Artist Brandon Michael Johnston was enjoying the quiet on a recent Thursday afternoon at the newly moved Pendleton Art Center.
He has moved his studio from a basement space into the much larger, first-floor space in the three story, 45,000-square-foot building on Central Avenue. He was organizing some drawings on the concrete floor of the expansive space with lots of light coming in from the windows.
“I went to school in Georgia. I was in the arts scene in Atlanta for a time. When the market fell out, I did some real work,” said Johnston, a Madison High School graduate. “I’ve moved back here because the calmness and simplicity of this area really helps my creative process.”
Johnston, like many other artists, rents space at the center, which has been in downtown Middletown for a little more than a year.
Johnston’s figural busts of Abe Lincoln, General Patton, and Benjamin Franklin line the window ledges of his studio. Johnston noted his interest in history. He was also experimenting with layered plexiglass work of Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist.
“This is an excellent environment for creation. And studio space only costs a quarter of what it would cost in Atlanta,” said Johnston, who also created two large scale mixed-media paintings of Henry David Thoreau and one titled “Homeless” that is featured in the front window of the center.
The prior tenants of the space were a couple who decided to move to Florida.
In addition to art and music studios, Pendleton also houses the All About You Cafe and a large entertainment venue.
The Pendleton Art Center currently houses 65 artist galleries/studios. Some names Dayton-area visual art patrons might recognize are: Visceral Gallery, run by Francine and Terry Riley, originally located in Centerville; David Binder; jewelry by Jana Song Bobo; Vera Ward; and Jim Horton/The Artful Dodger.
Some other notables include Susan Gertz, who is on the lower floor with her Dog Patch Pix pet photography studio; “Branded Angels” by John Sousa in Gallery 7; and European woodcarvings by David Bignell. A large section is dedicated to several studios for 10 members of the Mason Area Painters.
All the artist studios are only open on the first Friday and Saturday of each month. The only exception is Artique, a gallery of custom framing located just inside the front door.
“Business is fantastic,” said Sue Schaefer Wittman, Artique’s owner. “I’ve been in business in the Middletown area for the past 21 years. I’ve been here for the past year and a half, and my business has quadrupled.”
Wittman was the first one to sign a lease, so she snagged the best view. She can look outside across Broad Street and see a beautiful fountain sculpture with benches in a parklike setting.
Jim Verdin, owner of the Verdin Company in Cincinnati, bought an eight-story building in the Over the Rhine area of Cincinnati that became the first Pendleton Art Center. He added locations in Rising Sun, Ind., and Ashland, Ky., before coming to Middletown.
Suzanne Sizer, a marketing manager for Verdin, said, “We came here because of the history of the arts here in Middletown, the music, the theater, the Middletown Art Center. I was across the street at BeauVerre (stained-glass studios) one day, and (BeauVerre owner) Jay Moorman said, ‘Why don’t you bring Pendleton to Middletown?’ ”
The building at the corner of Central and Broad streets started out as a large department store, then housed some offices for AK Steel before it became empty.
“This building had been empty for eight years; it was a big shell, and we had a lot of work to do. It took six months to fix it up,” said Sizer, a Middletown High School graduate who has lived in Cincinnati for the past 30 years. “The people of Middletown have embraced the Pendleton Art Center, the artists are doing what they love to do, and they are selling their work.”
This September, another idea will help the artists at all four locations get more exposure. Works by artists in one Pendleton site will be shown at other Pendleton Centers.
“We celebrated our one year anniversary in Middletown this past May, and we had about 900 people come through. That was just fabulous,” Sizer said.