Arts expansion

Mar 24, 2004 at 12:00 am

To the uninformed observer, the modest building at 955 S. Eton in Birmingham’s Rail District might appear to house a small insurance firm. But last Saturday night, so many people packed sardine-style into the former office space that it was hard to move, let alone take in all the art — which is the place’s new raison d’être.

While a handful of galleries have moved in recent years from Birmingham to Detroit, the opening of the Birmingham District Arts Gallery shows that gallery life in Birmingham is far from dead. Co-founded by director Christine Schefman — formerly of Artserve Michigan — and owner Mark Kahn, the gallery’s inaugural opening features works by artists Cristin Richard, a recent CCS grad, and veteran local painter Thomas Berding.

Aside from a few minor alterations, the original layout of the building remains unchanged: an open front area and multiple smaller rooms connected by a single hallway. The overall vibe is unfussy and no-nonsense in a way that feels welcoming. In particular, one of the larger, well-lit rooms that houses Richard’s work offers both adequate space and an intimacy that is appropriate for the work.

Exploring the depiction of women and their roles in society, Richard has created a series of the loveliest, most delicately wrought corsets, dresses and other feminine accoutrements made from — believe it or not — hog casings.

Likewise, the open front area of the gallery seemed suited to Berding’s large, complex paintings, which he explains as ways of “infusing and analogizing the physical world with the emotive and conceptual realms.”

The gallery also houses work by a variety of other local artists, including a collection of fascinating, layered photographs by Ted Marolla, an assortment of glass jewelry by Liz Marks and a painting by Brian Barr. Upcoming shows include an exhibition of glasswork in April (Michigan Glass Month, who knew?) by both Michigan and select West Coast artists.

May’s exhibit will feature paintings by Mary Gillis and fiber work by Ellen Firestone.

In discussing the distinctly democratic vision that led to the gallery’s inception, Schefman says, “Our joint goal was to create a unique, visitor-friendly space that would house work of both emerging and established artists.”

The gallery also wants to cater to both experienced and newer collectors, she says.

Schefman and Kahn feel that unlike the potentially daunting atmosphere of some traditional galleries, the Eton space has a certain approachable quality that might help make visitors, including those unfamiliar with the art scene, feel more at ease.

“We wanted to create a really accessible place,” Schefman explains. “The smaller rooms give us a chance to show work in an intimate” setting, she says.

With impressive attendance and positive feedback, the gallery’s opening is considered an early success.

“We got a really nice response to the gallery itself, to both of our featured artists as well as the other artists who are carried at the gallery,” says Schefman.


Birmingham District Arts is at 955 S. Eton, a mile east of Woodward, south of Maple. Call 248-258-8916.

Christina Kallery is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]