By Jesse Tigges
From the August 6, 2015 edition
Name: Ralph Walters
Age: 44 Occupation: Freelance artist
Hometown: Franklinton, Louisiana
Neighborhood: Northwest side
Affiliation: Artists Wrestling League, Art Party, Art and the Artists of 614 Hero: Frida Kahlo
Twitter: @WRalphWalters Website: wralphwalters.com
Name: Alicia Vanerelli
Occupation: Artist, gallery owner/curator, art facilitator/ educator, caregiver
Hometown: Panama City, Florida Neighborhood: Franklinton
Affiliation: Franklinton Arts District, Artist Wrestling League, Franklinton Fridays
Hero: “Anyone who follows their passion with courage, determination and empathy.”
Name: Walter Herrmann
Age: 39 Occupation: Sculptor, educator, organizer
Hometown: Sharpsville, Pennsylvania
Neighborhood: Franklinton Affiliations: The Art and Artists Of …
Heroes: Barbara Vogel, Dr. Seuss
In the past year, Alicia Vanderelli, Ralph Walters and Walter Herrmann have been integral to the proliferation, development and reputation of the arts scene in Franklinton — a key component to the neighborhood’s revitalization.
While they don’t dismiss roles as leaders, the three also emphasize that none of their individual accomplishments would’ve been possible without the support of each other and, most importantly, the community of artists in Franklinton and all over Columbus.
“For all three of us and everyone focused on this [arts] community … we want to be leaders who show if you embrace everybody there’s nothing that can’t be done,” Vanderelli said.“There’s no way I could have done any of this without support from my peers.”
Walters and Vanderelli have been the backbone behind many of the happenings in Franklinton; Walters as creator and curator (“It’s Saturday Morning Somewhere,” “Fear Hundred” and the maestro of Artists Wrestling League) and Vanderelli as the owner/curator of The Vanderelli Room, the gallery that’s become a hub for the neighborhood through the monthly exhibits that are steadily growing in attendance.
Herrmann has also contributed greatly to the area with community impact projects, founding The Art and Artists Of … network throughout Ohio two years ago — a Facebook group with 7000-plus members in Columbus alone — and acting on multiple commit- tees and boards. He didn’t let this slow down his personal endeavors, as Herrmann also presented an awe-inspiring solo exhibition (“The Hive”) at the Cultural Arts Center.
And they’re not done. Not by a long shot.
Vanderelli and Herrmann are spearheading a “holistic integrated educational program” engaging autism-diagnosed artist Henry Hess with professional artists and his teenage peers which will be presented at Ohio State’s Arts and Autism Conference in August.
Herrmann has become artist-in-residency at the Vanderelli Room, working to build a community art project (including a Franklinton time capsule) outside. Herrmann is also partnering with renowned Los Angeles artist Dan Das Mann for another neighborhood project in 2016.
Walters has a solo exhibit “Heaven and Earth” in September at The Vanderelli Room, and has organized two upcoming Artist Wrestling League events — which recently secured corporate sponsorship from Blick Art Supplies — for Urban Scrawl and Independents’ Day.
All three continue to express the importance of community, which demonstrates the utmost thoughtful leadership.
“I want us to be an example of what you can do when you work together. Community is not a word, it’s an action,” Walters said.
Since opening The Vanderelli Room, Alicia Vanderelli has played host to many compelling exhibitions. It’s been welcome for Franklinton to have a gallery that welcomes all artists, and she curates in a manner that bestows a collection — whether it’s a group or solo show — of utmost quality.
But The Vanderelli Room means more to the artists who’ve found a community within its walls. And it means even more to Vanderelli because of that.
“The Vanderelli Room started as giving yourself 100 percent to the community and not expecting compensation for it, but that [approach] really lends itself to opportunities that do,” Vanderelli said.
While most may think “compensation” is defined monetarily — and Vanderelli says embracing the community can have that effect — there are more important rewards for the artist and curator.
The humble Vanderelli would probably shyly smile and say, “Whatever” to this notion, but she’s earned the complete respect of the artists she exhibits.
The second group show The Vanderelli Room hosted was “Born Into This,” themed around Charles Bukowski — Vanderelli’s favorite author. “That was a perfect show,” fellow People to Watch recipient Ralph Walters said. “Out of any art show I’ve been to, taken part in, or curated, ‘Born into This’ was the most perfect art show. And it was so early in the life of the gallery that it’s a testament to what she can do.”
It was “perfect” because Vanderelli visited all 33 participating artists in their studios to discuss their work, life, artistic practice, Bukowski and anything else.
“Doing that built a respect between me and the artists I visited. I still go on studio visits if somebody sends me images [for an exhibit]. Can I come to the studio? That makes a huge difference in [experiencing] the work,” Vanderelli said.
The Vanderelli Room is almost completely booked with monthly exhibits through 2016, and Vanderelli has again put respect at the center of her efforts in the “holistic integrated educational program.”
She has worked with Henry Hess since December of 2014, and it’s easy to see the progress he’s made as an artist, as well as a young man diagnosed with autism. Vanderelli’s outreach and mentoring efforts didn’t end there; other teenage artists found the gallery’s environment sincerely welcoming and even inspiring.
“What we’re doing with Henry is Walter [Herrmann] and I are refining an approach that’s … basically sparked out of working with Henry as an artist with autism, three days a week,” Vanderelli said. “He’s around plenty of professional artists. But [that can be] boring so I tried to build his peer group …and it’s amazing to see [their] interactions,”
When Vanderelli (and Herrmann) speak about this program at Ohio State’s Arts and Autism Conference Aug. 11, the audience will be listening because Vanderelli always does the same to those she crosses paths with.
Any exhibit, art event or creative effort Ralph Walters executes, it’s going to be amazing — and probably a hell of a lot of fun. Does that make Walters an artistic wunderkind? Possibly, but not if you ask him.
“I’m the biggest fanboy,” said Walters. “First of all it’s been a great way to meet a lot of artists whose work I’ve admired. And every time I do one of these, it’s amazing what people come up with. It’s not just that they are amazing artists or that they’re engaged with the subject matter. It’s because it touches them in some way. It’s that every show there is quite of handful of artists who really push themselves to come up with something unusual. And that’s fantastic! It’s nice being able to be the catalyst for that occasionally.”
Walters has been the architect behind exhibits “Fear Hundred” and “It’s Saturday Morning Somewhere” in the past year. He’s also been one of the the participating artists biggest champions.
That’s probably the reason Walters got a dozen — and the number keeps growing — artists (typically introverts) to don crazy outfits and perform as even crazier personas for the live-painting-meets-professional-wrestling mayhem that is Artists Wrestling League.
“It’s been way more successful than I ever imagined. As I told people, it’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever come up with and it has legs, man. I had no idea,” Walters said.
But Walters isn’t content to let Artists Wrestling League merely be an amusing diversion for the art community. After earning corporate sponsorship from Blick Art Supplies, the wheels in Walters’ idiosyncratic mind began spinning.
Walters plans to enhance the actual live-painting events — next at Urban Scrawl in August and Independence Day in September — but also give back to the artists who participate.
He plans to craft short videos for each artist/wrestler that delve deeper into their practice and showcase their talent which he will post on the popular and growing Artist Wrestling League Facebook page. It’s a way for AWL fans to see the artist behind the mask.
“We can bring in other artists as guests, and have offshoot projects, and still do the dumb comedy thing where we’re just enjoying being ridiculous. But I want people to know who that person actually is, and what they actually do,” Walter said. “That also lets people know the kind of talent we have here. One of my goals for AWL was to make it really benefit the artists who participate.”
Walters plans to use these videos along with previously captured footage, photos and written records to document the growth of Franklinton’s art scene.
Walter Herrmann has a reputation as a respected artist who’s also adept at being a leader for the art community. His pieces are complex — in both execution and meaning — and his role as a facilitator and trailblazer are well-recognized amongst his peers.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Herrmann is taking on a bigger role.
Herrmann was the creator of The Art and Artists Of …, a Facebook group that acts as a resource, sounding board, forum and place for networking that now has chapters in every area code in Ohio — and Alaska (which only has one area code). The group boasts 7,000-plus members in Columbus alone, and Herrmann sees this as potential for more.
“We are going to be switching to an educational format,” Herrmann said. “Everything that’s available and the way it is will stay the same, except for the administrative purposes Where we were organizing group shows and are going to continue that, just not as many. We feel that our energy would be much better spent in educating everybody, because so many do go to that site for information. Every month we want to have an artist that we fell fills a skill set or topic that we’re going to discuss and have as the presenter.”
“The phrase starving artist really bothers me. I’ve never met one in my life. It allows the perpetuation of the ideal that we can’t have wealth and it can’t be attached to what we do. I think a lot of that is made up in our heads and we’ve been put into this stereotype of what an artist is. And we’ve succumb to that. We’ve been raised in this occupation to buy into that. A lot of us, including myself until recently, didn’t know how to establish[being a successful artist]. It’s really just in dialog, self-confidence and portraying excellence. Columbus has an art scene that’s based on excellence. This [development] isn’t happening because we’re mediocre.”
Along with offering education programming — through services online and in Alicia Vanderelli’s mentoring program with Henry Hess and other young artists — Herrmann is engaging the art community with boots on the ground.
The big project Herrmann is in the early stages of is bringing Dan Das Mann — a renowned sculptor in Los Angeles who is best recognized for his massive Burning Man sculptures — to Columbus to create a Funn Mobile.
“They’re sculpted out to be attractive, beautiful and fun. They blow smoke, make noises and have all kinds of do-dads. One is a little box that unfolds to reveal the car. The concept is Das Mann comes here to create one of these vehicles and then presents it to an organization in Franklinton. It would then coincide with Franklinton Fridays and … for the inauguration we’re going to have a parade that will lead you to a party which will be a celebration of all that is Franklinton and hopefully start a tradition,” he said.