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ArtsCenter provides creative venue for local artisans

Published 5/2/2012

Mathews creates pieces for display in local art gallery.


Artists need a community and cooperation to remain active.

For local and regional artists, the ArtsCenter on Main, 318 N. Main St., provides a venue to display their art while providing a central meeting location for those interested in the arts.

Walking around the gallery, one local artist's work you can see is Jim Mathews, a Garden City resident and staple of the art community.

Mathews always was interested in art. He remembered trying to draw when he was 5 years old and not being very good at it.

That was 86 years ago.

Mathews used to work as a librarian at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. While there, he participated in various local art shows, displaying his works of silk screening, printing and wood cutting.

"None of it has ever made me rich," Mathews said. "But it was fun."

He was first introduced to the ArtsCenter by members of the Southwest Arts and Humanities Council, which later changed its name to Garden City Arts. The nonprofit group is responsible for the operations of the ArtsCenter. Mathews said that while he doesn't sell a lot of pieces at the ArtsCenter, he appreciates the work they do for local artists.

One helpful thing about the ArtsCenter is its ability to draw in artists locally and from across the region. He said that by having local work on display, other aspiring artists can gain the confidence to come forward and display work of their own. He added that the prospect of some financial incentive can help artists who for the most part work at other jobs, giving them another reason to continue their work.

Through his years of having pieces at the ArtsCenter, Mathews said that the gallery has been a central part of a vibrant art community in Garden City.

"The ArtsCenter has always been good to me," Mathews said. "I'd hate to see it ever close."

Mathews' home on the east side of Garden City is adorned with paintings on the wall and pieces of his pottery, a craft he picked up so long ago he can't remember how long he's been doing it. His garage has a small workshop filled with clay and other art supplies. He purchased a small kiln about eight years ago so he could fire his own pieces. Throughout the years, Mathews said, he has made hundreds of pottery pieces alone.

To give some context about how many pieces of pottery Mathews has created, he said he donated 130 pieces to a single fundraiser event. He said he creates so much with the medium because it is so adaptable to what you want to create. His favorite part of the process is molding the piece itself.

"That's what I like," Mathews said. "I like to pull the clay together to represent something."

Mathews moved to Garden City with his wife in 1987. He had planned to settle down in Manhattan as a reference librarian at Kansas State University, but stayed in Garden City following his wife's death from Alzheimer's in January 1998.

About three years ago, he was diagnosed with a cancer on and around his ear. He began chemotherapy last September that has caused him to be less active at his kiln. To make it easier to work, he created a makeshift workshop on top of his washer and dryer.

"That stuff knocks you pretty fast," Mathews said, referring to the chemotherapy.

Despite his lack of energy, he still plans to participate in the annual Art in the Park festival in September.

With more than eight decades of working with art, Mathews offered some advice to fledging artists.

"You're not going to have all success at first," Mathews said. "But hang in there and practice, practice, practice."

As part of that practice, Mathews has taken several art classes at Garden City Community College. His pottery classes were taught by Brian McCallum, 3D art instructor and director of the Mercer Art Gallery. McCallum, who also has pieces for sale at the ArtsCenter, said Mathews is a noteworthy and recognizable face to the local art community.

A community college offers a place for people to improve their professional and personal lives, McCallum said. He said a person like Mathews helps to illustrate how a nontraditional student still can make a powerful change in the community. McCallum described him as an ambassador of the art department and the greater art community.

"It's been a joy working with him," McCallum said. "Jim has been a wonderful inspiration."

McCallum said that when people are given a choice between two places to live with work opportunities, they will take the place with the best culture and possibilities for fulfillment. Having a facility like the ArtsCenter helps to make Garden City a center for culture in southwest Kansas, and McCallum said that it was absolutely essential to the community.

As many artists in the community are not professional, McCallum echoed Mathews' sentiments that the ArtsCenter provides a financial incentive along with a venue for getting their name out to local art customers.

Everyone participates in art, McCallum said, though most may not be aware of it. He said that people who decorate their homes or their bodies with tattoos or jewelry are all expressing art, just in fundamental ways that they don't consider. He said that for a community like Garden City, maintaining art venues like the ArtsCenter and the Mercer Art Gallery keep the community alive.

"In a place like this that celebrates diversity ... having something that's culturally significant and interesting is like oxygen for the people," McCallum said.

For more information on the ArtsCenter on Main, call 260-9700. For more information on the Mercer Art Gallery, call 276-9644.

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