Essex Studios: artful hub of creative energy

By Connie Springer

For 16 years, a group of accomplished artists and other creatives has worked out of the 150,000-square-foot Essex Studios at 2511 Essex Place in Walnut Hills.

The Essex edifice has a history of spawning creativity. In 1913, it was constructed as a plant for the Herschede Hall Clock Co. In the late 1950s, the structure was purchased by Hamilton Tailoring Co., which continues to make custom suits and uniforms. The Essex building is owned by Trent Heimann of the tailoring company’s fourth generation.

The first artist to rent studio space at the Essex was Barbara Young, who who has been there since 1982. Eighteen years later, Heimann initiated the concept of the Essex Studios by converting the entire building into studios that are rented to visual and performing artists, arts organizations, musicians and other creatives.

Today, Essex Studios houses a flourishing art scene with over 100 studios and artists working in every medium – oil, watercolor, colored pencil, pastel, photography, sculpture, glass, wood carving, metal, ceramics, textiles, jewelry, graphic design, letterpress and silkscreen.

The building is also home to community education classes for the Art Academy of Cincinnati;, a martial arts studio, a printing company; an actors’ studio, a cat museum (open Tuesday through Saturday, 3-6 p.m.), Karen Kelly’s open studio watercolor workshops (offered Wednesdays and Fridays, 4-7 p.m.) and even a basement gym.

Artist Susan Pichler in her studio

Artist Susan Pichler in her studio

Essex Studios artists are a diverse group. For example, Susan Pichler is a member of the Art Circle (Studio 122), a community of 13 artists who share space, talent and camaraderie. Five years ago, she began studying watercolor and drawing at the Art Academy’s Essex location. Noting her love of color, instructor Ken Buck suggested she try pastels. She’s now working with the medium’s rich and luscious colors.

Studio 133 is the domain of Robert McFate, who describes his style as outsider art. After a career of custom mural work and a move to Cincinnati, McFate changed his focus to a more personal expression. He uses natural and found materials, and his work runs the gamut from whimsical flowers painted on barn tin to character portraits made of metal found on the street, child-inspired art painted on repurposed wood, assemblages, and more.

In Studio 162, custom woodworker Glen Carley of Wooden It Be Nice crafts pieces commissioned by restaurants and other clients. His work includes tables, benches, bookshelves, lidded boxes, picture frames, serving boards, bowls, plates and artist tools. He also crafts wooden toys and does woodcarving. “I haven’t run into a project too challenging yet,” he said.

Michael Oludare holding wooden Elegbara piece

Michael Oludare holding wooden Elegbara piece

On the second floor, in Studio 215, Michael Oludare has been carving wooden Nigerian sculptures for seven years. His workspace is on the floor of his studio, where he is surrounded by an array of completed wooden gods and goddesses. These figures have intriguing mythological stories, such as the controlling two-faced god, Elegbara, a powerful Yoruba figure known to cause trouble through trickery and deception. Another of Oludare’s wooden sculptures depicts the making of the potent Nigerian wine, emun: A husband and wife work at a palm tree as they concoct the intoxicating palm wine. Besides carving wood, Oludare is an oil painter, a mask maker and a batik artist decorating tunics with colorful, intricate designs. He also teaches batik to high school and college students.

In Studio 254, oil painter and printmaker Michelle Heimann explores the art of improvisation. She has just received the 2016 Summerfair Aid to Individual Artists’ Award. “I relate my paintings to improvisational jazz,” she said. “I have created my own language exploring space and movement through mark making and color. I invite the viewer to be lured into the playful canvas filled with abstract forms inspired by the world around me.”

Artist Michelle Meimann, a 2016 Summerfair award winner

Artist Michelle Meimann, a 2016 Summerfair award winner

Four times a year – on the first Friday and Saturday of designated months –  Essex Studios holds its Art Walks, with the building opening its doors so visitors can drop by studios and mingle with the artists over conversation and refreshments.

 Visitors will be able to browse the open studios; see guest artists’ work along the hallway walls; sample tasty fare from vendors offering wings, pizza, and empanadas; and hear guest musicians playing festive music. In addition, the Clay Alliance will offer its holiday pottery fair in the lobby.  

Art Walks in 2017 will take place on Friday and Saturday,  March 3-4, Oct. 6-7, Nov. 3-4, and Dec. 1-2.

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