By Molly Walsh
Nestled between the streetlights and tree lines of Olympia’s downtown, an innovative creative space is working to support and uplift local artists. Like a lantern illuminating a shaded walkway, the Olympia Lamplighters invites both visual and performing artists to compose, create and collaborate under one roof.
Beyond the picture windows, the Lamplighters host an expansive space, with ceilings towering far overhead, and the completed works from local artists lining walls and windowsills. A mix and match of tables reflect the comforts of spaces that creatives often flock to, like a writer at a coffee shop, or a sculptor in a clay studio.
The Lamplighters first opened up shop in late 2019, as a collaboration between four local artists and entrepreneurs Avalon Kragness, Chad Holland, Tiger Hurd and Iri Alexander. As creatives, the founders of the Lamplighters noticed an absence of community spaces where artists could create and collaborate under one roof. Kragness said the idea for the Lamplighters stems from the founders’ own history as artists, finding that spaces like coffee shops were too overcrowded, and private studios were financially out of reach.
Creating a bridge between art and entrepreneurship, the Lamplighters provide a dedicated community workspace where artists can create art, meet fellow artists and display their work. The Lamplighters can also help local creatives to enhance their artistic business through website support, or the design of marketing materials.
Opening their doors with an extensive menu of services, the Lamplighters faced a rocky course through their first year in business. Within months of opening day, the Lamplighters faced both a burglary and a fire in a neighboring building that temporarily damaged a portion of their workspace. And like many local businesses, the Lamplighters faced uncertainty at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite early setbacks, though, the Lamplighters have maintained a list of both virtual and socially distanced in-person services that can help artists to practice and grow in their craft.
“It’s been a rough ride so far, but we’re managing to hang in there,” says Kragness.
The Lamplighters have put forth a multi-dimensional creative community that allows space for both visual and performing artists. Housed within the studio is a four-foot by four-foot vocal recording booth, where both musicians and voice actors can capture audio recordings. For writers and visual artists, Kragness said the creative space is available for any type of art that can be completed at a table. And in this space, artists are not bound by one particular medium. At one table, a writer can be composing a novel’s manuscript, while at another table, a painter is completing a watercolor piece.
“We do have a member currently that does puppet work,” said Kragness. “And it’s really big props and puppets that they make and create while here. We have another member that does stained art glass. And we have another one who is a seamstress. So, they make (and) tailor clothing.”
The Lamplighters also work with artists to develop or enhance their artistic business. The gallery space offers an opportunity for artists to display and sell their work. In addition, the founders provide a range of services that can help artists kickstart their business, from support with writing a business plan, to help with setting up a website. The Lamplighters work with a wide range of visual artists and, including Tobias Gurl.
Gurl initially learned about the Lamplighters after meeting co-founder Avalon Kragness at a live action roleplaying event on The Evergreen State College campus. After moving to Seattle, Gurl continued to keep in touch with Kragness, and expressed interest in working with the Lamplighters to help promote his art business.
“When I heard about Lamplighters last autumn, I asked if (Kragness) would be interested in selling my art,” said Gurl. “I wanted to make money and get my name out there, but more than anything, I wanted to help a friend who’d been hit with some impossible to predict bad luck through no fault of her own.”
The Lamplighters gallery space currently carries several original pieces from Gurl’s zodiac art series, in addition to stickers, greeting cards and prints.
Gurl’s first foray into mixed media art was in 2014, while he attended an LGBT youth art festival. At this festival, Gurl first experimented with his now signature style that combines themes of nature, mythology and wildlife, outlined with metallic ink. In 2017, Gurl formally launched his art business and has since participated in a wide range of gallery shows, conventions and festivals throughout the United States.
“I sketch out my subject using pencil, then trace the outline in metallic ink,” said Gurl. “After that I add my signature ‘bubble’ pattern, which is based on a fractal called an Apollonian gasket. My last step is touching up the piece with a black ink outline, similar to what you see in comic books. Depending on the size and complexity of the piece, the process can take between one and ten hours. I love my style because the repetition feels meditative and disappearing into one of my physical pieces is one of the few times I feel truly relaxed.”
Recently, Gurl has also hosted a number of virtual art classes through the Lamplighters. Drawing from his experience as a high school teacher, Gurl led the class through a tutorial on his signature art style, from initial photo reference to a finished greeting card. As Gurl continues to display his artwork in the Lamplighters gallery, Gurl has potential plans to turn his classes into an ongoing series.
“Olympia has the colorful art scene it does because the city and its residents have prioritized incubation opportunities for new talent,” said Gurl. “Now more than ever the arts community needs our support to keep going and keep our spirits up.”
Due to social distancing regulations, the Lamplighters has been forced to modify many of their community classes and events. Currently, there are a range of virtual and socially distanced courses that are led by local artists and musicians like Gurl. Every third Tuesday, those interested in fiber arts can join the online “Darn It all and Stitch” group to create and converse with fellow creatives. Music enthusiasts can get an introduction to synths and electronic music through “Synth Saturdays,” instructed by Joey Brown.
As social distancing guidelines have continued to lift, the Lamplighters are beginning to re-introduce more in person courses. This includes live figure drawing and weekly themed free nights.
As many local artists, residents and businesses begin to imagine a post-pandemic future, the Lamplighters are also looking ahead to future projects, and possible grants that could enable the Lamplighters to incorporate additional equipment and facilities, including a dark room for film photography. When large crowds are able to gather again, the Lamplighters are looking forward to hosting long-postponed events, including their all-ages LGBTQ+ dances on Friday nights and a blues fusion dance class. The Lamplighters are also exploring plans to host drag classes and shows for the LGBTQ+ community.
“There is a lot to look forward to going in the future once things are able to open back up,” said Kragness.
Olympia Lamplighters collaborative space
10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Tues – Sun
The White Building, 211 Fourth Ave E, Olympia