Thursday, 17 November 2016 12:38

Tanglefoot artists celebrate 25 Years of the Open Studio Event

Written by  Justine Burdette
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The artists of the Tanglefoot Building in Grand Rapids aim to keep a tradition of 25 years going this month.

For the past quarter century, the first of its kind studio in Grand Rapids has hosted the Open Studio event on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The event has gone beyond an exhibition and sale, as the public is invited to observe and interact with artists in their unique studio spaces. 

The goal of this intimate experience: To foster dialogue between artist and viewer, break down preconceived notions, exchange ideas, and ultimately create a deeper appreciation of art and its creators. It’s also a way to increase the impact art can have in your life and your space. 

“Each artist’s little studio is their own sacred space,” artist Jeff Condon says. “Creating artwork is a beautiful process and you put a lot of life and yourself into the work.”

Throughout the 25 years of the Open Studio Event’s history, many artists have come and gone, but a core group of them remains. Elaine Dalcher was the very first artist to set up her studio inside Tanglefoot and still creates there today. An artist since she could remember, her primary vocation for many years was as a public school teacher. After completing her MFA in 1988, Dalcher cut her classroom time in half and spent the rest of her days in her studio, working mostly in colorful landscapes and still lifes.

“I was with another studio partner and we were right across from the art museum in a beautiful building looking out to the west and it got taken over by office buildings,” Dalcher says. “And then we found this place (the Tanglefoot Building).”

Tanglefoot Artists’ Open Studio Event: Celebrating 25 Years of Creativity & Community
Friday, Nov. 18 (5-9 p.m.) and Sunday, Nov. 20 (12-5 p.m.)
Tanglefoot Building, 314 Straight St. SW, Grand Rapids
(See Door K or Door M for Handicap Access)

The Tanglefoot Building Artists (the group’s formal name) occupies the 20th century brick building at 314 Straight Ave. SW, which originally was the main manufacturing facility for Tanglefoot Products, a maker of sticky fly paper. The building was mostly empty and abandoned by the late 1980s, until owner Joe Skendzel purchased it and rented out vacant space to artists.

Michael Pfleghaar, a painter and digital artist, moved in about six months after Dalcher and continues to produce and exhibit out of his upper floor studio. It was through Pfleghaar that Condon first heard about the Tanglefoot Building almost 20 years ago. Describing himself as a “colorist with a focus on pattern and texture,” Condon works primarily in pastels and oil, drawing mostly from memory. 

Likewise, Alynn Guerra, a printmaker, was interviewed by Dalcher and Pfleghaar (and Tommy Allen, another artist still working in the building). Guerra operates her business, Red Hydrant Press, out of a second-floor space. 



Similar to SiTE:LAB, which provides a unique setting for exhibitions of site-specific installations, the Tanglefoot Building itself and the artists who create there influence and support one another. 

“For me, having a space away from my home is really important,” Condon says. “To go somewhere and make work and knowing there are other artists here is a good thing.” 

Dalcher agrees. 

“I do not see Alynn or Jeff very often, but I see their cars in the parking lot, and there is something for me that I feel in my heart; I feel not alone,” she says.  

For her part, Guerra calls Tanglefoot her “second home.” 

“Sometimes I spend more time here than I do at home,” she said. “I could not work anywhere else.”

While Guerra says she can spend hours swiping through photos on artists’ Flickr and Instagram streams, the experience of actually visiting a studio in person offers a much more real exposure to their work. 

“Going into an artist’s studio is like going inside their brain,” she says. “You can understand their personality and their work.” 



The artists say Tanglefoot’s Open Studio night — an “In Real Life” connection to a piece of art and the person who made it — offers a stark contrast to the modern world of shopping from home, ordering items on Amazon and then having them delivered 24 hours later. 

“It’s the experience, not just the art you are buying,” Guerra says. “It is the meeting of the artists and other people who like the same thing you do.”

“Every year, the community becomes invested in this,” Dalcher says. “We could not have continued to do this if we didn’t have the response and success we have had. There is this energy in this building, way beyond what we create.” 

When asked what the future holds for the Open Studio event, Dalcher hedges her answer a bit.

“It all depends on if we can stay here,” she says. “I mean, my guess is that as long as there are artists in this building, we will continue this event on one level or another.” 

Given the rapid change in the neighborhood surrounding the Tanglefoot Building and its uncertain future, Guerra hopes the “landmark” studio and its signature event will persevere for years to come. 

“(The event) brings a lot of people here that would not otherwise venture to the west side,” she said. “We could show them that this is not a bad neighborhood. Sometimes, there is an idea about a place, and I think we have changed that idea.” 

Dalcher says her colleagues’ commitment to Tanglefoot Building Artists’ mission remains. 

“We can continue to offer a sustaining culture hub if given the chance,” she says.


A look at Tanglefoot Building Artists 

For the last 25 years, artists have occupied parts of the Tanglefoot Building on Grand Rapids’ southwest side. Here are the artists who currently call the old manufacturing space home: 

Carlos Aceves | Sculptor

Tommy Allen | Multimedia artist

Jeff Condon | Colorist, focusing on pattern and texture in landscapes

Elaine Dalcher | Painter, focusing on landscapes and still lifes

Gretchen Deems | Mixed media artist

Alynn Guerra | Printmaker

Cathy Marashi | Fine artist working in painting and sculpture

Michael Pfleghaar | Painter and digital artist

Jason Villareal | Abstract painter

Nikki Wall | Sculptor and painter


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