Since reinventing itself as an artist community and space for studios and galleries, Valley View Center has built a new reputation as a hub for creativity in North Dallas. Last Saturday night the Gallery at Midtown hosted its monthly Midtown ARTwalk, a free event during which all 31 galleries remain open while additional vendors set up shop and various entertainers keep the atmosphere fun and exciting. This month’s ARTwalk theme was “Dog Days of Summer,” and many galleries offered to donate a portion of the proceeds from various items to the Greyhound Adoption League of Texas.
Kiki Curry Winters, co-director of the Gallery at Midtown, has been organizing the monthly ARTwalk event since its inception last March. She says they have increasingly become a success, bringing attention and awareness to the artistic community that has blossomed within Valley View Center.
“We wanted to change the stigma of Valley View, and we have,” says Winters.
Midtown ARTwalk has grown tremendously in its first year, and July’s event was no exception. Hundreds of people showed up to browse the galleries, watch performances of aerial yoga and live music, chat with the artists and purchase the perfect piece for an empty wall at home.
We were able to talk with a couple local artists during the event and learn about their work and backgrounds. Check out our profiles of sculptor Ellen Heavner and digital artist Michael Miller below, as well as a few more pictures from the event.
In a midlife crisis of sorts, Ellen Heavner woke up one morning when she was 38 years old and decided she wanted to sculpt animals, particularly dogs and cats. A self-professed dog person, Heavner has always owned dogs and used to work in dog kennels as a teenager, showing and training the animals. When she started sculpting them, she says she realized that this would be “her thing.”
“I really like [sculpting] because it connects me with people in kind of a different way,” says Heavner. “People are very emotionally connected to their dogs and cats. This is what I’m really good at. There’s a lot of emotion in my pieces and people really connect to them. When I talk to them, when I email with them, it’s a deep connection.”
A research analyst for Mary Kay cosmetics by day, Heavner spends her free time creating sculptures of dogs and cats for her Etsy shop, Ellen’s Creatures. A month ago she was invited by the owner of Pop 54 Gallery to bring in a few of her pieces, and she’s already sold several in that short time. Having her work in a bricks-and-mortar location has been a nice change of pace from selling it entirely online, Heavner says, and the Midtown ARTwalk events have helped make her job even more enjoyable by allowing her to interact with people in the community.
A mostly self-taught artist with the exception of a few pottery classes, Heavner says she would love to find an accomplished animal sculptor who offers classes or workshops that she could attend to further hone her skills.
“I found this woman who sculpts dogs that I love, but she’s in England. It’s hard to find an animal artist who’s an American and does it professionally — they’re all British,” says Heavner. “You cannot support yourself in this country on animal art, but you can in England. We think we’re the animal nuts, but no, it’s really the British!”
Artists and creative types are traditionally labeled as being “right-brained,” leaving the logic and numbers to someone else while pursuing a more free-flowing path. Michael Miller is the exception to that widely-held notion. An engineer, Miller says he’s always “piddled with art,” and he’s found a way to merge his two passions through digital artwork.
“I love geometric things…playing with tesselations and different variations of patterns,” says Miller. “I’ll use my computer to digitally alter and render objects into my artwork.”
Miller and his wife, Margo, have had their gallery, Badmargo Art, for about a year. Along with a couple other artists, they produce the many varied pieces hanging on the walls, ranging from prints to jewelry to large-scale mosaics and collages.
One piece Miller is particularly proud of is a digital print mounted onto two small wooden doors from a piece of furniture. It came from a fundraiser the gallery did last year to benefit tornado victims, called “Picking Up the Pieces.” The works included in the fundraiser all incorporated pieces of storm debris.
“A bunch of great artwork came out of that fundraiser, and we were able to raise some money for the tornado victims,” says Miller.
Inspiration comes from all over the place, says Miller, and as long as you’re thinking correctly, you can find something artistic to do with nearly anything around you. The Millers created a series of bird pieces after a visit to the Kimball Art Museum sparked their creativity.
“A lot of times [inspiration] comes from seeing what somebody else has done and thinking, ‘Hey, I like that but I could do it differently,'” says Miller.
Art and creativity rely on the differences people perceive while creating art and enjoying or critiquing it. Miller’s favorite part of being an artist and owning a gallery is seeing the connection people make with pieces of his art and when they understand what he was trying to go for in his work.
“It’s also quite interesting when someone has their own idea of what you’re trying to accomplish in a piece,” says Miller. “You usually don’t just see one thing in a good piece of art. It’s important to say something to the individual person.”