Marta Churchwell: The new Joplin Art Gallery serves as a melting pot of cultures | Lifestyles

Joplin’s newest gallery, Elements Art Gallery and Studio at 2207 W. Seventh St., is a cultural experience as much as a place to buy art.

His works of art represent a melting pot of cultures from our heartland in Missouri, Texas and Illinois to Portugal, India and China.

The gallery will not only feature art from around the world, but patrons will also be served Chinese kung fu tea, perhaps even Asian finger food, while browsing through the art. It will also host art events to promote other cultures, including their food and fashion.

That’s important to the owners, artist Cher Jiang, originally from Sichuan, China, who came to America 10 years ago, and her partner in the business, Carthage artist Kristen Hawkins.

They want to use the gallery to promote the indigenous culture of Jiang as well as those of other countries and to provide gallery patrons with artworks from various geographical areas, in addition to those created by local artists.

“We want to be different, but with art and culture and try different things,” Jiang said.

Currently, the gallery features 14 artists whose work includes all types of paintings, photography, mixed media, resin art furniture, jewelry, glassware, and pottery.

Some of the artists, as well as Jiang and Hawkins, will teach in their respective mediums, and there are plans to bring in artists to teach artworks practiced in other countries, such as China, Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines. Jiang offers sample lessons in Asian shoe painting or folk art.

“It will be a very unique Asian art that dates back centuries,” Jiang said of the classes.

The gallery includes nearly 5,000 square feet of floor space with an Asian-themed seating area and a solicited area for some of the artwork. Otherwise, it’s an open space to host 3D artwork, classes, and art events. There is enough parking space, which will allow an occasional Asian food truck to park there, Jiang said.

Although the gallery is located away from the downtown district that houses our other galleries, Jiang and Hawkins believe that naming West Seventh Street as part of historic Route 66 will help attract customers. They see a growing number of businesses opening in this area, including an authentic Chinese restaurant, Fu Noodle House, which Jiang and another partner, also Chinese, opened a few doors east of the gallery.

Jiang and Hawkins also noted that the Missouri Department of Transportation announced major improvements to 4 miles of Seventh Street, including the gallery area. The couple hopes that the project will boost this sector of activity.

“We hope to be part of a revitalization of this part of town,” Hawkins said.

That Jiang approached her to open the gallery seems to have been well timed.

Hawkins had always wanted to open a gallery but was turned away by motherhood. She had developed an interest in art as a child with the help of her mother, who was an amateur artist. But as an adult, she had to put her artistic interests on hold while raising her children.

In 2010, she started to create again by participating in collective exhibitions in places such as artCentral and Koka Gallery in Carthage and Spiva Center for the Arts in Joplin. She practices a range of mediums, including resin art furniture.

She and Jiang met about 10 years ago on an art walk in Carthage, where Hawkins was showing his work. It turns out they only lived a few blocks from each other in Carthage, and they quickly became friends.

At the time, Jiang had just moved to Carthage from China and was working as an illustrator and figurine designer for Precious Moments, a museum and chapel in Carthage. She had a background in book illustration and fabric design, one of her designs chosen for fashion showcased during New York Fashion Week in 2016.

But when she came to Carthage, she still needed a better understanding of the English language and American culture. Hawkins helped her with this, and they met frequently to practice their painting. When Jiang found herself with a building that worked well for a gallery but had too much space for her to manage on her own, she turned to Hawkins as a business partner.

The gallery’s first class, on painting water lilies which mainly attracted Asian students, has already taken place, but weekly classes are on the way. The schedule will be posted on the gallery’s Facebook page. A gallery opening celebration is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Friday, August 5, and will include Asian food and designs for the artwork.

Elements Art Gallery and Studio hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

While Jiang said the gallery is currently at the maximum number of artists it can accommodate, she urges artists interested in joining the gallery to contact her for future openings that arise.

William E. Bennett