First Friday Artwalk brings color to Topeka once a month

Elise Barnett

Around Topeka, if one hears someone talking about fun, excitement and entertainment in the art galleries, it’s a safe bet they’re talking about the First Friday Artwalk.

Several months ago ARTSConnect, an organization of Topeka, dedicated to the funding and enhancement of the arts in the Topeka community, collaborated with local galleries to make Friday the night for art in Topeka.

The participating galleries stay open late from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. the first Friday of each month. Many of them provide food and drinks for the public. Since it started, First Friday has become the day to open exhibits, special collections for the galleries and also an opportune time to feature their mainstay artists as well.  The one for September was last Friday, Sept. 3.

“It’s a great opportunity for people that don’t have a chance to see what’s in Topeka,” said Margie Weidenbaker, owner of the Glass Expressions Gallery. “It makes a great evening, and it’s all free.”

Weidenbaker’s gallery is located in Topeka’s Westboro district. This neighborhood is teeming with culture and life during First Friday events because there are five other galleries and shops that exhibit works of art, located within a block of each other. Each has a distinct style.

The hub of Westboro revolves around the intersection of Oakley Avenue and Huntoon Street and lies only minutes away from the Washburn campus. Weidenbaker’s Glass Expression Gallery shows off ornate blown glass sculptures, fused art collections, and sparkling glass jewelry.

“We have a lot of artists from all over the United States,” said Weidenbaker. “There are not a lot of studios in town where there’s blown glass.”

On the other side of Westboro Mart, there’s a little shop called Soho Interiors.  It has a mix of furniture store and fashionable art gallery. The upstairs is currently featuring an abstract expressionist collection by artist Ron Flier. Flier’s series is called the “Two School Series.” In the basement of Soho Interiors, Mack Schroer and Dan Billen, recent Washburn alumni, have works being featured.

“It’s cool seeing people I know,” said Annie Degenhardt, who graduated from Washburn last year with a bachelor of fine arts degree. “I had always heard about First Fridays, but hadn’t actually come until today. It’s such a neat place.”

Another gallery in Westboro Mart that hits close to home for Washburn is the Collective Art Gallery. Founded by local artists and Washburn alumni in 1987, the Collective Art Gallery opened a photography exhibit by Trudy L. Waterman titled “You’ll Look At Things Differently” for the September First Friday event. Also featured are the works of artist-writer Barbara Waterman-Peters, a Washburn alumnus, former professor and founding member of the gallery. Works by Glenda Taylor, professor and Chair in the Washburn art department, are also featured from her “Prairie Vision” series.

Beauchamp’s Gallery and Frame Shop has been host to one of the more publicized exhibitions in the past few months, the Think Big Topeka exhibit. Even after the Google Fiber phenomenon that swept the capital city this past spring has slowed, the Think Big Topeka organization is still going strong. It put together a collection of works about Topeka that feature what it is and could be, titled, “A New Exhibit that Showcases the Vibrant, Dynamic and Visionary Community of Topeka, Kansas.”

The Haute Shop is a cozy, eclectic boutique, featuring hand blown glass art that lines the walls all the way back to an iron grate partition. The partition separates the storefront from the artist’s workshop.

“I like color,” said Daniel Kettle, glass artist. “Glass, to me, is such a colorful art. How often do you use glass in everyday life, but fairly often don’t appreciate what glass has actually given to you.”

Kettle can make custom creations at request and has done demonstrations of his work at past First Friday events.

Although the area of Westboro is packed with artistic shops and happens to lie close to Washburn, it is only a small part of the First Friday event. The Alice C. Sabatini Gallery at the Topeka Public Library is always showing off new works at the beginning of the month, as well as Washburn’s own Mulvane Art Museum, ArtLab and  the Art Building.

This month the Mulvane is standing strong, continuing the Dali, Ford, and Bowtie exhibits upstairs as well as a Stephen Johnson exhibit “Literal Abstractions” and The Art of the Robot collection in the downstairs galleries. The Washburn Art Building is featuring landscapes of various Topeka locations, created by a seven-student summer class instructed by adjunct professor David Hartley.

Downtown is also a hot spot for the First Friday Artwalk with places like the Tinkham Veale Up/Down Gallery, the Upstage Gallery, the Jayhawk Corner Café and Warehouse 414.

Like Soho Interiors, Warehouse 414 is part furniture warehouse and part art gallery, but has a different style. Warehouse 414 meshes cultural fares with down to earth ingenuity. The warehouse shows off art that ranges from pottery to paintings and tends to stay local.

Warehouse 414 is taking First Fridays to the next level, going interactive. At the September First Friday, there were two large tables topped with wet clay, ready to be drawn on by anyone willing to get their hands a little dirty.

Jancy Petit, founder of the Spirit of Art Experience, brought in the tables.  She has pieces currently showing at Warehouse 414 that were inspired by the clay-topped tables.

PT’s Coffee was also served at the gallery, made and served by Baristas Morgan Smith and Robin Seitz.

“I  like that there’s something to do,” said Degenhardt. “A lot of people think art events are boring, but this might change their mind.”