CANTON – Alaska Thompson speaks joyfully about art.
Her voice is peppy and enthusiastic. Even during a phone conversation, it’s easy to imagine the Canton artist gesturing with her hands and smiling incessantly.
But when talk shifted to the pandemic and its effects on the art scene, her voice lowered momentarily before regaining its characteristic brightness.
“It got a lot harder with the pandemic for sure,” Thompson said of curating and staging art events.
Striking another blow to the Canton art community was the recent loss of 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 trademark energy and spirit, she refused to let the gallery and studio space remain idle for long. Serving as gallery director, the Canton resident is reopening the site as Patina Arts Centre on Friday.
When asked about navigating the lingering pandemic, she said, “It’s less about seeing a light at the end of the tunnel for me, and it’s more about realizing that we are the ones who have to illuminate it.
“For me, with this gallery, I see a need to fill,” Thompson added. “We are not going to stop going out, and we are not going to stop wanting to be around each other, so we need spaces that are safe.
“I want to be finding creative ways to make people feel comfortable – even if that means very private showings of the gallery.”
Thompson said Patina Arts Centre will house multiple studios in a manner similar to the former Vital Arts.
Guest artists will be showcased at monthly exhibitions, beginning on Friday with Stark County painter Melissa Goff, whose work will be on display until March 13.
Hours will be 5 to 9 p.m. during Friday’s grand opening. The event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served.
Patina also will be open during the March 4 First Friday event.
Regular hours will be noon to 4 p.m. Sunday beginning March 6. Thompson said she plans to expand hours gradually.
The nonprofit Patina Arts Centre is “working to generate creative revitalization
through the arts,” she said.
Artisan studio spaces will be spread across two floors. Several studio spaces are available for rental, Thompson said. Some artists who had space at Vital Arts will remain at Patina, including David Martin, Joanne Schempp, Sierra Mason and Makaila Davenport.
Classroom space will be dedicated to workshops.
Patina’s mission is “to partner with creative leaders, working artists and other
organizations to facilitate inspired projects both in-house and throughout the community,” Thompson explained.
A schedule is being finalized for exhibitions through the rest of the year, she said. Guest artists will be from both inside and outside Stark County.
“I focus a lot on Northeast Ohio in general because I feel like we’ve become a bit of an art hub altogether,” Thompson said.
Artwork will be diverse, she said.
Traditional paintings, ceramics, drawings, sculptural installations, mixed media works and light projections will be featured 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 exhibitions,” she said. “It’s going to be geared towards revitalization, and I feel a big part of that is education workshops and classes in-house.”
‘Enthusiasm and energy’
David Dingwell, a local photographer, said he’s appreciative of Thompson’s commitment to the art community, and is delighted she is reopening the art space.
Dingwell said he first met Thompson when she helped with one of his photography shows about five years ago in a joint exhibition with Su Nimon.
“When we were getting set up for the show, Alaska tagged along with Su to help us with sorting out what to hang and where,” he recalled. “… I had an opportunity to talk further with her and was struck by her enthusiasm and energy.
“I wasn’t sure what her plans were for her life, but I knew she’d be successful,” Dingwell said.
Dingwell, an attorney and partner with the law firm of Plakas Mannos in downtown Canton, has followed Thompson’s artistic endeavors through social media. He also agreed to serve on Patina’s board.
“One thing that makes Alaska special, and sets her out from the rest of the pack, is her ability to draw people in and make them feel welcomed in the arts community,” he said.
Dingwell said Thompson lifted his spirits when she invited him to be part of a Facebook group for Stark County artists. He thought she had invited him by mistake.
“Her response was almost immediate,” he recalled. “She told me that she knew my work, and that I was an artist. Period. Hearing that was probably one of the biggest boosts I’ve ever enjoyed with regard to my photography.”
Saving an art space
Thompson should be applauded for resurrecting the art space on Cleveland Avenue, near Buzzbin and just south of Lucca restaurant, Dingwell said.
“For several of us downtown that remember when Brennis Booth and Todd Walburn operated 2nd April (at the same location), it is a key art venue,” he said. “So many local artists have operated out of that space over the years and got their start there.
“To essentially lose that venue, to me, it is not an option,” Dingwell added. “Aspiring artists need a venue like this to continue in downtown Canton. It’s at the core of the arts district, and is an important piece of the arts scene downtown. Letting that venue fail cannot happen.”
David Whitehill, president and CEO of ArtsinStark, echoed the sentiments.
“I can’t stress enough how important and integral art galleries are to the arts, to building community,” he said. “Art galleries directly connect creators with the public. Art galleries also offer the possibility of taking real works of art home. I’m excited about Patina Arts Centre and the interest Alaska Thompson has in providing opportunities for our community to practice, discuss and appreciate art.”
The art of Melissa Goff
Goff said she’s thrilled to be Patina’s inaugural guest artist.
The Jackson Township resident discovered the downtown Canton art scene in 2006. Her early artwork was displayed at one of the original studios. And she used to work on her art in front of Buzzbin as people walked past.
She was accepted to participate in last year’s Artexpo New York. 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 presented her style of painting in a “giant venue” while many other artists also showcased their work.
But “I’ve never had a show myself,” Goff said of the Canton exhibition. “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.
Paint is applied to canvas in thick layers, typically thick enough that the brush or palette knife strokes are visible. After drying, impasto provides texture and sometimes a raised appearance.
Goff encouraged the public to visit the exhibition “to experience a new venue and a new artist, and to see what Canton has to offer.”
Patina’s opening also can “show other people that you can be successful and you can share your work and people will come and see it, and that’s when we get more diversity, more culture and more people coming out.”
‘I like our odds’
Thompson is an artist herself.
She’s juggling opening the gallery with being the mother of a 3-year-old boy, Alek. She’s also working towards graduating from Kent State University at Stark with a studio art major and minor in organizational communication.
Lately, she’s been working on a series of imaginative and quirky paintings featuring “fruit women.” Some of her work will be displayed at Patina, including paintings with an outer space theme.
Dingwell is a fan of her art.
“It’s fun, but it’s thoughtful – just like her,” he said. “She has no shortage of energy. I have zero doubt that Alaska has the energy, the drive and the focus to make the Canton arts scene better.
“If Alaska can’t make this happen, then frankly, I haven’t yet met the person that can,” Dingwell said of the Cleveland Avenue art space. “Setting aside all the intangible qualities she has, she is extremely well-connected in the arts community. She knows everyone. And everyone knows her. And they all love her. With a recipe like that, I like our odds.”
Reach Ed at 330-580-8315 and [email protected]
On Twitter @ebalintREP