Laurel cafe owner, exhibit designer find unity on Main Street

For the Laurel Leader

The silk road for artists that began winding through Old Town almost two years ago is coloring outside the lines as new creative blood finds its way to More Than Java Cafe on Main Street.

Laurel resident Ashley Bishop kicked off her first solo photo art exhibit at More than Java on Jan. 26. Exhibit curator Grant Myers, of Erase Hate Through Art — who plans to install 12 more solo exhibits in 2017 — said three of Bishop's 14 compositions have already sold, which bodes well for the vision he shares with the cafe's owner, Tabitha Clark.

"Tabitha painted the interior with art in mind," Myers said of the cafe's green walls. "And art screams off these lime green walls."

Clark said she and her husband, Ronnie, designed the cafe to be more than a coffee shop.

"It's a space you step into," she said. "And from the beginning, I've loved what art did for the walls and how it brought everyone together."

About six weeks ago, Myers, president of the nonprofit How Do You Like Me Now Productions (which runs the Erase Hate Through Art social campaign), approached Clark and successfully pitched setting up a series of dynamic monthly exhibits in her 800-square foot space.

At that time, photography by Laurel resident Paul Gush had been hanging for several months.

Myers, of North Laurel, said he doesn't confine art to a "classic definition" and envisions creating seasonal pop-up gift shops at the cafe to complement fine art exhibits.

Limited collectible products — such as Bishop's "One Love" coffee mugs — will be available only at the receptions.

"Every exhibit is a story and human experience," Myers said. "You can take a little piece of the artist home with you."

Bishop said she sold 20 fillable coffee mugs for $15 each and "lots" of postcards at the reception; her remaining 11 photocompositions on display (until Feb. 21) run $125–$200.

Myers said he wanted to team with Tabitha Clark at her Main Street Internet cafe because it is "a great product, a great venue and minority-woman owned."

Clark said it was an easy decision to welcome Myers' artists in and she was instantly drawn to Bishop's work.

"Unity struck me in her work and that is what More Than Java Cafe and my family are all about," Clark said.

Unity is a kindred theme with Erase Hate Through Art, which aims to spark inclusive dialogue between the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities and everyone else, Myers said.

The campaign produces annual performance and fine arts events in October to honor Matthew Sheppard, whose murder in Laramie, Wyo., in 1998 brought national attention to hate crimes. Myers has curated three Erase Hate Through Art exhibits at the Columbia Arts Center since the campaign's inception in 2014.

Two of Bishop's works currently on display at More Than Java — "Red" and "Power of Love" — were created for the 2016 Columbia Arts Center exhibit and specifically for the Erase Hate Through Art message.

One of the aspects of Bishop's work that he likes, Myers said, is that she "takes subjects out of context to make a statement."

Future exhibits will showcase works in photography, abstract and encaustic wax, quilted and appliqued fabric, oil and acrylic on canvas and wood, back-painted glass, sharpie on canvas and stained glass.

Hometown artist

Bishop, a government contractor by day, lives within walking distance of the cafe. She said she likes having her work on display in her hometown where people know her, but not her work.

The images in her current exhibit, she said, are photos superimposed onto wood through a manual process; she completed most of the work in January.

Bishop's family members and co-workers have all modeled for her. She shot a special photo session with Old Town neighbors Minna Nilanont and Jenni Miesen at their home on Sunday prior to the reception.

Nilanont, owner of Hemp Kettle Tea Company, supplies Clark with some of her blends. She said the exhibit is "astonishing and breathtaking" and that the photo session had been "a lot of fun."

Bishop said "The Power of Love" composition makes the statement most dear to her.

"The image looks like it's been through a lot, just as we have as a society, but I believe the power of love can unite us all," she said. "One person might not be able to change the entire world, but the purpose of this art is to inspire people to accept and love one another."

About 35 friends and supporters showed up at the reception, as well as Bishop's parents, Pamela and Ralph Bishop, and her sisters, Melinda and Natalie Bishop.

Ralph Bishop said he particularly likes how the vibrant colors create depth in the image of Brandon and Margareth Mead standing in front of bold graffiti reading "Love All Black Women" ("Untitled").

Dawn Hubbs, who drove in from White Marsh, said this was the first time she'd seen Bishop's work in this medium, although she'd watched her explore traditional photography and furniture design.

"Ashley always takes her work to the next level," Hubbs said. "I think she's found her niche."

Heather Clark, of South Laurel, said Bishop did traditional photography for her mother's wedding in 2014, so she knew her work would be good.

"It's pretty awesome," she said. "At first I didn't know it was wood."

"The degraded texture and colors call to me," said Lauren D'Aria, of Montpelier.

"I am intrigued and moved by Ashley's treatment of subject and medium," said Gush, who photography work has been sold at the cafe. "Her compositions make profound statements with the power to inspire people to open their eyes, minds and hearts."

On Thursday, Feb. 23, New York City resident Jeff Greenberg, who serves on the board of Erase Hate Through Art, will open the reception for his solo exhibit of oil and acrylic abstracts on canvas and encaustic wax compositions on wood.

Encaustic wax, Greenberg said, is a beeswax medium mixed with pigment and damar resin that requires heating before and after it is applied to wood or canvas.

Greenberg said he works in vibrant color and is currently creating a series of wax heart compositions entitled, "Make America Sane Again." Half the proceeds of the wax heart sales, he said, will go to the Staten Island Heart Society, a nonprofit that promotes cardiovascular health and advocacy.

"More Than Java can be anything we envision," cafe owner Clark said. "I want to see just how creative we can get."

The 2017 art receptions at More Than Java, 358 Main St., will be held once a month on Thursdays, from 6-8 p.m. For information about future exhibits, email Grant Myers at grant@erasehatethroughart.com.

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