by Michele DeVinney
Fort Wayne is fortunate to have several beautiful and historic homes and buildings in all corners of the city. Preserving them has been an ongoing endeavor, and many have become cornerstones to the improvements and growth the community has seen in the last decade or two. Of all of the city's notable structures, perhaps none are more magical and majestic than the building once occupied by the Mossman family at 1202 West Wayne Street. Built in 1905, the home was donated by the family almost half a century later to be used as the home for Fort Wayne's Museum of Art. When the museum moved to the center of downtown, it was converted to condominiums, its days as a gallery for art seemingly over.
One of the building's biggest fans was neighbor Jody Hemphill-Smith, an artist and native of Fort Wayne who studied art at Ball State and Indiana University before moving with her husband Mark to New Orleans and later to Valparaiso where Smith taught while her husband was earning his law degree. Eventually the couple decided to return to Fort Wayne, and Smith continued to focus on her art. Then one day she saw something happening at the old Mossman home, and it caught her attention.
"I saw them putting a 'For Sale' sign in the yard when I was working on the front porch, and I said something to my husband, and he said 'Don't get any ideas about buying that place. We'll buy that place when pigs fly.'"
That building - the one that was once a family home, then a municipal museum, then a collection of condos - is now better known as the Castle Gallery, and Smith has turned it into one of the most successful galleries in the area, one which has drawn attention around the country and has been a vital part of Fort Wayne's growing reputation as a thriving arts community. That Smith overcame resistance is not surprising, given how deeply her passion for art runs. It was actually planned for her before she was even born.
"I was born into it," says Smith. "My grandparents were art professors, and my grandfather was the first artist at Hallmark. I was my parents' fourth and last child, the last chance to have an artist in the family, so my room was set up with easels and paints. I was very lucky because I was always supported and encouraged to be an artist because my mother wanted those genes to roll."
Smith's siblings were all considerably older, and her father died when she was young, leaving her the full attention of her mother who enjoyed sharing the arts with her daughter. The pair frequented galleries, and Smith was exposed to all of the art forms, which she now credits with her openness to all artistic mediums.
That background has served her well, as she has grown the Castle Gallery into a place where people from Fort Wayne and from all over the country come to see exhibitions and special events. Her original motivation - and proudest accomplishment - is the opportunity she's given the artists she's been spotlighting in the last 22 years since the Castle Gallery opened.
"In this town it was hard for an artist to make a living as an artist. You can't rely on one show a year at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art or Artlink. But when these artists are featured here, you can see what it looks like in a home, and you can get the idea of how important art work is. You can see what art does for this magnificent building. And you don't have an obligation to buy, but maybe you will. And by golly, these artists are making a living as artists. This town has become very, very artistically significant in the country, and I think we've had a lot to do with that. People come to Fort Wayne to see the Castle Gallery."
The Smiths have found several ways to raise the profile of both their gallery and Fort Wayne as a cultural hot spot including last fall's visit by the Oil Painters of America show, an exhibit which brought artists from all over the country and Canada. This coming fall, they're excited to host the National Oil and Acrylic Society exhibit, having been chosen from hundreds of applicants all over the United States.
"It's a big honor," says Smith. "People are discovering that this city is artistically rich and that we have a great basis here for the arts. We'll be bringing eyes from all over the country to Fort Wayne."
In fact, Smith has seen many who come for these special exhibits and workshops fall in love with this area after seeing how much it has to offer.
"People don't know what we have here until they visit. One woman asked once if there were any covered bridges around here, so I gave her directions to the Spencerville Bridge. When she came back she said it had taken her two hours to get there, and I said 'Oh dear, were my directions that bad?' She said no, she had just stopped because there were so many things to look at and enjoy here. And you look around at what all we have now, with Sweetwater and all of the downtown development, it's exciting. And that excitement becomes contagious."
In addition to the upcoming events at the Castle Gallery, the Smiths will also celebrate their 40th anniversary this year and will continue to spotlight local and national artists in the gallery they established in 1995. There is much to look forward to, and Smith is proud of the contributions their efforts have made in the growing Fort Wayne arts community. She looks forward to continuing to fulfill the dreams her parents had when they finally brought an artist into the family.
"If I were to retire, I'd just do what I'm already doing," she says. "I'm a painter, and I don't want to retire. My husband's an author, and he's releasing his third book. We enjoy sharing our creative side with this town. We love to travel, and we always enjoy going someplace else, but we always keep coming back to Fort Wayne."
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Marquee Gala — Embassy Theatre fundraiser featuring cocktails, four-course dinner, behind-the-scenes tours and performance by Billy Porter of Kinky Boots, 5 p.m. Wednesday, March 29, Embassy Theatre, Fort Wayne, $250, 424-6287
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Platinum Boys w/The Meat Flowers — Rock at Brass Rail, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., $5, 267-5303
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Chris Worth — Variety at Nick's Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, 7:30-10:30 p.m., no cover, 482-6425
Fort Wayne Comedy Connection — Comedy at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 483-5526
Hubie Ashcraft — Acoustic at Mad Anthony Brewing Co., Fort Wayne, 6-9 p.m., no cover, (260) 426-2537
Joe Justice — Variety at Arbor Glen Retirement Village, Fort Wayne, 4-5 p.m., no cover, 492-2202
Open Mic — Hosted by Mike Mowry at Pedal City, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 415-6167
Shut Up and Sing — Karaoke at Duesy's Sports Bar, Fort Wayne, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 483-5681
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Classic City Karaoke w/Bryan Lee — Variety at Pine Valley Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 8:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m., no cover, 490-9464
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Brian — Variety at AJ's Bar and Grill, Fort Wayne, 8 p.m., no cover, 434-1980
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Brian — at AJ's, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., , 434-1980
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Josh — Karaoke at Columbia Street West, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m., no cover, 422-5055
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — Variety at Chevvy's, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., ,
Karaoke w/Bucca — Variety at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Karaoke with Rooster — Variety at By: Belle Haven, South Whitley, 8 p.m., no cover, 866-716-9243
Shooting Star Prod. w/Stu — Variety at Office Tavern, Fort Wayne, 8 p.m., no cover, 478-5827
Shut Up and Sing — Karaoke at Duesy's Sports Bar, Fort Wayne, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 483-5681
Three Rivers Karaoke — at Dupont Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 483-1311
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James and the Giant Peach (May 11-13) — Fort Wayne Youtheatre auditions, 4-6 p.m. Wednesday, March 29, Arts United Center, Fort Wayne, 422-4226
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22nd Annual Valentine’s Invitational — Works from local and national artists, Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment thru March 31, Castle Gallery Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 426-6568
2017 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards — Award-winning works from northern Indiana and northwest Ohio middle and high school students, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Afros: A Celebration of African Hair by Michael July — Contemporary photography exhibit by Brooklyn author/photographer, daily thru April 14, D’Agostino Art Gallery, Indiana Tech, Fort Wayne, 399-8626
An Artful Spring — Works by Gwen Gutwein, Patricia Weiss, Austin Cartwright and more, Tuesday-Saturday thru March 31, Crestwoods Frame Shop & Gallery, Roanoke, 672-2080
Decatur Sculpture Tour — 31 original sculptures and 15 permanent exhibits on display, walking tour maps available, thru April 1, Decatur, free, 724-2605
Echolilia — Works from Timothy Archibald and his autistic son, Eli, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Entropy — Daniel Swartz solo exhibition explores relationship between death and mourning through combinations of mythology, mathematics, multi-dimensional physics and pop culture, Monday-Saturday thru April 1, Jennifer Ford Art, Fort Wayne, 740-1309
Diane Allen Groenert — Exhibition of local artist’s Downtown Series and new works, Monday-Saturday thru June 24, West Central Microcreamery & Cafe, Fort Wayne, 415-9293
Expressions of Existence — An exhibition of works by artists through history, including Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Francisco Goya and others whose works have been influenced by disabilities, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Fort Wayne Artist Guild Exhibitions — Works by Alice Siefert at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Jennifer Caudel at Allen County Retinal Surgeons, Anita Trick, Citizens Square (2nd and 3rd floors), Darlene Selzer Miller at The Einhaus Group for Women’s Health, Patricia Weiss at Heritage of Fort Wayne, Emily Jane Butler at Ophthalmology Consultants (Southwest), Linda Binek at Ophthalmology Consultants (North), Carolyn Stachera at Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Wayne, John Kelty at ResCare Inc. Adult Day Service, Wiletta Blevins at Town House Retirement, Karen Bixler at Visiting Nurse Hospice and Barb Yoder and Karen Harvey at Will Jewelers, thru April 30, fortwayneartistguild.org.
Fort Wayne Photographers Club — Exhibition featuring local photographers, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 30, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Garden Party — Garden-themed works in a variety of mediums from over 30 local artists, Monday-Saturday thru March 31, Orchard Gallery of Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 436-0927
Generations: A View of Who Was Who — Works by Romare Bearden, Kara Walker, Alma Thomas, Jacob Lawrence and other African-American artists, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Glass: A Medium in Art and Automobiles — Dale Chihuly blown glass and fiberglass auto, daily thru Sept. 8, Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, Auburn, $7.50-$12.50, 925-1444
A Mary Poppins Garden Party — Child-oriented garden exhibit, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 1, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Outdoor Sculpture Invitational — Fifteen outdoor sculptures from regional artists, daily thru April 30, School of Creative Arts campus, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Sharon — An exhibition of Leon Borensztein photographs chronicling the struggles he faced raising his severely disabled daughter, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Wabash County Schools Exhibition — Works by high school art students, daily thru April 16, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102