Keeper of the Plans

Prestigious Kansas City art gallery opens ‘Wichita extravaganza’

Wichita-based artists John and Connie Ernatt’s “New Works from a Strange Year” is featured in Leedy-Voulkos’ Main Gallery this First Friday. Featured in the center is Connie Ernatt’s “Suspension.”
Wichita-based artists John and Connie Ernatt’s “New Works from a Strange Year” is featured in Leedy-Voulkos’ Main Gallery this First Friday. Featured in the center is Connie Ernatt’s “Suspension.” Courtesy

Kansas City’s monthly First Friday gallery crawl is a pretty big deal – and the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center started it all.

It’s at the epicenter of the thriving Crossroads Arts District, and this month Wichita artists are taking over.

At tonight’s First Friday opening at Leedy-Voulkos, four Wichita artists will be showing works – Elizabeth Stevenson (of the Fisch Haus), John and Connie Ernatt (owners of the Diver Studio) and Curt Clonts.

Then, next month, Wichita artist Ann Resnick will open a show there.

Stevenson, who has shown at the gallery before, originally booked her show, “Fissure,” more than a year ago.

But then she thought maybe more Wichita artists could exhibit in the sizable space.

“Erin (Woodworth) and Stephanie Leedy ... are very open and very receptive to new artists and showing stuff that Kansas City’s never seen before,” Stevenson said. “They were super keen on having a sort of Wichita extravaganza.”

John and Connie Ernatt’s exhibition, “New Work from a Strange Year,” will be featured in Leedy-Voulkos’ Main Gallery. Their exhibition also features clay collaborations with Wichita-based ceramicist John McCluggage.

Stevenson’s “Fissure” and Clonts’ “A Number Fifty Eight” are both solo shows – Clonts in the front gallery and Stevenson in the back gallery.

Stevenson, director of the Fisch Haus, has shown at Leedy-Voulkos before, as has her husband Patrick Duegaw.

This will be the first major show that John and Connie Ernatt have done outside of Wichita, and Leedy-Voulkos is “pretty much the place where we most wanted to show,” John Ernatt said.

“It’s such a gorgeous space and it’s got a great reputation,” he said. “We’ve been working on (the show) pretty solid for the past 15 months and it’s been a real whirlwind, been a bit of a roller coaster.”

Clonts said he was invited into the show after Stevenson was impressed by his main-gallery exhibition earlier this year at CityArts.

The show – and the collaboration by which it came about – is emblematic of how tight-knit Wichita artists are, Clonts said.

“One thing you can count on is Wichita artists are all good stewards of our city,” Clonts said. “You go to Austin and people are ‘Austin proud.’ I think we go well beyond that pride level that Austin has – we’re ‘Wichita proud.’

“I know John and Connie and certainly Elizabeth and Patrick don’t go anywhere without talking up Wichita.”

Why it matters

Think of Leedy-Voulkos as the Fisch Haus of Kansas City.

When Jim Leedy bought the building at 2012 Baltimore Avenue – as well as many other decrepit warehouses in what would eventually become the Crossroads Arts District – his Leedy-Voulkos Art Center was the first creative business in the area.

Leedy established studio spaces for artists in the area and let them work cheaply. The area now thrives as the center of Kansas City’s art scene, an ideal Wichita’s Commerce Street hopes to emulate.

Kansas City’s First Friday gallery crawls, started in 1995, were the inspiration for Wichita’s Final Fridays.

Over the years, Stevenson and Duegaw befriended the Leedys, but artists don’t get to show at Leedy-Voulkos simply because they’re friends with the owners.

“Their reputation is up in the air (based on who they invite),” Clonts said.

Perhaps more than anything, the booking of three Wichita-based exhibitions – and a fourth to come in December – at Leedy-Voulkos is a validation of the Wichita art scene.

“I would absolutely say that’s the case – I would go further to say that Wichita artists are good enough to show in New York galleries or Los Angeles galleries,” Clonts said. “We’re really proud to be in the show up there. ... We can show them what Wichita’s all about.”

Leedy-Voulkos is tentatively planning a Wichita-centric event at the gallery on Nov. 30, inviting the artists back for talks and – hopefully – luring people from Wichita to see the shows, said Erin Woodworth, gallery manager.

“We’re trying to hopefully bridge that gap a bit – it seems so far away but it’s really not,” Woodworth said. “They can stay for First Friday (the following day) and make a weekend of it, ... visit a new city and a new art venue.”

All three exhibitions will be up at Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, 2012 Baltimore Avenue in Kansas City, until Dec. 30.

Matt Riedl: 316-268-6660, @RiedlMatt