct. 1, to be held in conjunction with the community’s Ely Fall Festival. Kennicott is still looking for local artists, up to 24, to exhibit their work. Email elyarts@hotmail.com or call 319-531-0630.
Kennicott is also keen on giving budding artists the chance to exhibit their work as well. She has held formal art exhibits for Prairie Elementary School and Solon High School, and plans to do so again this year.
“The school exhibits are a huge success,” she said. “There was a tremendous turnout, with well over 100 people coming through in about two hours. It is heartwarming to see that kind of community support for the arts.”
For those whose inner artist is still waiting to debut, Kennicott and her fellow artists offers a variety of fun learning opportunities. Coffee & Canvas and Bordeaux & Brushes events offer painting classes while participants enjoy favorite beverages and good company. Events can be scheduled for specific groups, or individuals can join a group already in progress and make new friends; there is no need to wait for a new session to begin. Cakes & Canvas are birthday-party style events for the younger set, and individuals or groups can take lessons in acrylic painting, drawing and oil paints. Artist Mike Ryan, who has a permanent piece in the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, also offers classes in oil painting. Artist Bob Schneider, who does beautiful works of fused glass, hopes to teach stained glass classes in the future.
The classes and other special offerings are Kennicott’s own vision. An accomplished painter, Kennicott understands the therapeutic benefits of art.
“One student drives here all the way from West Liberty,” said Kennicott. “She says this is her outlet, the way she relaxes.”
And there is no artistic knowledge or ability required, Kennicott said, other than to pick up a brush or pencil and begin. She tries not to give too much undue influence when teaching people– especially children– the techniques of painting. Some students paint in the abstract style, some are more realistic painters. Kennicott wants to nurture and honor each painter’s personal approach.
“There is no wrong art. You can express yourself without having to verbalize it.”
This is the premise for another of Kennicott’s ambitions; she has been in contact with visual artist Kemlyn Tan Bappe, originally from Singapore, who has made remarkable inroads with students affected by learning disabilities. A teaching artist since 1990 in Texas, Alabama and Des Moines, Bappe has dyslexia herself and a son who has been diagnosed as borderline autistic. She has been affiliated with the Metro Arts Alliance, the VSA Arts of Iowa, and a World of Difference. Bappe exhibits her work at Ely Corner Art, and is willing to conduct classes there for students with learning disabilities, if there is enough interest. For more information, contact Susan at the gallery so she can create a list of interested parties.
“We are trying to learn if there is a demand for it,” said Kennicott. “It’s amazing how art can help people with different abilities. Art has been shown to help people with Alzheimers express things they can’t verbally express. It has been shown to help people with brain injuries communicate.
“Art is who you are, and if you can express who you are on canvas or paper, that’s a pretty neat thing.”
Kennicott is still adjusting the gallery’s hours to fit the needs of clientele, but said people can call for an appointment or just drop by.
“If the lights are on, the doors are open. Come on in.”