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Igniting art: A garage morphs into a gallery
During the past two Friday night gallery cruises, art lovers have beaten a path to a new destination in the heart of Vashon — a multi-use venue that combines artist studios, classroom space and a small, well-appointed gallery.
The new space, Ignition Studios, has been an instant hit on Vashon, drawing hundreds to opening receptions that offer a chance to ogle artwork and stand around two outdoor fire pits to schmooze with friends and neighbors. Kids have been treated to s’mores, and Zamorana’s taco truck has parked on the premises to provide adults with south-of-the-border treats.
Best of all, it seems, Ignition Studios is located in a repurposed, historic place — a garage and shop tucked just behind and to the north of Movie Magic. The space, built in 1946, was once part of a downtown automotive complex owned and operated by the Brennos, a longtime Island family. The large garage most recently housed a boat repair shop and, before that, Brian Brenno’s glass-blowing studio. But in its new incarnation, the place presents itself as an all-purpose arts center, with huge garage doors, ample square footage, concrete floors, high ceilings and rustic retro charm.
It took an Island newcomer, Lisa Hurst, to recognize the potential and pony up the cash to invest in renovating the garage.
“For years, I’ve wanted to have my own gallery,” Hurst said. “This is the first time I’ve had the location, the funds and the time for it to come together in a place that wants art to happen.”
For Hurst, a six-foot, one-inch woman with a mane of copper-colored hair, Ignition is not only a business venture but, as the name might suggest, a fiery passion.
Hurst, 45, recently returned to Vashon — a place she had lived for one year, 20 years ago — after a time of transition and upheaval in her personal life. She’d lived in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood since 2009 and before that, for more than a decade in Virginia.
Hurst is thrilled to be back on Vashon, this time sharing a rental home with her 7-year-old son.
“It was the best place I’ve lived,” she said. “For 20 years, I’ve had memories of the eagles, the otter out in front of my house, the pace, the life, the peacefulness. I visited here in 2009 and fell in love with it all over again. I’ve come full circle.”
A college English teacher since the age of 26, Hurst has also been a decades-long student of fine art, taking advantage of free access to college-level art classes wherever she taught. Now, with the opening of Ignition, she has a place to make and display her own abstract encaustic paintings and other artwork.
What makes Ignition a viable space, Hurst said, is a business plan that allows her to split the costs of the space with other artists.
“Having shared workshop space allows this gallery to happen,” she said. “Vashon is such an artistic community, so the trick is to be able to share that with other people.”
She also plans to offer a full roster of affordable art classes, staring in May with a portrait workshop by Seattle painter Ryan Finnerty, who will also have a gallery show that month.
Hurst said that she had no trouble finding Islanders to share her vision for the building, which she rents from the Brenno family.
“From the time I opened the doors and put up little paper signs on the window saying I was looking for artists, I was flooded by people with ideas,” she said. “People need messy space, and that’s what we have.”
Ignition’s current artist tenants — each of whom have or share bays in the converted garage — include tile and stone artist David Blad, metal worker Julie Berger, woodcarver Theresa Henson, painter Karen Hersh and JK Designs, a fiber and mosaic business owned by Jackie Merrill and Kim Cantrell.
Another anchor tenant is Mathilde Oldham, who along with Julie Olstad Gunwald operates Vashon Vintage, a business that sells repainted and refinished home furnishings.
Oldham said she loves being a part of the new venture — a place she uses as both a shop and showroom.
“I like it because of the social aspect and diversity of being in a multi-use space,” Oldham said. “Being with other people, you get inspired.”
For other Islanders, Ignition has also sparked inspiration and new ideas.
Mik Kuhlman, a performing artist and teacher who is a founding member of UMO Ensemble, visited the space for the first time during March’s gallery cruise and immediately decided she wanted to hold her 50th birthday party in the gallery’s outdoor space.
Kuhlman had already conceived the party as a free-for-all performance fest featuring a host of her theatrical friends on Vashon, but she didn’t know exactly where to hold it.
Ignition Studios, with its glowing fire pits, outdoor space and curious crowds, she said, was perfect.
“I’m really grateful to Lisa for being open to the idea of making a gift of art to the community,” Kuhlman said. “Art can also be an experience; it’s not just something you purchase to put on your walls.”
Kuhlman’s performance party will take place during April’s gallery cruise, sharing Ignition’s bill with a gallery show of art by Randy Kirk, who creates large-scale metal works.
For Hurst, the community’s embrace of the space is heartening, and this time around, she hopes she’s here to stay on Vashon.
“I really want this to be what I do,” Hurst said. “I could be doing this as an 80-year-old lady.”