had a disorientating introduction to the Elsmere, Ky., art gallery/studio known as 506 Ash. That is also its address on Ash Street, itself one of the more unusual streets I’ve come across in our metropolitan area.
It was a Saturday afternoon and just past the gallery — a well-kept single-story building with parking in front and big garage doors — a flatbed tow truck was blocking the street.
It was loading up a damaged racecar that had been inside the powder-blue garage of Kentucky Auto Service & Towing.
The car had no glass in its windows and a big 14 on its side.
Beyond this were auto-repair and body shops all along both sides of the street until it reached a cul-de-sac.
Some had names seemingly designed to be first in a phone-book listing — A-N-D Auto, A-4-A Auto Electric & Service, Asap Motors. Parked out in the open, either in lots or yards, were cars presumably awaiting work.
Some had dents; a van was missing a wheel.
There were also some trailers and even a boat.
Could this be any place to come see art? Being in Elsmere is different enough for a gallery visitor, but this block was positively surreal.
“It’s a very odd location to have a gallery, although there are other galleries downtown that are in unusual or not-attractive neighborhoods,” says Laura Sams, who owns the building at 506 Ash St.
“I was concerned about that, but because the space itself has been made very nice with a back garden and a privacy fence, I just feel like people will come here,” she says. “The street and the area don’t matter.”
Indeed, 506 Ash is taking clever advantage of its motor-oriented location with a special show, Art Driven at 506, which will be unveiled this Saturday. And those who work in the nearby auto shops are being invited to come along with everyone else.
Sams, a Northern Kentucky resident and a neurologist at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center and the Cincinnati VA Medical Center, bought the building several years ago when it was a dilapidated auto garage.
Sams planned to rehab and then lease it to a friend who would do detailing and refurbishing of muscle cars. But the Great Recession stopped that.
So, as an art collector with artist friends, she repurposed it first as an artist studio and then as a gallery that has had several shows a year, including benefits.
“My feeling is that as hard as our local artists work, and how hard it is for them to make a living in art, I wanted to use this as a gallery where they could display and not have to pay any commission,” Sams says. “And that’s what happened.”
She relies on a panel called the 506 Art Group to help organize shows. It includes Daniel Burr, Mary Heider, Shirley Hudson, L. Brian Huehls and John Quinlan.
Art Driven at 506 primarily was curated by Heider, who put together last year’s excellent With and Without: Challenges show at The Carnegie. She has attracted 14 area artists and designers to provide work that looks at auto culture from all angles, from the futuristic to the melancholic to the nostalgic and more.
On my recent visit, the work was still being installed.
Some was still in boxes; some awaited installation on walls and pedestals.
Featured prominently as a central attraction are the three scale-sized and digitally printed 3D renderings of “concept models” by former transportation-design students at UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning.
Brendan Oberkircher, a 2013 grad, has contributed a sleek, powerful, super-stylized gold-and-black Urwerk UR-GT that looks determined to speed.
If I ever saw it coming up behind me on a highway — even this scale model — I’d pull over fast.
That probably won’t happen soon. Urwerk is a Swiss company that makes very expensive high-tech watches; Oberkircher was imagining what it might look like if it branched into autos. The other two concept models are by 2014 graduate Ben Zavala (a Volvo Z90) and 2015 graduate Evan Jones (a Back to the Future DeLorean DMC-12).
Elsewhere are some appealing reliefs, also with a 3D effect, of automobiles painted on PVC plastic by David Skrzelowski, a retired industrial designer from Lakeside Park, Ky. These were luxurious — two Ferraris, a red MG, a Rolls-Royce and a silver Porsche.
Also displaying is Jim “Dauber” Farr, a Westwood resident whose work with freehand pin-striping and decorative illustration is highly regarded.
(He’s a member of National Hot Rod Association’s Hall of Fame.)
His pieces here include a lovely example of some Corvette passenger doors showing his left-handed pin-striping work with its spare, precise lines and curves.
There also are some other well-made pieces exciting for those into hot-rod and motorcycle culture, including a gleaming motorcycle half tank on which he’s outlined in gold-leaf an otherwise naked woman with a scarf.
As a neurologist, might Sams want to provide a counterbalance to any excessive romanticism on display here about fast cars and motorbikes?
“I am sensitive about that,” she says. “As a neurologist, I believe that everything that makes us interact with our world and creates our personality — our goals, our dreams, our interests — is so precious that people need to wear a helmet on motorcycles.
“And some people need to realize there comes an age where they have to give up the motorcycle,” she continues. “And it requires skill to ride a motorcycle. People just can’t go on a lot, buy one, and ride it safely.”
“And about driving…Your brain, spinal cord, personal nervous system are everything that allows you to interact with your world. Why would you want to jeopardize those — or those of others? Everyone needs to wear a seatbelt, not drink and drive, not text or talk on the telephone.”
So come to 506 Ash if you love cars and motorbikes and art about them. But drive or ride safely there and back home.
ART DRIVEN AT 506 opens at 506 Ash 3-10 p.m. Saturday. Show cars will be on display outside until dusk. It subsequently will be open 1-4 p.m. Sept. 20 and 27 and by appointment. More info: 513-919-5415.