By Jeffery L. Carey Jr.
Flint’s Buckham Gallery launched a much-anticipated second chapter Jan. 12, ending its 34-year tenure atop the steep stairs of 134 ½ W. Second Street, into a ground-level, bright new space in the former Perry Drug Store just steps across the street.
More than 570 people attended the re-opening. The opening show, dubbed Chapter 2, features artists Michael D. Melet, Laura J. Stein, Rosemary Bostek, Terry Schupbach-Gordon, and Edward N. Tillery. The artwork exhibited covered a range of styles from collage, paintings, sculpture, and prints.
According to its website, Buckham is Michigan’s longest- running, artist-led gallery. A 501(c)3 non-profit organization, it is supported by individual donors, the C.S. Mott Foundation, The Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Guidestar.
At the opening reception, Melet, whose collages adorned one of the new Buckham walls, said, “Walking into the old gallery for the last time Friday night was emotional, sad in many ways. Then I returned to the new gallery and realized the future is here.
“My father always told me, ‘Michael, expect change.’ He wrote that on a piece of paper I carry with me every day.”
Change is precisely what Buckham has undergone.
Originally incorporated as Buckham Fine Arts Project,” as longtime Buckham artist John Dempsey described it, the gallery “has been one of the constants in downtown Flint through many lean years. The lights have been on for all of that time, they’ve just upped the wattage. It is a tribute to what an artist-run, volunteer, not-for-profit organization can do and a tribute to the stubborn, creative, human spirit.”
“All comments I heard were positive,” Director Lynn Penning said, admitting the opening was a learning experience also. “It took the first opening in the new space for our staff and members to begin to understand the traffic flow pattern in the new gallery. We have adjustments to make, but overall everyone was pleased with the huge turn-out.”
Dempsey said the interior of the new space was designed specifically as a gallery, with a very high ceiling and new walls designed to showcase art. The ceiling also has been buffered for sound and includes two accessible unisex restrooms and a break room. It also has a low curb outside to be more negotiable for wheelchairs.
“This means that Buckham Gallery will be able to continue offering diverse exhibitions of contemporary art as well as a variety of events and performances moving forward,” Dempsey said.
For Penning the highlight of the evening was seeing people in wheelchairs able to attend the event–including exhibiting artist Terry Schupbach-Gordon, who would not have been able to attend her own opening reception had Buckham Gallery still been upstairs at the old gallery.
“The reason the C.S. Mott Foundation funded the new gallery was to make it accessible for the entire community,” Penning stated. “I am very pleased that Buckham Gallery can now accommodate everyone.”
“Last night I saw two guests and a participating artist in wheelchairs and two guests in walkers,” Melet said. “That brought tears to my eyes. Look at what we have been missing.”
“I hadn’t been in downtown Flint in a number of years,” said one of Buckham’s founders, Ken Kinyon, who has been in a wheelchair for the past 40 years due to a motorcycle racing accident.
Kinyon recalled other artist members used to have to carry him up those “damn stairs” at the old gallery.
“I always had the help of Guy Adamec, Bob Caskey, John Kotarski, Doug Hoppa, and a few others, one back of me pulling and one at my feet lifting. I felt bad for the guy at my feet. If I had crashed he would be the one breaking my fall.” Ultimately it wasn’t worth it, he said, and he quit participating.
This time, Kinyon said, “I was pleased that we could pull up in front of the building so that I could get out of the car.”
“I did not know what to expect of the gallery itself – or Flint. I was pleasantly surprised to see so much progress, growth,” Kinyon said. “Art Walk is in the evening of course and the city had a lovely glow from all the lights! It set the mood for a new beginning for Buckham.”
To set the ambiance in the new gallery guitarist Justin Scanlon played music while sitting beside a large Edward N. Tilley painting titled, Representational.
“The new gallery has a raw space quality that I find quite appealing,” Scanlon said.“The floors are still a work in progress, which could be said to reflect the human artistic process. However, far from detracting from the content, the viewers’ eyes are drawn to the work on the walls.”
Scanlon said viewers eyes are engaged due to the “top down” approach of the renovation, with special attention to the lighting, which he said is very effective and a significant improvement on the old space.
Melet described the new Buckham as, “Fresh, accessible, a magnificent venue for artists to show their art and people-friendly, with a cool address.” Neighbors of the new gallery in the old Perry building will be a men’s store, The Total Man Fine Clothier & Grooming, and an ELGA Credit Union branch office.
Melet’s first show at Buckham was in February, 2011.” He described how gratifying it was when many people attended his show and offered feedback – and that at 71 years old he could call himself an artist.
For Melet the Buckham opening was a family affair, including his daughter, Nancy Melet, and granddaughter Gillian Daly, 10. Gillian admired the artwork with her own sketchbook at the ready. Nancy Melet said Gillian and her grandfather Facetime together and have “art play dates.”
A jewelry maker herself and the owner of a Flint-based store, Nancy Melet Hand-linked Silver Jewelry, she said of the new Buckham, “It has a more bohemian feel. I know that the steps up to the old space were intimidating for many people and it sadly limited the audience. The new space accessibility can engage everyone who wants to attend a show.”
According to featured artist Terry Schupbach-Gordon, “It was an absolute delight to see Buckham for the first time on the night of the opening. In particular, it was an honor to be able to celebrate the opening of the new and accessible gallery.”
Schupbach-Gordon, a wheelchair-user herself, said to her the beauty of a building is measured in part by how inclusive it is. “Accessibility,” she said, “enriches everyone who walks or rolls into the building. That in itself makes the space beautiful and to celebrate the new space at Buckham was a delight.”
A printmaker since about 1972, Schupbach-Gordon’s visual arts career is only part of what she does, and part of how she defines herself as an artist, and person. “I work also as a storyteller, puppeteer, co-director of Catbird Press, and as an advocate for disability issues,” she said. “I was drawn to printmaking because of the expressive nature of its history. As a lover of poetry and of storytelling, I am naturally drawn to works that use both words and images.”
Schupbach-Gordon said that her sense of herself as an artist began early. “I spent a lot of time in the hospital growing up and my mother and sister, Becky, always brought me ‘make it’ kits filled with fabric glue paper and as I got older, even woodcut tools, wood and inks. I spent a lot of time making woodcuts in my hospital room and rolling the ink out on the lunch trays! I guess what I am trying to express is that even at an early age, art was simply the way you lived…wherever life took you,” she said.
Guitarist Scanlon said the first time he entered the old Buckham he alone hauled a Roland JC120 plus a full PA rig up up the treacherous, narrow stairwell without breaking anything, including his own neck.
“It goes without saying that the street-level entry of the new space represents a quantum leap from a visitor’s perspective,” Scanlon said. “The old space, with its narrow stairs, excluded people with disabilities of many kinds. Thus, the old space makes for colorful history, but the new space is oriented towards a less exclusive and more inviting future.”
Art enthusiasts Elena Sobrino and Thomas Mann, both graduates of UM-Flint, said they have spent many years attending events at Buckham Gallery. “The new gallery seemed great,” Mann said. “I’m not sure if it’s smaller or larger than the old one, but it was certainly welcoming and much more accessible to people than the former one.”
“The new gallery space has a welcoming immediacy and visibility,” Sobrino said. “I hope to return again and again. I have always valued that every visit to the gallery produces a sense of unpredictability; neither the exhibits nor the audiences are exactly the same from one time to the next.”
“This is going to be an art center for everyone in southeastern Michigan,” Melet said. “Buckham Gallery is and will be even more an important place for the education of the arts and exposure to the arts to take place in Flint.”
“I so love Buckham,” Schupbach-Gordon said, “because it chose to become a gallery accessible to all. I will be back!”
The next Buckham show, “Into the Forest,” opens with a 6 p.m. reception Friday, Feb. 8. It will feature work by Cathyrose Pizzo, Janice McCoy, and Eva Antebi-Lerman. More information available at 810-239-6233.
EVM Staff Writer Jeffery L. Carey, Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.