Downtown Canton Gallery Reborn as Patina Arts Center with Exhibit

TOWNSHIP – Alaska Thompson talks happily about art.

His voice is bubbly and enthusiastic. Even during a phone conversation, it’s easy to imagine the Cantonese artist gesturing with his hands and smiling endlessly.

But when the conversation shifted to the pandemic and its effects on the arts scene, her voice momentarily lowered before regaining its signature brilliance.

“It’s gotten a lot harder with the pandemic,” Thompson said of curating and hosting arts events.

Another blow to the arts community in Canton was the recent loss of the Vital Arts Gallery at 324 Cleveland Ave. NW.

A void was left in a longtime art space, where Thompson had served as gallery curator.

But with her signature energy and spirit, she refused to leave the gallery and studio space idle for too long. As gallery director, the Canton resident reopens the site as the Patina Arts Center on Friday.

Asked how to navigate the lingering pandemic, she said: “For me, it’s less about seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, but more about realizing that it’s us who have to shine it.

“For me, with this gallery, I see a need to be filled,” added Thompson. “We’re not going to stop going out, and we’re not going to stop wanting to be with each other, so we need safe spaces.

“I want to find creative ways to make people feel comfortable, even if that means very private gallery shows.”

Thompson said the Patina Arts Center will house several studios in a manner similar to the former Vital Arts.

Guest artists will be featured in monthly exhibits, beginning Friday with Stark County painter Melissa Goff, whose work will be on display through March 13.

The hours will be from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. during the grand opening on Friday. The event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served.

Patina will also be open during the event on the first Friday of March 4.

Regular hours will be noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays beginning March 6. Thompson said she plans to gradually expand the hours.

The nonprofit Patina Arts Center “strives to generate creative revitalization

through the arts,” she said.

The artisan workshop spaces will be spread over two floors. Several studios are available for rent, Thompson said. Some artists who had space at Vital Arts will remain at Patina, including David Martin, Joanne Schempp, Sierra Mason and Makaila Davenport.

The classroom space will be dedicated to workshops.

Patina’s mission is “to partner with creative leaders, active artists and other

organizations to facilitate inspired projects both internally and throughout the community,” Thompson explained.

A schedule is being finalized for exhibitions for the rest of the year, she said. Guest artists will be from inside and outside of Stark County.

“I focus a lot on northeast Ohio in general because I feel like we’ve become a bit of an art hub,” Thompson said.

The works will be diverse, she said.

Traditional paintings, ceramics, drawings, sculptural installations, mixed media works and light projections will be presented periodically.

“Two-dimensional and three-dimensional,” Thompson said. “Applied arts and fine arts”.

“The gallery itself is really going to be geared towards family-friendly art shows,” she said. “It’s going to be geared towards revitalization, and I think a lot of that is education workshops and in-house classes.”

“Enthusiasm and energy”

David Dingwell, a local photographer, said he appreciated Thompson’s commitment to the arts community and was delighted that she was reopening the art space.

Dingwell said he first met Thompson when she participated in one of his photography exhibits about five years ago in a joint exhibition with Su Nimon.

“When we were preparing for the show, Alaska accompanied Su to help us figure out what to hang and where,” he recalled. “…I had the opportunity to chat more with her and I was struck by her enthusiasm and energy.

“I wasn’t sure of her plans for her life, but I knew she would pull it off,” Dingwell said.

Dingwell, an attorney and partner at law firm Plakas Mannos in downtown Canton, has followed Thompson’s artistic endeavors through social media. He also agreed to serve on Patina’s board of directors.

“One thing that makes Alaska special and sets it apart from the rest of the pack is its ability to draw people in and make them feel welcome in the arts community,” he said.

Dingwell said Thompson lifted her spirits when she invited him to be part of a Facebook group for Stark County artists. He thought she had invited him by mistake.

“His response was almost immediate,” he recalls. “She told me she knew my work and that I was an artist. Period. Hearing that was probably one of the greatest encouragements I’ve ever had in regards to my photography.”

Save an art space

Thompson should be applauded for resurrecting the art space on Cleveland Avenue near Buzzbin and just south of Lucca’s restaurant, Dingwell said.

“For many of us downtown who remember when Brennis Booth and Todd Walburn operated on April 2 (at the same location), this is a key art location,” he said. “So many local artists have operated out of this space over the years and got their start there.

“Essentially losing this venue, for me, is not an option,” Dingwell added. “Aspiring artists need a place like this to keep going in downtown Guangzhou. It’s in the heart of the arts district and is an important part of the downtown art scene. Let this place failing cannot happen.”

The art of Melissa Goff

Goff said she was thrilled to be Patina’s first guest artist.

The Jackson Township resident discovered Canton’s downtown art scene in 2006. Her early work was exhibited in one of the original studios. And she used to work her art in front of Buzzbin as people walked past.

She was accepted to participate in Artexpo New York last year. The self-taught artist specializes in impressionism and abstract textured paintings.

Goff’s solo show on Friday is titled “Impasto Syndrome.”

At the New York event, she showcased her style of painting in a “giant room” while many other artists also showcased their work.

But “I’ve never had a show myself,” Goff said of the Canton show. “So it’s something exciting for me, it’s surreal for me.”

She creates impressionistic oil paintings using a broad stroke technique known as impasto.

The paint is applied to the canvas in thick layers, usually thick enough that brushstrokes or palette knife strokes are visible. After drying, the impasto brings texture and sometimes a raised aspect.

Goff encouraged the public to visit the exhibit “to experience a new place and a new artist, and to see what Canton has to offer.”

Opening Patina can also “show others that you can be successful and you can share your work and people will come and see it, and that’s when we’ll have more diversity, more culture and more people going out.”

“I like our chances”

Thompson is an artist herself.

She juggles between opening the gallery and being the mother of a 3-year-old boy, Alek. She is also working toward a degree from Kent State University at Stark with a major in Studio Art and a minor in Organizational Communication.

Lately, she has been working on a series of imaginative and quirky paintings featuring “fruit women”. Some of his works will be on display at Patina, including space-themed paintings.

Dingwell is a fan of his art.

“It’s fun, but it’s thoughtful – just like her,” he said. “She has no shortage of energy. I have no doubt that Alaska has the energy, drive and focus to improve the art scene in Guangzhou.

“If Alaska can’t make it happen, then frankly, I haven’t met the person who can yet,” Dingwell said of the Cleveland Avenue art space. “Apart from all the intangible qualities she possesses, she is extremely well connected in the artistic community. She knows everyone. And everyone knows her. And they all love it. With a recipe like that, I like our chances.

Contact Ed at 330-580-8315 and [email protected]

On Twitter @ebalintREP