There’s more to Gallery 1212 than meets the eye. The artwork displayed throughout the newest shop in Old Town only tells part of the story. The gallery came to life when four friends, who met through the Lansing Arts Council years ago, wanted to share a common working studio. The four “founding” friends of Gallery 1212 Fine Art Studios are all accomplished artists in their own right — Donna Randall, Rebecca Stafford, Joni Szytkiel and Carolyn Haun. To get the gallery up and running, the group drew on their other talents. Randall had previously run a gallery, Stafford worked in banking and finance for much of her career and Szytkiel put her marketing skills to work to advertise the grand opening and announce gallery shows and events. They believed that working in the shared space would inspire, encourage and critique each other’s artwork. They also wanted to open their studio to members of the Lansing community to take art lessons, attend workshops or just watch the artists at work. There was no question that Old Town — host to many musicians, artists and designers — was the right spot for the gallery. By November 2010, the long-time friends and new partners had acquired the space on Turner Street and had a mere two weeks to get it ready for the grand opening. So, the four took up paint brushes of a different sort and rolled up their sleeves to get the space ready. They even created a coffee bar out of broken pieces of colorful ceramic. Shortly after the opening, Haun had to take a step back from helping the other artists run the gallery. But other members of the art community have stepped up to volunteer to help wherever they can. Randall, Stafford and Szytkiel have noticed how much visitors like coming to the gallery and spending time there. “They just like being here,” Randall said. And there are plenty of reasons why. Gallery 1212 displays work of master and new artists on a rotating basis — with a new collection featured every two weeks. The artists are alumni and students of Kendall School of Art & Design, Mid-Michigan Artists Guild and master artists including Jim Markle, A.K. Barton, Craig Cossey, Stu Pankrate, Ronda Liskey and others. Saturday workshops are open to all budding and more experienced artists. Stafford teaches many of the classes, including watercolor and pastels. The first Friday of every month is reserved for the “Cork & Canvas” event when adults are invited to bring a favorite beverage and get step-by-step instruction from one of the artists. “Everyone leaves with a completed piece of art that they’ve created,” Stafford said. “It’s exciting to see how surprised and delighted the students are when they see that what they’ve painted actually looks like a piece of art,” Szytkiel said. The gallery is also a popular spot for business gatherings, intimate musical performances and social events, too. “The space is open and comfortable, and its décor makes it the perfect backdrop for get-togethers,” Szytkiel remarked. “And musicians like our space, too.” Word of the gallery has spread and, as Randall said, “Things keep dropping in our laps.” With the wealth of festivals, gallery walks and other events that draw guests to the Old Town area, they’ve enjoyed a lot of foot traffic. Surprising to Stafford, even December was busy — bringing holiday shoppers to the gallery. “I never expected that people buy paintings and artwork as Christmas gifts,” she said. Randall also remarked that many of her loyal customers are other artists. “It’s great to see artists who appreciate the work of other artists,” she said. Perhaps this shouldn’t come as such a surprise. For many years, Randall had been painting in her solitary studio in a barn located on her property. “It was a working studio and it was fine,” she said. But sharing a working studio with her two studio-mates, and ultimately the entire Lansing community, seems like an experience she relishes. “We wanted to create a space where people live and breathe art,” Randall concluded. Judging by the popularity of the newest addition to Old Town, the artists of Gallery 1212 are achieving just that.
Ann Cool, MPS, is a freelance writer who lives in Mason with her husband Bob.