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Niagara Q&A: Art Trail director Krull preserves a piece of history

LOCKPORT -- The Niagara Art Trail is showcasing the work of several local artists against a dramatic birds-eye view of Lockport.

Seven interconnecting offices overlooking the Erie Canal in the Bewley Building are home to “Whalen: Legacy on Loan,” along with “Bewley’s Fifth: A Symphony of Art.” 

The Whalen exhibit continues the theme of preserving and sharing the legacy of celebrated local artist Joe Whalen, who passed away in 2015.

“He was pretty much the godfather of art in Lockport,” said Jay Krull, Niagara Art Trail director.

Krull said Whalen’s art career spanned 70 years and produced thousands of works. Krull is cataloguing Whalen’s art by photographing and documenting it. 

“I’ve converted 1,600 slides of Joe’s works into a digital format and photographed thousands of sketches,” Krull said.   

The second exhibit, “Bewley’s Fifth: A Symphony of Art,” features the works of several area artists. Manning McCandlish, Don Little, Jack DiMaggio and Bob Rimmer are exhibiting their paintings, accompanied by sculptors Mike Beiter and Russell Halstead. Theresa Holly, who paints scenes on old window sashes, is also represented.

Free tours of the exhibits are available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays through Dec. 30. Private showings are also available.

“Having our gallery and resource center in the same building on the first floor makes it easy for us to take visitors up to the show on the fifth floor pretty much anytime we are open,” said Krull. “We sincerely wish to offer every opportunity for people to see this show and see the extraordinary view of Lockport from up there, so please do not hesitate to call for an appointment.”

All works on display in the Bewley exhibit are available for immediate purchase and fresh works will continue to be added to the exhibits throughout the month.

The Whalen works, many of which have never been seen by the public, are on loan from private owners, and 26 original works are on display. The Whalen works will not be offered for sale; however, other original paintings and prints are on display and for sale in the Niagara Art Trail’s Gallery located inside Ticklebridge on the first floor of the Bewley, at Market and Main streets.    

Krull said the opportunity to hold the December exhibits on the building’s fifth floor came about following the success of a craft show held there in June. Because exhibit organizers couldn’t put nails in the walls to hang works, Krull said he built 50 easels and dozens of pedestals to properly display the paintings and sculptures.

And, Krull pointed out, the use of the historic building’s fifth floor for this exhibit/sale will offer patrons a chance to view the canal and city at nighttime, too, lit for Christmas and from a dramatic height. He encourages patrons to bring their cameras to take pictures of the stunning views out the windows -- although photos of the art will be forbidden.

To access the show, enter the Bewley Building through the arched green awning into the main lobby and ride the elevator to the fifth floor and turn left. Parking is available in the Bewley lot, as well as on the street. In addition to displayed work, artist-related items will be sold during the exhibit, including 2018 calendars featuring the artwork of Whalen; of McCandlish; and of DiMaggio; as well as various artists’ prints and greeting cards.  A wider selection is also available in Ticklebridge.

The Niagara Art Trail was founded by a local artist as a way to tie a number of area artisans together, particularly before the holidays, to open their studios and garner more public attention. Krull took over as director in 2010.

“We are always looking for a way to bring artists together,” said Krull.

Several years later, the Trail is still uniting area artists. Krull took a break from manning the the side-by-side show last week to talk about the Trail and the importance of archiving art as local history.

Q: What other events does the Niagara Art Trail do?

A: We’ve done antique shows, book signings, craft shows, shows in wineries and in the Niagara History Center. I consider culture and art to go hand-in-hand.

Q: You’ve spent countless hours cataloguing Joe Whalen’s works. Why is this so important?

A: Preserving this history is a big part of the mission of the Niagara Art Trail.

We’re going back 70 years in Joe’s work and you see how the subject matters change and the styles change. I’ve seen the importance of documenting this.

Joe left a legacy -- and not just as an artist or as a teacher -- he taught in the Lockport schools for more than 30 years. But anyone who owns a piece of his artwork is also part of the legacy. He is truly interwoven into the Lockport community.

Joe was an incredible man. He touched the community as a teacher, as a mentor even to some artists he had not had as students, and as a humanitarian. He said he felt he taught art secondarily -- first, he wanted to create good citizens. So, his legacy goes far beyond his art.

Q: In what other ways do you try and preserve the works of local artists?

A: I interviewed and I videotaped Joe, but I’m working on audiotapes of some other artists, like Dick Gallagher, who is in his 80s and is a retired aerial photographer who has published four books and prints of his works. He knows the history here, he knows the people. It’s amazing. The same with John Hall, who is 92. Some of these artists have been videotaped on LCTV through the years, so we do have that.

Q: What resources do you offer artists at your Bewley Building headquarters?

A: When I meet new artists, particularly young artists, I tell them to make sure they photograph their works or scan them, because even if they sell their work, that original image belongs to them and they can use it anyway they want in the future. And, it’s a good way for them to document their progress as artists.

We have a resource room at the Bewley where artists can come in and use our equipment to view and sort and archive their digitized work, to get onto a database. It’s our commitment to helping artists preserve history and art.

And we’re constantly improving our resources. For example, we’ve come up with a way to photograph works that are under glass. It was difficult to photograph works under glass before because of the reflection and it was sometimes hard and time-consuming to remove the work from its frame to photograph. But with the help of some local photographers, we came up with a way to do this and run it through the computer and see it on the screen. It speeds up the process. But this would be a service we may have to charge for.

Q: Are you an artist?

A: I do some photography and find other ways to be creative. I’ve been a percussionist since I was five. And, I like to write and I consider writing an art.

Q: What do you do for a living?

A: I own my own consulting company and do everything from marketing to IT to quality control. I have varied experience, I guess I’d call it data based management.

It crosses over into the work my wife, Therese, does with her business, KAX Solutions and Services, here in the Bewley Building, where she does marketing, printing, mailings, and newsletters, for example.

And that crosses over because I work with her sometimes, as do our three children, as we do other things, too, such as producing greeting cards and prints, doing the matting and framing, label design and even building displays. We have the Ticklebridge storefront here in the Bewley, where we sell the works of local artists, authors and crafters.

Our daughter, Katrina, is a teacher now and only works with us occasionally, but our son, Alex, who has a degree from UB, works for us full-time, and our son, Xavier, helps us when he’s not busy as a student at Canisius College.

We work with a lot of not-for-profits, too. For example, Alex sells all of the ads for the programs for Kenan’s 100 Craftsmen Show and Holiday Gift Show and he and I are working on the Niagara Wine and Beer Tasting event program. The ads pay for the programs and sometimes we’re even able to present the not-for-profits with a check in the end.  

We’re very active in the community. I started the Lockport Duck Races and we raised over $20,000 for charity. I started the first Christmas parade in Lockport in 2012. And, I was one of the founders of the Lockport Community Market in 2011.

Q: How did you become director of the Art Trail?

A: I started my consulting business almost 30 years ago and we moved to Lockport from Lancaster in 1989. In 2000, I started KAX and my wife took it over in 2004.

I had just finished heading Lockport’s Old Home Week Centennial Celebration and Jack DiMaggio was one of the first to approach me to take over the Trail. My wife had been printing the Trail annual map, and we had done some work for local artists. I ran the idea by Joe Whalen and received his blessing. He designed the logo for the Art Trail, which we still use today.

Q: What’s ahead for the Trail?

A: We’re planning a Spring show of youth art at the Bewley and we’ll do the show at the Lockport Presbyterian Home again next Summer. It’s a beautiful facility and we had over four dozen artists with 225 pieces this past summer. Hopefully, this is something we can do every year.

We are always looking for volunteers -- and we’re open to anybody, but this might be good for school kids, especially, who need volunteer hours or want to learn new skills. This would be good for anyone interested in art or even museums.

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