Looking Sideways – Arts scene adds to local appeal

By Mark Leutke

My wife Sandy and I first met Diane and Jerome Phillips perhaps 30 years ago at a charity event. Over that evening, the four of us made small-talk and quickly found a common interest: collecting original art. We discovered that we both owned a piece by Michael James, a leader in the emerging quilt art movement of the time.

Turns out that both couples still collect original art. Our home is filled with a variety of pieces we love, found when we travel or purchased from regional artists. More ambitious, the Phillips may have assembled one of the larger collections of fine art in the area.

We haven’t socialized since, but the couple came to mind recently as I thought about Sylvania’s growing reputation as an arts town. Visitors from throughout the region are now drawn to events such as our monthly First Friday Art Walks and the Maple & Main art and music festival, which returns for its tenth year in a few weeks. And … more residents of all ages are buying art.

I decided to re-connect with Diane and Jerome to get their thoughts on this emerging art scene. As we explored their lovely Sylvania Township home, the highly engaging hosts introduced me to perhaps 75 tastefully placed pieces, fine art glass as well as craft work in diverse media that include paper, wood, and metal.
“Collecting art is a hobby that we enjoy together,” said Diane. “We have to agree on a piece before it is purchased. It makes us happy. Living with these beautiful objects reinforces our sense of wonder … it is a profound experience.”

“We tend to focus on contemporary pieces because it often gives us an opportunity to speak with the artist,” she explained. “It’s fascinating to be able to interact with them and then better understand their creative process.”

Diane extends her love of art to her profession as interior design consultant. Her Design Dimensions firm works with clients building a new home or redecorating. “Even if they are just doing a room, they want all of the elements pulled together. If we can find a piece of art that they love, we can coordinate everything about the interior from those colors and from that feeling.”

One source of art for Diane’s clients is Hudson Gallery in downtown Sylvania. Barbara and Scott Hudson opened it nearly 20 years ago with the dual purpose of providing a space where local and regional artists can sell their work, and to support the local arts scene.

The gallery features paintings, hand-pulled prints, glass and ceramics with a vibe that tends toward the contemporary and abstract. It exhibits work by new artists every two months. It also represents the estate of the late Dominic Labino, the internationally recognized glass craftsman and founder of the Studio Glass Movement, who did much of his work in Northwest Ohio.

Just down Main Street is Fuller Art House, which opened seven years ago. It focuses on ceramics, painting and furniture and offers a slightly different style than its neighbor, which owner Dani Fuller says opens the door to more opportunity for both. “Being located together is how you build synergy, foot traffic, and excitement around the arts,” she said.

One reflection of this downtown emphasis on the arts is the emergence of people in their 30s and 40s showing interest in buying art. Diane, Dani, Barbara and Scott all see this phenomenon.

Dani believes the First Friday events, sponsored by Red Bird Sylvania, have played a big part in attracting younger visitors to sample the first-class mix of restaurants, pubs and shops, and music downtown. Attendance regularly exceeds 500, attracting more people to see and purchase art—perhaps for the first time.

The Hudsons observe that younger buyers are looking for items to put in their homes. “They understand that it just feels different to have real art in their homes …where you can see the brush strokes and feel what the artist felt putting it together,” explains Scott. “A lot of people who buy art for the first time come back, because it can be addictive.”

The Maple & Main festival will provide this up-close art experience on June 4 and 5. It features dozens of artists, plus buskers, live music, food trucks, and local brews. “A goal is to make sure people who want to express themselves creatively have an avenue for that,” explains Kelly McGivney, executive director of the sponsoring organization, Sylvania Arts.

The art walk/festival experience is also a great way for first-time buyers to test how they respond to high quality, financially accessible art, says Dani. “Because, if you have just one piece—or more—you are a collector.”

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