Boldly outlined portraits neighbor overlapped, abstract circles. Churches and zebras and records all rest under the same roof. If you know your art galleries, you know how this feels— there’s a medley of creative thought and individual stories on each wall. You can move from color to color, style to style, all on just one white wall. Maybe you can even get a glimpse of the artist behind the brushstrokes.
The Studio Store, Studio by the Tracks’ new retail space in Rosedale in Homewood, has this same gallery atmosphere—with even more individuality. The pieces are divided by name, keeping each artist’s work and personality all together. You can tell which artists are inspired by nature or music or Star Wars, and you can find the portraitists and the minimalists. Not only do these artists share their different artistic approaches in the gallery, but they also show the wide range of thought and expression within the autism spectrum. “They help me understand that everyone sees the world very differently,” art director Katie Thompson says.
Since its beginning in 1989, Studio by the Tracks has sought to provide artists on the autism spectrum with the means to keep creating. Katie explains that they’re not teaching students but allowing artists to perfect their style and have a space to display and sell their work. “They might not be decided in what they’re doing, but some artists come in with a sketchbook already,” she says.
Now that Studio by the Tracks opened this space in September, they’ve melded retail with their mission to honor each and every artist. “The positive thing about this space is that our artwork is accessible year-round,” Katie says. “You can ask about each artist and learn more about our mission. You have time to flip through the prints.”
Their new Homewood addition is tucked away right off of Central Avenue, in what used to be local artists Becky Stayner (creator of Biscuit Leather Company) and Paul Ware’s studio. After expanding to next door, they decided to keep part of their old studio for retail, leaving two rooms open in the back. Here, behind the left blue door in their building, was the cozy space that could welcome Studio by the Tracks. They’ve now filled the rooms floor to ceiling, right behind Becky’s leather goods and Paul’s paintings, with art, prints, T-shirts, candles and other handmade products.
Back at their Irondale studio, some Studio on the Tracks artists have been working with them for over 25 years. Some stick with their same aesthetic while others explore new mediums to find what they best connect with. “It’s less of an art class and more of an open studio. Everyone works on individual projects,” Katie says. Artists come in with their creativity flowing, and Studio by the Tracks gives a little assistance to put that idea on paper, canvas, or clay.
Katie, an artist, illustrator and graphic designer herself, says that her three years with Studio by the Tracks has changed her view of creating. “These artists are all very different from each other, and a lot of them have no real concern for the final product,” she says. “For them, it becomes the act of making, less about if anyone’s going to like it. I take that and constantly refer back to it. What moves me to make art is so different now.” Even so, the resulting artwork displays that passion, and each piece appears personal to the artist who made it.
In addition to their adult program, Studio by the Tracks has studio time for kids, led by Karen Balliet, the children’s director. With different studies and activities inspired by cultures across the globe, kids get to travel the world through their art projects. However, the program isn’t like a regular art class. The children who participate live full time at Glenwood residential treatment center, there temporarily between a history of abuse, mental health disorders, neglect, or some disorder in their homes and the next step, whether that’s returning home or going into a new one. “We see them in their transition,” Katie says.
Over at The Studio store, the artists receive 60 percent of any sale of their artwork, and every year, Studio by the Tracks sells thousands of dollars of art at their holiday open house. And for local art, the prices are reasonable. “We want to sell the artists’ work at a price that serves them, but we also don’t want to price out anyone,” Katie says. “We want people to come in and feel like they can talk about the art, buy it and hang it in their homes.” In their celebration of all types of artists, the Studio Store wants to celebrate every kind of buyer, too.
Now that their new space has made it through the holiday hustle, Katie’s excited to celebrate the studio’s 30th birthday, probably with a bocce ball tournament, and more events like local artist pop-ups and maybe even some yoga and dance classes. But no matter what, they’ll always be creating. “Working creatively everyday in a visual, hands-on way, is such a luxury as an artist,” Katie says.
Visit The Studio Store
2764 BM Montgomery
Fridays 12-7 p.m.
Saturdays 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.