WEBSTER BRINGS DOWNTOWN ELKHART THE ART IT DESERVES
He came to Indiana to be a teacher, but he still really just wanted to make art to share with the community. Jake Webster’s sculptures have appeared in art galleries in Paris and Los Angeles. He has sold art to the vice president of South Africa and a former lieutenant governor of Indiana. But what he really wants is to see his fellow Elkhart residents walk into his studio near the Gateway Mile.
Webster’s studio at 114 Jefferson St., the dark brown building in downtown Elkhart behind Executive Cleaners, is open to everyone from noon to 4 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. There isn’t a sign out front, but the window is filled with origami and other pieces of art. Webster said many people walk by, peer in and continue on their way.
When someone does walk inside, they’re greeted by a variety of colors and styles of art. Sculptures are lined up around the studio. The walls are covered with several of his paintings: currently, women with extra-large appendages (because Webster says “women do so much”) and a series of still life oranges that aren’t just oranges. As the viewer looks closer, items like license plates, brushes, horse hair and tools can be seen attached to the canvas, covered in paint and blending in.
Putting found objects into a painting is representative of Webster’s philosophy on both art and life.
“I painted oranges, but look closer. Look for more than what you see. Don’t just use the right side of the brain. Use your whole body,” Webster said. “That’s life. It’s familiar, but always a little more complicated.”
At 69 years old, Webster knows a thing or two about life and its complications. He was born and raised in Mississippi, where he decided as a little boy that he wanted to be an artist when he grew up. His parents pushed him to pursue math or another subject in college that would allow him to follow a career and make money. Webster compromised by getting a degree in art education.
He came to Indiana to be a teacher, but he still really just wanted to make art. Webster eventually quit teaching so that he could focus on his art full time. He now lives above his studio, which allows him the freedom to create art whenever he wants.
“I figured I was broke anyway,” Webster said. “I might as well just focus on my art, which is what I wanted to be doing.”
Webster uses a lot of found materials in his art and only likes to buy the equipment he needs to present a piece. For the past seven to eight years, he’s experimented with cement because he knew someone who had a bunch of cement and they didn’t know what to do with it. He was happy to take it off their hands.
SMLA sculptor by profession, Webster has carved slabs of cement and marble as heavy as three tons down to a few hundred pounds. He’s also carved small pieces of limestone into much smaller objects.
As in his paintings, there’s a sense of complicated familiarity in Webster’s sculptures — such as the shape of a human body with holes or nails through the middle.
He doesn’t limit himself to sculptures, though. Webster also paints, draws and writes poetry. He self-publishes a book of poetry almost every year, and recently celebrated the re-issuing of a book he published with fellow Elkhartan David Casper.
To Webster, almost everything he does is art.
Many people think an artist with Webster’s resume would want to live someplace like New York City, but Webster believes Elkhart is the perfect place for him.
“I live here because I can make art here. As an artist, you have to be where people leave you alone but where you have a support group, too. In New York City, everybody’s going to parties,” Webster says. “I’m surrounded by a good group of people that helps support me as an artist. That’s all you can ask for.”
That being said, Webster encourages other artists in Elkhart to go out and explore the world, too.
“I don’t make less art because I’m in Elkhart. I make more,” says Webster. “See what other parts of the world are doing, then come back to Elkhart. People here deserve art, too.”
The official launch of Pure Green Farms has begun as four new leafy green varieties are heading to select Kroger store shelves this week. The greens are grown at one of the most high-tech, sustainable indoor farms in the country. The farm which is located in South Bend, Indiana, uses advanced technology to seed, grow, harvest and pack their greens all hands-free.
Says Joe McGuire, CEO, “It’s been a lot of hard work getting us ready for launch and I’m so delighted to be at this point in the process. We look forward to expanding our fan base for the days, weeks, months and years to come.”
The Pure Green Farms greenhouse is equipped with the best technology in the industry, which makes growing fresh lettuces year-round a cleaner and safer endeavor. They use significantly less water and never use any pesticides or herbicides. It’s clean and environmentally conscious growing, all the time. The four varieties that are hitting shelves this week include Baby Spring Mix, Baby Green Leaf, Baby Red & Green Leaf, and Baby Romaine. Select Kroger stores in the Midwest will be the first to carry the greens with more retailers to follow in the coming months.
To learn more about Pure Green Farms check out their website: http://www.enjoypuregreen.com/
As a designer, Nanci Wirt advises her clients to only buy what they love and never fill a space just for the sake of filling it. Since moving to Elkhart from a small town in northern California 24 years ago, Wirt has followed the same philosophy in her own life.
That path has not only led her to start her own interior design company, n.wirt design, but also landed her business in a two-story downtown Elkhart storefront where she achieved her dream of opening an art gallery.
Wirt purchased the building at 503 S. Main St. in 2014 with her husband. The upper level is home to her interior design studio, and the lower level is an art gallery showcasing 11 local artists.
Wirt says she has always loved bringing original art to her clients, and having a gallery to show it off has long been a goal.
When she first started n.wirt design in 2006, she worked out of a little studio next to her house, which her family nicknamed The Cottage. After seven years, when she found herself using the garage for overflow storage and inviting suppliers to her home for meetings, she decided the business had outgrown The Cottage and needed its own space.
In 2013, she and her husband started looking for office space downtown, and actually ruled out the building at 503 S. Main Street because they didn’t want to take that big of a step yet. Instead, they decided to rent a storefront in the 200 block of Main Street, which n.wirt design shared with Elk River Upcycle for a year.
“I loved the neighborhood feel,” she says. “The other merchants were so kind when we were moving in.”
That year, Wirt was able to start mixing in art from two or three artists among the Elk River merchandise to prepare for having her own gallery space.
Now, in the larger gallery at 503 S. Main St., she is able to carry art from many more artists, participate in Artwalk and hold opening receptions for new collections. This year, the gallery hosted its first solo show for artist A.R. Drew.
Wirt says she enjoys partnering with local artists both because she wants to support local talent and because it’s a priority for her clients.
“I get the question a lot, ‘Is this a local artist?’” she says. “There’s a lot of talent in the area, and giving them the opportunity to showcase their work has been great.”
When interior design clients visit the gallery and see a piece of art they want to buy, Wirt’s team brings the piece out to their home or business to see how it works in the space and to see if they still love it as much as they did in the gallery.
Even if you haven’t stopped by the studio, you’ve probably seen Wirt’s work in downtown Elkhart at 523 Tap & Grill. She designed the restaurant’s interior when Tony and George Anagnos renovated the building in 2008.
She has also worked on the Visitors Cottage at Wellfield Botanic Gardens, one of the downtown apartments, Spectrum Eyewear Gallery on S.R. 17 and Comprehensive Dental on Bristol Street—both the original design and a more recent refresh.
Wirt says that the downtown area was “pretty bleak” when she first moved to Elkhart, with not a lot going on aesthetically. Coming from Benicia, California, which Wirt describes as a small town with a vibrant downtown community, it was a bit of a shock.
She has been encouraged by how far Elkhart’s downtown has come in the last five years, with the Riverwalk, better streetscaping, The Lerner and NIBCO Water and Ice Park. Plus, she says, there’s just more going on downtown now. On August 27, the night of Taste of the Gardens, she loved seeing downtown packed with people enjoying the festival as well as live music at Arts on Main and other downtown venues.
Meanwhile, Wirt is happy living her own dream, bringing her dog Odie to the office every day where she does the work that she loves surrounded by beautiful art.
Mike and Eileen Lindburg knew they wanted their 1939 Harter Heights home to be more open, more filled with natural light and more spacious. They hired Architect Bill Jackson and Martin Brothers Contracting to build a 1,500 square-foot addition that would do just that.
“It was a 1940s home designed for 1940s living,” according to Mike. “And we discovered that South Bend was a bit cloudier than we remembered.”
Mike and Eileen moved to South Bend from Albany, New York, with the ultimate goal of retiring here. They wanted to live within walking distance of the University of Notre Dame and in 2007, bought a home in the historic neighborhood just south of the university. He’s an ND grad and she graduated from Saint Mary’s College. Both sold their respective businesses, but Mike ended up here first, attending the Master’s Program at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. Eileen joined him in 2013 after selling her commercial real estate business. They have a daughter (ND Class of 2006) who lives in Brooklyn Heights, New York with her husband and daughter, and a son who attends Princeton University.
Jackson started to work designing an addition to the two-story home that represents the Streamline Moderne architectural style (a stripped-down style that followed Art Deco) and reflects industrial trends, including long horizontal lines, curving forms and technology. The addition incorporates some elements of Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes with horizontal windows, a move to bring nature indoors, and long, open living spaces. Jackson faced the challenge of breaking up the home’s symmetry with such a large addition. The Lindburgs ended up buying the house next door and tearing it down—the result being a brand-new space with lots of glass, clerestory windows, overhangs to allow as much light as possible, and recessed patio doors on both sides of the new living area to blur the separation between inside and outside.
Construction began in October of 2013 and the home was completed in June of 2014. At one point in the process, a basement was dug and a steel frame was constructed that was not attached to the original home. “It kind of looked like a Jiffy Lube if you squinted your eyes,” Jackson says, noting that the unusual sight got a lot of attention from the neighbors. The homeowners and architect credit Martin Brothers with doing a very good job executing the design and the vision. Jeff Martin, owner of Martin Brothers, says it was a difficult but extremely rewarding process. “As with any remodel, we needed to make sure everything flowed well from a structural and aesthetic standpoint,” he adds. “Our goal is to look like the addition has always been there.” The original brick, which is the same color as the brick at ND (a beige, taupe mix) had to match the addition. Martin said Rose Brick brought in about six different colors for them to inspect and match despite the fact that the exact color of brick is not available anymore. As anyone who has undergone a major home construction project knows, it is not easy to live in the midst of organized chaos. “We had to cook on a hot plate in the living room and occasionally had no water on the first floor,” says Eileen. It was disruptive enough that at one point Jackson put them up in a condominium he owned.
A Few Details
The finished product is sleek yet comfortable, light and airy but also private, and full of customized, personal touches that make the addition so perfect for this transplanted family. While all the glass in the addition precludes a lot of art on the walls, a small darker gray-colored wall across from the kitchen accentuates a bright yellow painting by Peruvian artist Francesco Grippa. Mike and Eileen met him while on a boat trip down the Amazon River. Mike climbed into his Weasley-type Harry Potter-ish home and purchased two canvases, rolled them up and climbed back on the boat. The kitchen is one of those that screams “entertain, entertain!” A large island has a soapstone countertop and granite perimeter as well as a stovetop with six burners and lots of storage underneath (now used for family photo albums). The other countertops are stainless steel for heavy-duty food prep. A glass shelving unit in the kitchen was designed to open up the area between the kitchen and the hallway and incorporate some design trends of the Streamline Moderne style. The kitchen floor is Marmoleum, a product used often in commercial buildings, that is soft yet very durable. The Ayr Custom Cabinetry includes perimeter maple cabinets while the island is a stained cherry. Both the island and perimeter are inset in style. The limestone fireplace in the main room was custom made in Chicago to match a French 1930s Streamline Moderne design. Eileen said she picked a flat finish for the Hickory floors in the main room, but when the look wasn’t exactly what she had in mind, a more satin-y finish was applied. Her previous larger, more traditional home in New York had cherry floors, but she wanted this home to be different in style and décor. The light shelves constructed in the main room allow the natural light to bounce off the shelves up to the ceiling, which is a nod to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian homes. Other features of the addition: an office for Eileen, a large pantry and laundry room with lots of storage and a backup refrigerator. “We kept having them build more storage,” says Eileen.
The End Result
While the Lindburgs have a few more features in mind for the home, including a pergola on one of the patios, it “feels” the way they intended it to feel. “We had the best Christmas of our lives here,” says Eileen. “Everyone was so happy.”
The kitchen is the heart of the home. Make it welcome and hospitable with these simple decorating tips.