BY ERIN HEILING
There is excitement in the air, people strolling the sidewalks, and merchants welcoming visitors to shop and view unique displays of artwork. After touring galleries, participants can enjoy dinner and live music at local eatery and nightspot Becket’s, or visit the Grand Opera House for more tunes and tasty beverages. This is not the bright lights and big city of New York or the quaint boulevards of Door County: This is Gallery Walk in downtown Oshkosh. Held on the first Saturday of every month since its inception, this event has grown from two galleries to as many as 40 locations in the area surrounding Main Street.
Professional photographer/artist, Dylan Stolley, and web designer/restaurateur, Kris Larson, have recently taken over the reins on the event. Larson created a new website and digital map, which can be uploaded to your mobile device and easily utilized while you walk the galleries, bringing a new twist to an already successful event. Jim Evans of Art Haus was one of the event’s originators, along with Leif Larson and Don Ford: “The very first gallery walk was held on October 5, 1996, with only two galleries participating: ArtSpace Collective and Artistix Expressions.” Evans believes Oshkosh is the only city in the state to hold monthly gallery walks year round. “It is truly a unique event not only for Oshkosh and the surrounding area, but for the entire state.”
In April 2002, ArtSpace Collective was approached by Terry Laib, who had recently purchased the Wagner Opera House. Laib mentioned that if ArtSpace ever wanted to use the opera house, the space was available. The ideas born from this offer resulted in the Gallery Walk of today. Evans spoke on behalf of local artists, “We wanted to have something that would show Oshkosh that we were here, that we were active and that we make Oshkosh a better place to live. What we decided to do was have a show featuring 100 Oshkosh artists monthly, with each showing one piece of work. What became known as The Oshkosh 100 opened in August 2002.”
Evans said that the opening reception at the now Grand Opera House shattered all previous records of attendance, and that excitement continued throughout the run of the show. Other shows followed. What started with a few dozen “walkers” has now grown to a few thousand “walkers” from as far south as Alejandro Scott Design Studio above South of the Border restaurant to as far north as ArtSpace Collective at Merritt Avenue. The one thing that has remained a constant and that Evans is most proud of is that ArtSpace Collective has had an opening on the first Saturday of every month since the Gallery Walk began. “That’s going on 213 shows,” he commented.
Gallery Walk’s featured artist for June is Scott Wong. Scott says he has loved art since his “very first elbow macaroni masterpiece in kindergarten.” Wong’s primary medium is spray paint with the recent addition of oil-based paint markers. He has experimented with acrylics and oil using brushes, and is very excited to show off those new pieces at his show. Wong still considers himself a street artist and adds that, “I stopped doing my art on public buildings and train yards when I became too old to run from the cops.” Laughing, he shares that he is “sticking to canvas” for his artwork these days. He also creates for friends and neighbors who commission pieces for their mailboxes, house numbers and other random objects that look far too dull to the naked eye. He smiles and says that it’s easy to tell which neighborhood he lives in.
When asked about his work, Scott explains, “Each piece I do, it silently allows you (the viewer) and me (the artist) to have a very random conversation together. What I am ultimately hoping to accomplish with my art is being able to evoke some sort of thought, feeling or emotion in everyone that has the opportunity to see it. If you can view a piece of my art and walk away feeling something, then I know I’ve accomplished what I’ve set out to do, and I’ve probably had a lot of fun doing it, too. Now, where in the heck did I put that fuchsia spray paint?”
Come out to Gallery Walk on June 7 from 6-9 p.m. – rain or shine – and enjoy all that downtown Oshkosh has to offer. ν
Erin Heiling studied art at Indiana University and stays involved through photography, design and writing.