The cartoonish and multi-tentacled squid pokes its head out of an otherwise majestic landscape painting.

Paintings, drawings and multimedia work hangs all around it at the Franklin Department of Public Art. Nearby, jewelry made from geodes, natural pearls and rough-cut amethyst drapes enticingly on a table.

Hand-knitted woolen hats, homemade candles and other home decor fill shelves around the bright showroom.

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Quirky and cool is the theme at the new Franklin Department of Public Art, a community space designed to foster local artistry. Gallery settings allow for local residents to show off and sell their work, a designated work space is used for everything from watercolor classes to yoga.

With organizers planning the first public, juried art show, the business has the opportunity to support artists and be an incubator for a new generation of creativity.

“We’re just trying to get people excited about art,” said Gordon Strain, Franklin-based artist and co-owner of the shop. “It’s something that’s been lacking since I moved here.”

Despite its official-sounding name, the shop isn’t a new community or government initiative. The business was founded by local artist Gordon Strain and his wife, Dianne Moneypenny.

They chose to call it the Franklin Department of Public Art to playfully catch people’s attention.

“We wanted to be deliberately confusing as to whether we were an official thing or not. We’re not, but it’s a little bit funny when you think about it,” Strain said.

The venture started as a studio space for Strain, who works include paintings, sculpture and photography. He had outgrown the workroom in his Franklin home, so he and Moneypenny decided to look for a new space nearby.

They found a refurbished building in downtown Franklin. The structure had formerly housed a livery, stable and veterinarian’s office in the late 1800s before eventually serving as an attorney’s office.

Strain’s idea was to set up his studio in the building’s basement, then to rent out the upper floor to another tenant. But eventually, their focus shifted.

Both Strain and Moneypenny have full-time jobs, with Strain serving as a professor of art at Franklin College, and Moneypenny working as a professor of world languages and cultures at Indiana University East.

They planned to create a small-scale “pop-up” shop, where people could purchase items made by local artists and create their own art as well.

Following its opening the weekend after Thanksgiving, and sessions every Saturday after, the response from the art community and from local patrons was positive. People were excited to more fully connect with the arts.

Strain and Moneypenny wondered if maybe the shop could be something more permanent.

“It’s turned into something significantly more than a pop-up shop,” Strain said. “But it’s turned into something that’s been successful, and we’ve been having fun with it.”

On its walls, the shop features paintings and prints by area artists. Funky T-shirts and woven scarves, handmade jewelry and other items are displayed throughout the space.

The shop also features unique items such as geode and sea glass jewelry from Hawaiian artist Meir, who Strain and Moneypenny encountered while in Hawaii.

“For the holidays, we reached out to everyone and anyone. We were selling anyone’s work that we deemed as local, which is a very loose term. Artists who we met and knew who they were, they were local,” Strain said.

Classes have also become a vital piece of the shop’s success. In its opening weeks, people could come in and weld snowflake decorations. A collage class focused on pulling a collection of random paper, photographs and colors together into uniquely individual art.

Plans are in place to use junked bicycles to do sculpture. A spring break art camp will get kids out of the house and dabbling in creative projects.

“We want to be a community partner with anyone and everyone. We just want to try to offer more of the unique, in-depth classes,” Strain said. ‘We don’t want it to be a one-and-done kind of class; we’d like to teach some technique and really develop.”

Yoga classes have been held every Monday and Wednesday night in January. Keri Ellington, a local artist as well as a friend of Strain and Moneypenny, spends four hours every Saturday helping people work with watercolors.

People of all ages can come in, learn the basics of the art form and take their own painting home with them.

“My approach is, I tell people I’m willing to be as hands-on or hands-off as they want me to be,” Ellington said. “Some people just want to play with the colors and see what the mixing of the different hues do, and other people want step-by-step what to do.”

Ellington only started learning watercolor in 2008, but in that time she has continued to grow her knowledge of the craft. She formed her own small art business, Keriart, where she sells paintings, prints and greeting cards.

Having a local outlet for her artwork, as well as a place for creative-minded people to gather, has been a boon.

“Exploring creativity is a cornerstone of developing as a person, a citizen, a community member, a family member. Being able to look at the world through an unique lens is something I highly value,” Ellington said. “To be able to spread that in downtown Franklin and Johnson County is critically important to the lifeblood of what community is all about.”

The response to the store, and the number of artists who wanted to sell their items, prompted Strain and Moneypenny to create a juried art exhibition for the community.

The theme of the event is “Love Letters,” and organizers have left that up to the artist to interpret that their own way.

“I’m sure there are plenty of people with art who aren’t showing it. We wanted to bring some people out of the woodwork,” Strain said. “We’re accepting anything — sculpture, painting, if they want to write a love song, they can. We don’t want to put a limit on what people say is art.”

The shop is still open limited hours, mostly on Saturdays. Strain and Moneypenny are working to establish the venture as a nonprofit organization, more interested in helping grow artistic expression within the community.

“We have to pay the mortgage, but we’re not trying to make money. We’re trying to make a community art center,” Strain said.

Love Letters

What: A juried art exhibition featuring artists from throughout the area. All people are eligible to submit. You need not be a professional, nor live in Franklin.

When: Feb. 17 through April 1

Where: Franklin Department of Public Art, 100 S. Jackson St.

What can be submitted: The theme is “Love Letters,” and artists can determine what that means to them. Organizers are willing to look at all art, including sculpture, paintings, drawings, photographs, writings, music or other media.

Deadline for submissions: Artists must turn in their work by Feb. 6 to the Franklin Department of Public Art

How do get involved: Sign up through Facebook at facebook.com/franklindpa, or by email at gordon.strain@gmail.com.

Franklin Department of Public Art

What: An effort to create a community art center that offers both a place for artists to sell their work and for people to engage in art activities.

Where: 100 S. Jackson St., Franklin

Founders: Gordon Strain and Dianne Moneypenny

Information: facebook.com/franklindpa

Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.