This year, I’ve got a goal to visit various mid-sized and large cities that are a short drive away, specifically to experience their art culture. Cleveland, Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis are all on my list. They’re all within a 2–5 hour drive from Grand Rapids, Michigan, making them an easy day trip or weekender to take in some art and learn a bit more about the art communities in the Midwest. I’ve been deeply embedded in and reporting on my own mid-sized Midwestern art community here in Grand Rapids, and have been getting curious what other cities around us are doing — and how their art communities compare to ours. So I decided to have some art adventures, “art weekenders” if you will, this year.
I started off my first art weekender of 2019 with an all-too-short day trip to Toledo, Ohio, to visit Rebecca Louis Law’s immersive exhibition, “Community,” on its last weekend at the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA), with my friend and fellow writer-slash-art-lover Elizabeth Rogers Drouillard. Along with plenty of time spent with Law’s flowers, which I wrote about at length here, we visited the extensive permanent collection of the Toledo Museum of Art, walked across the street to take in the glass pavilion, and ventured out in search of an art scene.
The collection is full of stunning pieces, some of which I’ll share here with you although, the obvious must be noted: looking at an iPhone photo of a work of art on a blog is not the same as being able to get up close and examine the brush strokes, color, and power of artwork in person. For a city the size of Toledo, their collection and the museum that houses it are incredible! Thanks to the generosity of the glass industry moguls in their city, the Libbey family, who are the behind the city’s nickname of “Glass City,” the museum has a solid collection, free to the public. We did purchase tickets to see the special exhibition, but the full permanent collection is free and open to the public. Notably, this changes not just the number of visitors but the demographics as well. What a beautiful sight to see such a diverse crowd enjoying art on their Saturday!
Halfway through exploring the museum, or should I say halfway through what we could see in our first visit, we needed a break. That’s how big it is! We thought to visit the gift shop, and see if we couldn’t do some recon on what else the city of Toledo had to offer to arts lovers.
We started our search by asking a TMA gift shop employee what galleries they would recommend.
”We’re in Toledo just for the day, and would like to see what else is around in the arts. What’s the gallery you’d recommend we not miss while we’re here, after we finish our tour of the museum?”
Innocent enough question, right? Your local art museum is going to want to support your local artists, right?
Erm, no. The gift shop cashier informed us that she was not allowed to give recommendations for galleries as they would be the shop’s competition, and anyway she didn’t know anything about the art scene in Toledo.
BOMB. And might I say, big community fail.
We thanked her for being so helpful and walked over to the information desk in hopes of better luck.
Our information desk person at the TMA, on the other hand, had some great recommendations, and given more time and the lack of a brewing storm (more on that later), we would check out. Next time, we’ll be sure to visit Paula Brown Gallery as that seemed to be the one that came up from multiple people in our request for suggestions.
Before heading out though, we continued our time with the permanent collection. One piece in particular sticks with me, nearly two weeks later, a video work that I first wrote off and walked away, but came back and am so glad I did. James Nares’ “Street” was created with a slowed down video of New Yorkers going about their daily lives, walking down the streets, as Nares’ camera was rolling as he sped past in the back of an SUV. It had an entrancing, almost spiritual, effect once I slowed down enough to take it in.
Off to the glass pavilion we went next, exploring Toledo’s history of glassmaking, and the history of glass in general, in a fascinating and award-winning building made of…you guessed it: glass. There we asked the guard at the front door what he would suggest we check out in Toledo.
The guard, much like Willis welcoming us into the flowers, was the best guide to his city we had encountered yet. He gave us insider tips of where to find the best cocktail, best music, best scene—all just down the street from the museum to downtown.
After leaving the Glass Pavilion, we had time for a couple stops before that brewing storm got any worse for us. We visited Handmade Toledo, a shop/event and workshop space that showcased local makers. The Ouizi mural on the side of the building alone made it worth the visit.
Next, a great find indeed: the Art Supply Depo, that quintessential picture you have in your mind of exactly what an independent art supply store should be. It’s possible I spent quite a pretty penny there, but went away with great finds, from killer pencils to my very first Sennelier oil pastels, some new R&F pigment sticks, and more goodies.
If you’ve ever had a conversation with me about art supplies, I have probably lamented our lack of anything decent in my home city of Grand Rapids, Michigan. I’ll tell you how the only remaining independent “art supply shop” sucks every last creative inspiration out of me, with its sparse feel and hospital lighting and staff who don’t seem to know anything about art supplies. (“What’s the medium I can use to thicken up my oil paints? I forget what it’s called.” Shop attendant, with a huff: “More paint?”}
This was not that place. This was chock-full but not to the point of claustrophobia, its staff was knowledgeable, and in fact had great ideas for galleries in the city, and friendly. The Art Supply Depo was a great ending to a quick jaunt down to Toledo.
Shopping basket full and bank account empty, we were able to end our entirely-too-short visit to Toledo on a high note, with new supplies to put all that inspiration to work in my own making. But outside there was a mounting snowstorm so we headed back. That snowstorm had us going 20 miles an hour on the highway heading out of the city, earlier than we had wanted but still satisfied. Between Law’s “Community,” gems to contemplate further from the Museum’s permanent collection, and a history lesson on glass, the museum alone makes this city a worthy option for your own art weekender.
But might I suggest you keep a closer eye on the weather than we did.
A few more details for you— including some details from Hung Liu’s “I Hear Their Gentle Voice Calling,” below, a piece made with multi-media and multi-layer resin that had me inspecting it and revisiting it quite a bit.