Crawling the Warehouse District art galleries became an event for many people in its heyday. You didn't have to buy anything; it was like a museum tour of unknown work that can be energizing and eye-opening. A pleasant evening strolling through some beautiful spaces, then stop at Nikki's for a glass of Shiraz, to see if your date has any taste.
Once you understood the pricing structure, you computed how to budget for the payments like you would a dishwasher and you began to understand how to prepare your home to be the showcase of your own personal pleasures. Things that bring you joy just by looking at them.
The Warehouse District was pioneered by artists looking for cheap urban space in which to build studios -- a clean, well-lighted space. After they made it habitable, and gentrification set in, artists generally fell into two subcategories: pioneers who had to look for cheap space again (see Midway St. Paul), or those who could afford the new frontier of higher rent.
Traffic Zone, 250 3rd Ave. N., is made up of Survivors. Now in their seventh year, the 24 artists there will hold their annual Open House on Saturday May 4, when they are all in the building at the same time and can show it off.
Actually, the Zone artists are more like Thrivers -- people who have succeeded in their specialty and love working Downtown in a hundred-year-old building with a great view of the skyline. Many of them used to be in the 700 Washington Ave. N. Building, and planned the move in anticipation of getting kicked out in 1995.
"We wanted to make sure there was still a place for the working artist Downtown," says sculptor and unofficial spokesperson Perci Chester. "And this is the best way to show us all off. We had 1,200 people last year!"
Chester's work is pleasingly displayed in her corner studio. High ceilings, wooden floors, soft cornmeal-yellow brick and almost floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides (east and south) yield a scenic viewing of her wide range of fun, texturally rich collections of assemblages, castings and hewings.
Her work has been shown at the Institute of Arts, and she has taught at MCAD, and her style is eclectic in the positive sense of the word -- never boring.
She has clean-lined bronze nudes; assemblages of things her kid broke while visiting the studio; and pieces of numerous modalities that she has built to spec. Her materials include (but are not limited to): wax, wood, glass, steel, iron, highly polished stainless steel, crystal and stone.
And in a few of them, it seems, some magic. She has ropes that hold themselves up in the air; bronze that floats on clear glass; and polished bronze with glass that becomes a dozen different designs, depending on where you stand. (Chester's works sell for about $5,000 apiece; one could see how she can afford to stay in the Warehoiuse District.)
Exhibiting artists are as eclectic in form as in content. Also included are: Harriet Bart (installations and book art), Heinz Brummel (jewelry), Pat Hui (painted silk/wearable art), Karen Oleson Jaske (textiles), Ana Lois Borzi (installations), photographers Laura Crosby, Bette Globus Goodman, and Jila Nikpay; painters like Kristen Peterson-Hansen, James Conway, Jane Borchers, Bonnie Heller (in a cake-painting mode), Vesna Kittleson, Yi Kai, Susan S. McDonald, Lisa Nankivil, David Rich, Lois Rhomberg, and Barbara Bell Smith; plus Harold Stone (drawings and prints), Bruce Hudson-Bogaard (watercolor), Paulette Meyers-Rich (bookmaking and photography), and Jantje Visscher, whom Chester could only describe vaguely and smilingly as producing "layered embossed painted surfaces."
Traffic Zone Center for the Visual Arts was put together with the active assistance of Artspace Projects. Each artist designed a working studio space not only to fill production needs, but as a pleasing showcase to sell the work. It doesn't hurt to have a bunch of other artists in your building either -- so much of the work is done in solitary confinement that it's fun to be able to walk the yard with a few other inmates every once in a while.
The open-house event has all that atmosphere of the actual space cleaned up to show off, plus has the added ambience of having the artist right there to explain the work and let you in on some of the joy of creation. If the stuff hits you right -- and I will guess a lot of it will -- it is an invigorating experience, like a breath of cool mountain air.
Finding the place is a little tough, because the numbers on 3rd Avenue North don't make sense. 250 3rd Ave. N. is west of J.D. Hoyt's rib joint on Washington Avenue. It's the building with Bev's Wine Bar, right next to Traffic Street, a great name for a little-known spur. And by all accounts, it's the zone where traffic is headed.
Traffic Zone Center for Visual Arts Seventh Annual Open Studio Night, Saturday May 4, 6 p.m.-10 p.m. 250 3rd Ave. N. Free. Parking available 1/2-block west on 3rd Avenue North; street parking available on 3rd and on Washington Avenue.