New London Arts Center holds first official exhibit

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Messenger photo by Dedra Cordle
Karla Knief-Sill closely examines this inspired-by-nature sculpture from Colleen Van Steen at the first official exhibit held at the new London Arts Center. In addition to hosting monthly exhibits, members of the London Visual Arts Guild will use the space at 121 E. First St. in London to offer art classes, writing workshops, open mic nights, and an open studio for individuals to create whatever comes to mind. The current exhibit, “Changing Horizons,” runs through June 6. The hours of operation are: Tuesdays, 4-7 p.m.; Thursdays and Sundays, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; and Saturdays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

(Posted May 11, 2021)

By Dedra Cordle, Staff Writer

When Karla Knief-Sill walked through the doors of the London Arts Center more than a year ago, she felt a surge of pity for her friends with the London Visual Arts Guild who were rehabilitating the interior.

Vacant since the London City Schools campus relocated many years ago, the one-story brick building at 121 E. First St. needed a lot of attention. There was flooring to be pulled and laid, light fixtures to be replaced, large rooms to be painted, drywall to be installed, and little things here, there and everywhere.

“I knew that they could do something special with this place, but I was glad that I had moved to Florida and would not have to work on this massive undertaking,” Knief-Sill said with a big laugh.

Despite keeping track of the rehabilitation through social media, she said she could not envision just how special their accomplishment was until she saw the finished product in person.

While in town to celebrate Mother’s Day this year, Knief-Sill heard the center was set to host its first official show in the new space and celebrate its unofficial grand opening. She knew she had to make a stop there, no matter what.

“I didn’t want to miss this,” she said.

When Knief-Sill walked through the doors of the London Arts Center on May 8, 2021, she stood in awe.

Immediately to the right of the entryway sits the gift shop, affectionately called the Art Cart. It is filled with handmade crafts and books created by local artists. Immediately to the left is a spacious gallery with paintings and photography on the walls, sculptures on stands, and prism refractions dancing on floors and on the faces of patrons, thanks to a special coating on the windows.

Walking further into the building, she discovered the large reception area named after Bob Rea where open mic nights, art classes and dancing lessons will be held, a smaller art room for children, a kitchenette for entertaining, and a small space for plant artists.

Knief-Sill said venturing through the arts center put a smile so large on her face that she had to continually adjust the placement of her mask.

“They have done an amazing job here,” she gushed. “It is just so great to have a place like this in London and for Madison County.”

There was a time not so long ago when Guild members and non-members could not envision having a place of this size and potential in their vicinity. After all, smaller cities and towns are not usually known for having robust art communities.

Messenger photo by Dedra Cordle
Jonathan Mullins-Kimbler, a 2019 graduate of Madison-Plains High School, stands by his painting titled “Big Cow.” He said he submitted a few of his creations to the community art show at the London Arts Center because he thought they could “make people happy.”

“There is an art community here but it is very slowly growing,” said Jonathan Mullins-Kimbler, a 2019 Madison-Plains High School graduate. “For so many years, it has been hard to find galleries in London that stick around or events to go to that really promote the arts.”

While the guild hosted exhibits, held classes, and offered workspace to artists at Gallery on High and Studio 7 on London’s High Street for more than a decade before moving to East First Street, it did not get as much community engagement as desired.

“We were limited in what we could do and offer because of the lack of space,” said Sandy Fox, Guild vice president. “There were small rooms (to hold classes) and an even smaller space for parking.”

With those factors combined, it was difficult to foot traffic that did not come from those who already had a passion or interest in the arts, she said.

“It is our hope that this new location, one that has a lot more parking space, will attract more members of the community to come out and see what we have to offer,” Fox said.

What the London Arts Center has to offer currently is an exhibit called “Changing Horizons” which runs through June 6. More than three dozen artists from the Madison County area submitted paintings, photographs, sculptures, and other mixed media pieces for the public to enjoy.

Messenger photo by Dedra Cordle
Plain City artist Hilary Frambes created this tribute to the late legendary songwriter and guitarist Eddie Van Halen using spray on old 8-track tapes.

Among the most buzzed about pieces on display is a tribute to the late rock guitarist, Eddie Van Halen, made by Plain City artist Hilary Frambes using old 8-track tapes, a find-the-animal sculpture by Colleen Van Steen, and a cow painting by Mullins-Kimbler.

Mullins-Kimbler said he submitted three pieces to the show because he felt his portraits of nature could “make people happy.”

“Seeing nature and animals and painting nature and animals makes me happy, so I thought I could just bring that [emotion] here,” he explained.

It seems to have worked as several patrons have inquired whether “Big Cow” is for sale.

“I didn’t expect that,” Mullins-Kimbler said. “It wasn’t my intention to sell it, but I might have to rethink this.”

Van Steen, a long-time Guild member, said she created her sculpture, “One Impacts the Other,” during the pandemic using unconventional materials such as toilet paper, plaster, a spackling compound, and a saw blade for elongation.

She said she was happy to contribute several pieces to the first show held at the arts center but was even happier to know she played a part in the center’s rehabilitation.

“I got to see the progress of this project,” she said. “To see something that was, at first, a real mess, transition to something this beautiful was a great experience.”

She said she, too, hopes the local community and the greater Madison County community will come out to see the current exhibit, future exhibits and participate in classes and workshops that will be held in the weeks, months and years that lie ahead.

“I think what this pandemic has done is it has made people more aware of how important the arts are,” Van Steen said. “We have all missed attending classes, concerts, gallery openings and plays. When the pandemic ends, I hope we will see more people taking advantage of those arts we have all missed so much.”

To stay up to date on the latest class offerings, exhibitions, and student-led art showcases, visit the London Visual Arts Guild’s Facebook page and website, www.londonvisualartsguild.org.

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