The Third Thursday Art Walk has existed in some form or another for several decades now. Some accounts put the beginning back in the 1980s. Through time, it has had its ebbs and flows. It was a big deal just prior to the Great Recession (along with the 100th Monkey Parties). Then came a split. One group wanted to rebrand Third Thursday as the “Art Mingle” while others wanted to keep “Art Walk.” Things were always a bit too spread out to make the Art Walk really walkable. For a time there was an Art Bus that carried passengers to the various stops on the Art Walk. But that enterprise seems to have fizzled (for the time being at least).
For the past year or so, new life is in evidence for the Third Thursday Art Walk. The Tacoma Artists’ Collective has been able to step in and revitalize the event, even adding new stops to the Art Walk map.
Most recently, a new 6th Ave. branch of the Art Walk has been opened up. The first Third Thursday Art Walk on 6th Ave. took place in July. The August edition took place on Aug. 16. I took a screen shot of the Art Walk Map (found on the Facebook page) and used this as my guide to adventure. My mission: to park my truck at the western end of the 6th Ave. stops (near the corner of 6th Ave. and Cedar St.) and to see just how walkable is this new section of the Art Walk. I wanted to find out what the experience is like, to explore the shops, view the art and meet some of the artists and shopkeepers. What follows is an account from my notebooks, which I kept to record this probe into this new and unexplored part of Tacoma’s arts world.
My initial idea is to park the truck at the west end of the Art Walk and make my way east, crossing 6th Ave. as necessary. It is 5:30 p.m. on a Thursday evening, however, and I quickly realize that the traffic is too thick to make crossing back and forth feasible. New plan: visit all of the stops on the south side of 6th Ave., then cross over and make my way back by visiting all of the stops on the north side of the street.
The evening is almost, but not quite, uncomfortably hot – a dry heat, as they say. The first stop on my map is Mary Mart (3002 6th Ave.). This is my first time inside a pot shop. The place feels crisp and clean. Other than a case full of fancy glass bongs, however, I do not see any artwork. My map lists Mary Mart artist as “TBD.” I guess whoever chooses artists never came up with anyone. Stop number one is a bust.
I see that the organizes of the Art Walk have equipped the participating establishments with yellow Art Walk signs that are on the doors or in the windows or on sandwich boards outside. My next stop is Soap and Clay (2712 6th Ave.) and the listed artist is A. G. Johnson Photography. The shop smells good and the people in the shop are busy at work. There is a table with a display of Johnson’s photos, neatly mounted, matted and put in protective plastic. Larger pictures are on the walls. There are nature photos (a vivid hummingbird stands out) and scenes of the two suspension bridges that span the Narrows.
Stop number three is Shakabrah (2618 6th Ave.), the well-established restaurant. The listed artist is Shawn Foote. I enter the nearly deserted restaurant and see some paintings hanging on a wall. I go to look at them, but the flowery, washy images are by a painter named Renee Healy. I try to take one of her cards from small stacks balanced on the molding. The other cards begin to tip and while I am trying to stabilize them, someone speaks. I glance over at a young man seated toward the back. Then the bartender is approaching. “I’m the one talking to you,” he says, somewhat aggressively. He seems suspicious of my making notes in my steno pad. When I say that I’m doing the Art Walk, the staff seems unaware of it. Stop number three is a bust and makes me question whether I want to continue.
My next stop is Tacoma Thrift (2612 6th Ave.). Amid the thrift shop racks of clothing and shelves of used appliances there is a high shelf behind the counter with a display of art by featured artist Becci Harrison. On canvases and on old vinyl record albums, Harrison has done “pour paintings” (in which paint is poured onto the surface and allowed to ooze, swirl and form color cells). Other surfaces are covered with patterns of colorful dots to form mandala designs. From Tacoma Thrift onward, I encounter friendly staff and shop owners that are knowledgeable and personable.
Tacoma Thrift is part of a cluster of three stops that are close together. The Nearsighted Narwhal (2610 6th Ave., #B) and Stargazer Comics (2610 6th Ave., #A) are right next to each other. Pierre Roset is the first artist that I encounter on my walk. He has a well-organized table set up outside Stargazer Comics. He has business cards and a portfolio with original work as well as prints. He has pictures that show his process of making monotype prints with ink on glass. Much of his work is done with this process of pulling ink off of glass and then further developing the image by hand. The images have a haunting, brooding quality. There are gothic scenes, images of Japanese samurai heroes and mournful hound dogs.
Inside the Nearsighted Narwhale, meanwhile, I encounter a lavish display of work by Jeremy Gregory, one of my favorite Tacoma artists. Figures done in his gritty and distinctive, cartoonish/surreal style cover small surfaces, paddles, skateboards, pillows and clocks. Further back in the shop, there are larger, representational images by Lisa Dewilde and paintings by a variety of other Tacoma artists like Star Boy and Chubby Bunny. Both Stargazer and the Nearsighted Narwhal have tons of things to look at, but I feel compelled to move along with the Art Walk.
I move a block further along and come to Crescent Moon (2502 6th Ave.). The map shows Jody Bergsma as the featured artist here. At the door, I am greeted by a staffer with very blue eye shadow. When I say that I am on the Art Walk, she shows me to a display of resin fairies and fairy-themed art, saying that these are at a discount for Art Walk. The fairy art is not by Jody Bergsma. I give the fairy display a cursory scan and then move on eastward.
Salon de Stile (2202 6th Ave.) is a lonely outpost on the 6th Ave. branch of the Art Walk. I have to go three blocks and am leaving the safe, densely populated parts of 6th Ave behind. I slow my pace so as not to overtake a red-faced and sweaty homeless man who is wearing an “I-hate-the-world” scowl. At Salon de Stile, the proprietor is busy working on a client’s hair. She tells me to help myself to a beverage, which they have out for people that are doing the Art Walk. Some of the fantasy photos by Dan McCormack are on the walls: women made up like elves with pointed ears, dressed Stevie Nicks style and posed barefoot in the woods. The proprietor explains that McCormack does not sell pictures so much as fantasy photography sessions with clients.
From there, I cross over to the north side of the street and begin to make my way westward. I have almost four blocks to go before I reach Dazed and Reused (2607 6th Ave.), a sunny, open studio where people can come and paint and make art under the guidance of the resident artists: Nancy Franklin and Celeste Gomez. The pair are there to welcome visitors. By this point, I am sweating from the evening heat, but I have a good conversation about Dazed and Refused as well as the life-enhancing power of art. They have a deal in which you can sit in the studio, use all of the paints and brushes and paint a mandala design on a rock for only $10. The walls are hung with examples of work by Franklin and Gomez as well as other associated artists.
It is another three or four blocks before I reach the last cluster of stops. The first of these is Tacoma Frame Makers (3011 6th Ave.) where prints by the dynamic duo Ric Hall and Ron Schmitt are on display. The two collaborate to create pastel paintings of figures trapped in surreal and sexually suffocating settings. The art has the quality of black velvet paintings, but the vibe is dark and Freudian.
The North End Social Club (3013 6th Ave.) is noisy. A bar runs the length of the long, narrow space. It is crowded with customers and music is playing. The display of art, however, is all in the front area: large, distinctive portraits by Jonathan Hanks. I make notes on the paintings. The enlarged portraits are done over a backdrop of paint applied with a roller or palate knife. Hanks is a fine draftsman, able to capture a face and hands with precise lines. He is very adept at capturing the character of a person via their eyes. I realize that the artist himself is there, at the first table, observing me. When we make eye contact he introduces himself and we have a brief conversation on his technique, but the atmosphere is not conducive to conversation.
The next stop on the map is Casual Comfort (3019 6th Ave.). I find that the door is locked. The featured artist is supposed to be James Paffrath. The Art Walk signs say that the event runs 4-7 p.m., but it is only 6:30 p.m. With a shrug I move on to the last stop of the night: Restyle (3019 6th Ave. #B). Here, the shop keepers have a spread of cheese, crackers and fruit, just like a real art gallery opening reception. I am introduced to the featured artist, Bunky Oyster, a willowy brunette who rides a Harley. Oyster says that she grew up in Alaska and went to art school in New York. She has a set of large acrylic paintings on display in a nice gallery space at the back of the stylish boutique. There are large paintings of classic cars with a rusty patina. And there are large images of beautiful women who are bloodied and bruised: bodies, either metal or flesh, that have been subjected to the violence of time or physical abuse.
With that, I have completed the entire circuit. The entire walk, including time to view the art and to converse with people along the way, has taken only an hour and 15 minutes. I conclude that the 6th Ave. branch of the Third Thursday Art Walk is indeed very walkable. Some of the stops were not as prepared as they might have been, but this is only the second time that the event has taken place. I did not encounter any other people that were out visiting the various stops. Printed guide maps might help. The one that I lifted off the Art Walk Facebook page was a little blurry. Nevertheless, the 6th Ave. Art Walk makes for a pleasant stroll and a good evening of viewing work by local artists.