Day in Detroit — Part I

A Peak Inside the Artists’ Studios

In December our little “Gang of 4” were treated to an incredible field trip to see Nancy’s studio at the Russell Industrial Center in Detroit and receive an outstanding one-on-one talk at the DIA on Diego Rivera and his Detroit Industry murals.

History of Russell Industrial Center

In 1915, the Center, a 2,200,000-square-foot (200,000 m2), seven building complex, was designed by Albert Kahn for John William Murray. Over the years it has been used for various manufacturing industries (automotive, military, metal stamping, household appliances, printing) and has passed through many owners. From 1970-1991 it was even owned by the notorious billionaire Leona Helmsley, hotelier and tax evader.

In 1998 the Center was closed as it suffered major damage from storms and the printing company could no longer sustain. The RIC fell into major disrepair and sat vacant until 2003 when it was purchased by a local development company for 1 million dollars. Since then it has become a community hub for local artists and small businesses.

Detroit artist Kobie Solomon‘s “Chimera” mural is painted on the side of the RIC. Measuresing 8,750 square feet, it is the largest mural in the state of Michigan. Kobie combined a bit of Detroit history along with the four major sports teams; the Detroit Lions (NFL), Detroit Pistons (NBA), Detroit Red Wings (NHL) and Detroit Tigers (MLB) in his creation.

Fieldtrip

We made our way downtown and meandered through the enormous complex until we located the Art Building. Nancy was already there to greet us and let us in. We rode up in the old style industrial elevator — the unsteady, creaking, wire-barred kind you see in scary movies — to her studio.

We were greeted by a friend of Nancy’s, fellow Detroit artist, Darcel Deneau. She let us check out her extra large studio space filled with incredible glass mosaics of the city. When putting this post together, I discovered more about her art and her incredibly heart-breaking story.

Next we headed over to Nancy’s studio. It’s a nice size space that offers a lot of natural light. She let us explore for a bit and showed us some of her wonderful paintings. Then we all sat down for a bit, had coffee and snacks, and talked about art and life. Nancy is a natural born storyteller and she’s accumulated so many great ones over the course of her life. We all said she should write a book– it’d be a bestseller!

Just down the long corridor was another friend of Nancy’s who had agreed to let us peak inside his studio. Alan Bennetts is a young Detroit artist and recent graduate of the Cranbrook Academy of Arts MFA Program. His artist statement reveals the intention for his current project that we were treated to view up close:

I seek to examine the varied positions consumer technologies occupy in both our collective and individual perception. In particular, the way these familiar, often intimate objects fundamentally change when they cease to function in the way in which they were intended. AB

I was blown away by Alan’s eye for detail and steady hand in creating these incredible works of art. How in the world could he achieve such accuracy in the tones of grey, black, silver, white… I’ll never know.

I fondly remembered that we had many of the stereo pieces in the 1980’s and a wave of memories came flooding back — dancing to Madonna and listening to U2s, “The Joshua Tree” in our basement and watching my step-dad spend countless hours making mixed-tapes. It was a great trip down memory lane.

After meeting the artists and touring their studios we headed over to the Detroit Institute of Arts for a phenomenal private lecture from a DIA docent who really knew his stuff! It was turning out to be an incredible day! Stay tuned for Day in Detroit — Part II.

2 thoughts on “Day in Detroit — Part I

  1. Hello Jen! Wow. Thank you for sharing the rebirth of this iconic building and of course, your journey into art and Detroit.
    My Polish grandmother grew up near the Russell Building and I passed this build a hundred times, your picture brought me right back. If I ever head out to Michigan, I’d like to visit you too, check out some your cool work in person. I love the DIA, and now i could actually walk around the Russel now – it wasn’t exactly accessible back in my day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw, how cool Sheila! It was really a great place. I didn’t know anything about the history til I wrote this post. So interesting. I’m not sure you can walk around freely – you have to know someone to let you in. But, next time you’re in town I’m sure Nancy would be more than happy to indulge us. I know you two would hit it off. Thanks for reading my posts! Take care 🙂

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