cjonline.com features Cider Gallery

More than the art: Cider Gallery in East Lawrence acts a community center, heart of warehouse district

by Savanna Maue

Tucked in the heart of the Lawrence Warehouse Arts District, the Cider Gallery is coming up on its five-year anniversary.

Along the brick-cobbled Pennsylvania Street, between Bon Bon, an eclectic eatery of foods from around the world, and the newly opened Lawrence Beer Company, the gallery is part of the foundation of ongoing arts development.

“There were already a lot of artists working on the east side, they were working in co-op studios or home studios and they didn’t want them (the developers) to come in and run the artists away,” said Jennifer Letner, the director of the gallery. “This is the best thing the east side has going for it, it has the art district name but it can’t just be a name, you have to be true to it. So they made sure they left in the artist studios, added more artists studios and added the art gallery.”

Led by developer Tony Krsnich, Letner said he and his partners bought the block and began remodeling the historic buildings into apartments and offices. Originally the location of the Cider Gallery was slated to be more offices, but as Letner recalls — after input from George Paley, a visionary behind the Warehouse Arts District, Krsnich created the 5,000-square-foot gallery — named for the building’s previous life as a cider distillery.

The event space now hosts about 130 events a year, ranging from dance recitals to wedding events to a meeting place for latest “Supernatural” premiere.

“We do a lot of local art auction fundraisers for nonprofits in town, music/concert fundraisers for places in town, it’s been the main way for people who aren’t going to just happen upon us because they’re invited to a wedding to find us,” Letner said.

But the primary purpose of the gallery is to focus local Lawrence artists. Events are filled in around Final Fridays in Lawrence, a late-night tradition in which businesses around Lawrence — and the arts district — stay open late and offer their specials.

Cider Gallery changes exhibits based on these events, the next on Oct. 27, which will feature the work of John Gary Brown.

Brown keeps a studio in Lawrence and balances his time between here and Colorado, in addition to his travels. He describes his work as “non-objective,” and “organized around a horizon line.” They’re intended to be seen as landscapes, inspired by his home state of Kansas, the Puget Sound along the northwest coast, Europe, and across the world.

“Lately I have begun to look inward, toward a landscape of dreams and meditation,” Brown said via email. “Whatever the point of departure, the landscape for me is part of that unhurried, inexorable natural process that deserves respect and emulation.”

Jeromy Morris, the curator for the museum, has been working with local artists in the gallery for about four years to bring varied, professional pieces to the gallery that will attract a variety of people.

“I try and encourage and promote local artists while occasionally exposing viewers to artists outside of the Lawrence bubble, when funding allows,” Morris said. “There’s a selfish element when selecting artists. I select artists that I like, as humans, and respect their approach to their work. I tend to gravitate to artists that are taking risks and exhibit interesting studio habits. It’s exciting to me when I’m left questioning the process or how a certain piece was created.”

A draw to the gallery, Morris explained, is the versatility of the space. There’s a variation of brick, stone, and white walls to showcase the pieces, which Morris said elevates the artwork.

“There’s always an element of surprise when artists and patrons see the work. I hope artists and patrons see the nuances and attention to detail each show exhibits,” he said.

Morris also works with fellow artists when curating shows, which is the case for Brown’s at the end of the month. Kyla Strid, a local ceramicist, worked with the gallery for its latest exhibit.

The gallery is open 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, with extended hours for special events. Visit cidergallery.com.