An Art Walk to Come Home to

A friendly hello, a wave from a passing neighbor; one might find these behaviors strange and awkward.  To look another person in the eye nod your head in greeting and continue on your way, means you are more connected to the world around you than now socially acceptable.   The sudden growth and access of mobile devices has given us a handy way out of social situations by entertaining us all hours of the day.  My husband and I are no different and strive daily to make real connections to the world around us.  That led us on a journey to the hill country.  Now that we are here we are discovering all the charming things about our new home.  Starting new jobs and making new friends, we set out Saturday March 31st just the two of us to experience Johnson City’s Art Walk.

The Art Walk this year started with a bang, or wait… I think the word I am looking for is “oh!” Having never been before and anticipating writing about it I tried to look up what to expect.  I rarely go do something new without some research: What will things cost?  Is there food?  You know, the basics, besides where to park.  Never the less we started out Saturday afternoon around 4:00pm to see what this “Art Walk” was all about.

At first impression it seems like a typical afternoon in Johnson City, the “crowds” congregating around Pecan Street Brewing, what seems to be the cornerstone of the square.  I see the happy people coming and going with their families.  My husband and I look at each other and scan up and down Nugent Avenue for any other activity, signs of something interesting happening; looking for an inviting place to start.

We decided to make a loop starting with Lee Casbeer’s studio and gallery.  We were greeted by Lyrae

Perry when we entered and given a short tour.  It was just getting started at this time so we got some individual attention.  I enjoy Lyrae’s art, which is proudly on display in the front corner of the gallery.  I do not have a structured or educated opinion of art.  Luckily for us art is subjective and I get to form my own opinions on what I find interesting. The “Ode to Anatomy” exhibit that Lee has created is moving and different, like nothing I have ever seen.   It is my hope in writing this that I am able to give you a new perspective, my perspective as a newcomer to the little town of Johnson City.  Which I have to say, is only little its size.

Next stop on the sidewalk tour was ECHO; which most passersby would not know is actually several art galleries in one.  Eclectic and inspiring, the many art pieces, antiques and what-knots include something for everyone.  I found the collection of paper cards hilarious and had a difficult time not laughing so loud that the whole studio turned to look at me.  It is here we met Zena Stetka Howe, Janet Haynes and Jo, all of which are artists featured in ECHO.  Paintings, sculptures, photography and mix media art, there is so much to see and so much to feel.   I was drawn to Janet’s art, her studio is a stand-alone studio housed inside the ECHO building.  As we spoke and talked art.  I asked what is it about Johnson City and Art and how is business?  She exclaimed that it is “booming!” but we must be “forward seeking” in order to foster growth for the city. And she made remarks  that we can prepare for growth.  It appears that the arts will be a cornerstone of the city’s growth in bringing people to Johnson City.  After all, by some coincidence, the lot of us talking that moment had at some point come to JC from Houston, Austin and beyond.  All of us seeking some prospect or another that only a small town can give.

Speaking of bringing people from all over, the street artist outside ECHO was a talented young man from Jackson, Michigan.  He told us that he had no idea of the Art Walk and it was last-minute invitation that brought him over from his visit in Austin.  He creates paintings on canvas that can convey a number of interpretations. The work he had just finished left my husband and me with two different interpretations.  Gary Ambs, someone to watch out for.  He told me that the beauty is that there are “no mistakes, you can just paint over it” if you don’t like it.   I look forward to seeing more street artists at the coming Art Walks.

We hit up the Mossaro Gallery after a quick dinner at East Main Grill.  There we were enveloped into a world of white, blacks and grays.  All of which I love.  Hints of color pop and your eye is drawn to interesting pieces on the wall and clever photo cards.  Catherine’s work is clever and pleasing.  The studio was filled relaxing scents and freshly brewed coffee.  She introduced us to her new line, ATLAS, which includes organic coffees from around the world and of course art.  Her displays carried you away on an old road trip and to new destinations.  She was a warm and welcoming hostess.  The line of wearable art and jewelry include tunics and earrings all boosting lots of personality.

As we wind down the time left in art walk, we strolled into Smith Gallery, a photographers’ studio displaying many different artists.  One would need more than the time we had to enjoy the all the photographs.  Smith Gallery was full of people, people laughing, people lounging, people networking.  It was a happening scene Saturday night;  I now begin to see is the true goal of Art Walk, to bring people together under special circumstances, to experience something as individuals and as a community.

Typically drawn to landscapes, my husband found great interest in a picture of a young boy, saying his mom has a picture of him almost the same. Captioned by a poem about one’s homeland and the role it plays in your spirit, it ricocheted in him echoing similar sentiments about his home.  Art has a way of taking us places emotionally and evokes memories of what once was and dreams of what will be.  This reminds me that outside the charming city of Johnson City is a bustling world of full of immigrants and art can communicate our experiences.

Experiences, individual and shared, are brought together through the Art Walk journey.  Listening to the laughter of others and the whispers of how the work moves them.  Chatting to the people I encounter was a wonder for me as I am typically shy and stay to myself.  The common theme of conversation was about the city growing and art will play a role but change will be difficult for some.  It is easy for me to see, see bustling streets busy with commerce but still keeping the small town charm.  Maybe it will be for others as well.

The sidewalks outside seemed sleepy and if you did not know any different you would not know the joys happening inside the doors of the galleries down Nugent Avenue.  We took the moment to stop and smell the metaphoric roses, touching hands and breathing deep; knowing and understanding together that the hill country is the right place for us, that we have found our forever home.  Strolling past the old Pearl and the aviary, supposed forgotten places on the face of the square. (That is a story for another time.)  We come to Texcetera, the old home of the Johnson City Library, now boasting walls full of multimedia art, glass art and arts of all kinds. It can be quite overwhelming all the sites to see.  Owners Patty and Jim are inviting hosts with a wonderful place.  Sculptures and paintings lead you outside to the patio where we found conversation was easy and the art pieces scattered along the fence provided the perfect surroundings to close out our night.

When we set out on our Art Walk journey we were expecting something different.  What we saw and experienced in the art was magical, for lack of a better word.  What we thought about the city was echoed in our conversations with new friends, that growth is imminent, but we have to foster it responsibly.  That young people and families are necessary to the future.  Being a newcomer and feeling the warm welcome from most people I meet is great and I hope that others feel the same when they come.  The Art Walk is a great way to display the talents of the people and can act as a catalyst to bringing economic growth.  Art Walk is the last Saturday in each month through December.

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