Drifting through some upstairs rooms at Redeemer Church on Highland Avenue at 17th Street, you’ll find plenty of items you’d expect to see in children’s Sunday school: washable markers, colored pencils, heaps of fabric scraps. But these rooms are occupied by a much older group of people, and have been since June when 10—soon to be 11—artists came together to share the space now known as 17th Street Studios.
The cooperative held something of an open house last Thursday to check out and purchase their work, as well as work in progress (though that wound up looking like more for some artists than others). It was an opportunity to see not only what the artists work on, but how they work on it. This amounted to some amount of fun in studios like tinkerer extraordinaire Brian Jobe’s, where completed projects were scarce, but sketches on the wall, stacks of bamboo poles fused with metal fasteners, and a sort of chandelier fashioned from plastic ties, born of what seems like a real rubber band-ball kind of spirit, were all on semi-organized display. Let your imagination run wild.
Likewise, drawer John McRae’s workspace offered such snapshots, if more predictable ones, as a canvas with a preliminary drawing in pencil in addition to a small but thickly painted canvas on an easel, with another, pleasing one tucked away against the wall. I was happy to see a sketchbook, open, on his desk. But finding only seven pages used quickly turned intrigue to disappointment, though there was plenty to see on the wall outside McRae’s studio, where there hung a set of fully formed and highly packed black-and-white illustrations he’d completed for a children’s story.
Other artists seemed to specialize more in finished pieces, such as Carri Jobe with her collection of large monochromatic (green, yellow-green) canvases and Briena Harmening’s fabric landscapes: a hodgepodge of fabrics pieced together to create sparkling skies and embroidered telephone lines, “from my first time out West,” she says. Travel, if nothing else, seems to have nudged Harmening into a phase more polite than her previous bedroom-set work. But maybe don’t invite her home to mother just yet, what with the embroidered birth-control cases.
In addition to various stages of completion came an impressive range of marketability, from Hali Maltsberger’s short film of found footage (babies eating cake set to a soundtrack of sleazy guitars) to Lesley Eaton’s cute (anthropomorphized vegetables, monkeys) and colorful plastic-encased prints for sale—framing, as well as personalized cards and invitations, available. The crowd in attendance may not have been so varied. Upon asking the gentleman manning Eaton's studio how business had been that evening, he replied, “Eh.” Aw.
The members have certainly done a good job of filling up the place. The wing of the church they’ve inhabited has eight rooms, with temporary walls and screens placed to create more studios, but even that route can’t allow for much more expansion. Unfortunately, Paul Harrill’s studio, which was rather empty by contrast, indicates that being an award-winning filmmaker (one who doesn’t live in town, at least) isn’t much fun at all—remove the laptop and projector present for the night’s screening, and all you’d have left is an inkjet-printed sign announcing auditions in progress and a bag of granola. (Harrill uses the studio as a script-writing room.) But it’s the space of only one of nearly a dozen artists working within less than 1,500 square feet of one another in a building not located on the University of Tennessee campus. No matter what’s inside, that’s a little exciting all on its own.
Corrected: Lesley Eaton's studio was being manned by a friend, not by Ms. Eaton herself.