Almost one year ago, artists Jeffrey Loyd and Christina Deubel rolled their sleeves up to renovate the building that has become the Perry District’s newest art gallery, Tsuga Northwest Arts. Last May, the co-owners knew that transforming the space would be hard. They just didn’t expect the job to stink so bad.
The gray cement structure had housed a dog-grooming business. Ripping up floors and tearing down walls uncovered the smell of decayed pet urine as soon as renovations began.
“Oh my, the smell when we opened the place up was overpowering,” Deubel said. “People along Perry were like, ‘What are you doing?’ You could smell the ammonia in the air for blocks.”
Deubel, Loyd, and Tsuga’s third staff member – resident artist Denny Carman – managed to open the gallery in time for the annual South Perry Street Fair last July. The first interactive art activity Tsuga offered was a chance for kids at the fair to drop by and help paint a mural of local businesses.
Children helped create a paint-by-numbers project that included Perry Street Brewing Co., Lorien Herbs and Natural Foods, Windfall Thrift Store, South Perry Pizza, the Shop, the Lantern Taphouse, Casper Frye and South Perry Yoga at the Buddhio. Nestled right next door to the bright yellow vintage shop Him and Her is the image of Tsuga, with its new front wall of windows.
That was just the first of many hands-on arts activities that Tsuga organizers have done and plan to do in the future. The studio has also offered community workshops to help kids make their own Valentine’s cards and to decorate their own birdhouses.
“We’ve had a blacksmith in our yard teaching demonstrations and make-your-own kissing balls (living mistletoe-like arrangements) for Christmas,” Deubel said. “We’ve flown through 60 projects in a day.”
The front room of Tsuga’s shop is dedicated to showing the crafts and paintings of up to 30 artists from the Northwest region. The back room is set up as a classroom where after-school art classes are scheduled to launch in the next few weeks. There are various studio spaces for rent sprinkled throughout two structures on the property.
The gallery has also started a new “In the Spotlight” series to feature an emerging artist the last Saturday of every month. Eventually, it will hold special “date night” events when parents can drop kids off for a two-hour activity in Tsuga’s classroom while they grab a bite at a local restaurant or shop on Perry.
Deubel, who grew up on a cattle ranch north of Spokane, paints mostly expressionist landscapes and wildlife in her studio space at Tsuga. She was the one to come up with the name Tsuga, the scientific name for the Western hemlock tree, known for its tough adaptability.
Deubel now lives in Mead. She had never been to the Perry District before scouting the location last year.
“When I came to see the property, it had just snowed, and people were snowshoeing in the streets,” Deubel said. “I could see it was the coolest neighborhood.”
Her business partner Loyd is a painter and ceramic artist who owns an asbestos abatement company. He had a studio downtown until recently, but his interest in the Perry Street neighborhood grew over the years.
“It’s just such a great neighborhood where you can walk to everything,” Loyd said. “I hope to retire in a few years and just work here.”
For now, Loyd spends the time he can find to make art in Tsuga’s basement studio. He has big plans for the yard and paved areas on his new Perry Street lot. “Hopefully in a few years, this entire thing will turn into a nice big courtyard so in the summer we will have art out there,” Loyd said, gesturing to the empty driveway. “The backyard area could have some outside kiln stuff and some backsmithing stuff going on.”
Tsuga resident artist Carman is a tireless advocate in the gallery’s quest to connect the community through art. Carman credits painting and other artists for giving him a new lease on life after an accident ended his 27-year career as a plumber in 2006. Depressed and in pain, Carman picked up a paintbrush and found his passion.
Deubel met Carman through the art scene and encouraged him to put on his first art show six years ago at the Liberty Building where she was curator. When Deubel and Loyd began to formulate their vision for Tsuga, they knew they wanted Carman on board. “He has great ideas and he always follows through on what he says he will do,” Deubel said.
Carman’s energy has led him to become an art curator himself, at one point booking seven different venues a month, mostly in the Garland District. He is so enthusiastic about getting artists seen that he will push them to show their works on the street if they have to. He is currently resource manager at Art Chowder Magazine, and his advocacy for the arts community recently earned him a position as a Commissioner on the Spokane Arts Commission.
Carman’s artistic passions include helping charitable organizations connect with artists interested in donating their time and works, especially to children’s causes. Last month Carman organized a drive for local artists to donate painted sneakers to earn money for Teen Closet. He helped arrange for artists to donate decorated birdhouses to benefit the Grant Park Community Garden. He has connected artists with the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and was asked by Embrace Washington to find a Spokane artist to spend a couple of hours painting duffel bags at the North Library for foster kids. He is co-founder of Child Humanitarian Arts, an art show launched last year to benefit Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery.
His motivation is simple and has become a catchphrase that he adds to most of his Facebook posts promoting Tsuga and his other events: “I love what I do.”
It’s also what a lot of artists say at Tsuga.
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