On being born

Sep 19, 2007 at 12:00 am

Hamtramck's CaFE 1923 is deliberately designed to look like a place that

belongs in Paris, San Francisco or, you know, Ferndale or something. The corner grocery (built in 1923, hence the name) has been given its cosmopolitan makeover to become a fashionable coffee joint, from a backroom library to the pumpkin-colored walls and silver ceiling. The menu's sandwiches have names like the "Stanley Kowalski" and the "Blanche DuBois," and, of course, there's art on the walls.

Café 1923 functions as a gallery for Hatch Hamtramck Art Collective, a nonprofit network of painters, photographers, comic-book artists, musicians and other creative types —mostly based in and around Hamtramck.

The coffeehouse is currently displaying work by Hatch painter Laura MacIntyre. The exhibit, called Street Level, features streetscapes from the neighborhoods around her Hamtramck home.

"The farthest I've gone from my house is about three miles," says MacIntyre, a 41-year-old art teacher at Grosse Ile High School.

The subjects in Street Level are familiar: crumbling storefront churches, liquor stores next to vacant lots and neglected alleys. But MacIntyre puts an interesting spin on the formula. Her work is painted in vivid colors. Paintings of abandoned homes are soaked with vibrant red, green and yellow, as well as gray and brown, making the aging Rust Belt streets seem almost tropical. One of the paintings, entitled "Hello," even features a couple of palm trees (though they're ads on ice cream trucks, parked at a gas station).

"I have really bright colors because I have really warm, almost like 'Pop Rocks' feelings about it," she says. "I want to show people who might think that this is urban dysfunction that it's not. Look at the beauty in it."

MacIntyre has been a Hatch member since it was initiated in April 2006 by Cranbrook Academy of Art teacher Chris Schneider, who also founded the Cranbrook Summer Art Institute. At the time, there were 12 artists in the group. Now there are 55.

Schneider moved to the Detroit area from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 2001 to get his graduate degree from Cranbrook. He came to Hamtramck in 2003 and says that, despite the amount of artistic talent he found in the city, he noticed that it lacked a cohesive community.

"At the time there weren't even any coffeehouses or places where people could meet and benefit from each other," Schneider says. That would change when Erik Tungate, director of community and economic development for Hamtramck, "challenged" him to start something of his own.

"He said, 'Well if you can organize the artists, I'll help you get a building.' And so, that's really where it was all born. We could learn from each other. We can help each other show work, that sort of thing."

Schneider says the group's relationship with the city of Hamtramck has since been very positive. Putting up art exhibitions in the area has been a welcome change from Florida.

"In Detroit and Hamtramck, it's much easier to get things done. It's much cheaper. If you want to get something through in New York or Miami, you'd better be sponsored by Comerica."

Hatch premiered its first exhibit in March and the opening night party drew more than 400 people to the tiny café. The group has done five more exhibitions since then.

The collective has branched out to include community outreach and education in its programming, hosting weekly workshops for drawing, printmaking and film on Saturdays at Hamtramck's People's Community Services Building. The group is also associated with the Detroit chapter of Dr. Sketchy's "Anti-Art School," a popular monthly workshop at the Belmont.

Schneider's most excited about an upcoming project: finding a permanent space. His choice? The former Hamtramck police station on Evaline Street; the group is in the process of writing a formal business proposal for the building. A vacant police station may seem like a weird place for an art gallery and studio space, but Schneider makes it sound perfect.

"It still has the cells. You could put 12 art studios in there, a gallery and it already has a dark room."

(Full disclosure: Dr. Sketchy Detroit coordinator and Hatch member Sean Bieri is design director at Metro Times.) Send comments to [email protected]