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The Artists of 1111 Godfrey

Far from the beaten path that is South Division’s Avenue of the Arts is another, lesser known critical mass of independent studio artists: 1111 Godfrey, a five-story, 400,000-square-foot repurposed warehouse at 1111 Godfrey Ave. SW in the Roosevelt Park neighborhood, home to some 30 artists.

“It’s their own little artist community,” says Trish Engle, sales manager for Delta Properties, which owns and manages the property. “The majority of artists at 1111 Godfrey are long-term tenants that have thrived in this creative atmosphere. The space works for them and it works for us as well, we love having them in our buildings.”

Two blocks from Grandville Avenue and the heart of Hispanic Grand Rapids, the site is best known for the annual Destination: 1111 show — a weekend-long art extravaganza that features a fashion show, live music, performances, visual art, and demos by Godfrey artists. This year’s event is scheduled for Sept. 26-28.

While it is not uncommon for artists to set up shop in industrial spaces, it is unusual for such a large number to occupy a single facility not specifically marketed as studio space (there are other businesses in the building as well). Engle credits this to the space’s affordability and its constructive environment, the “loft style feel of wood floors, high ceilings and plenty of windows” that creates an ideal studio space.

Whatever has brought the artists of Godfrey 1111 together, be it cheap rent or ample daylight, the space is nonetheless headquarters for a number of highly respected artists and craftsmen.

Rock and Weave

Perched unceremoniously on folding chairs in a sweltering Godfrey studio, nationally renowned weaver Geary Jones and acclaimed sculptor Jason Quigno are, despite their accolades, pretty much as down-to-earth as can be.

“I’ve been working professionally for over 30 years, but I’ve been making art since I could hold a crayon,” says Jones, an accomplished fiber artist. His works range from miniature tapestries with 3,500 knots per square inch to monumental constructions woven from unexpected materials like extension cords, cattle fencing, and even razor wire.

His resume includes a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, publication in American Craft and The New York Times, and invitations to speak at such prestigious establishments as the Art Institute of Chicago.

Quigno – Jones’s closest friend at 1111 – is a stone sculptor whose work appears in collections around the country. His pieces range in size from small animal figurines to a 4,500-pound basalt sculpture displayed at Central Michigan University.

Quigno’s sculptures all start out the same way: as blocks of rock. He then “follows the movement of the stone” to create both naturalistic and abstract forms. Quigno’s inspiration comes from the stories of the Saginaw Chippewa tribe. “The way people traditionally passed stories down was through an oral tradition. I keep the stories of my people alive through stone.”

After a Fashion
Khristiey Menardie-Yokom and Erwin Erkfitz are two emerging talents within the Godfrey group.

Under the Bliss Clothing label, Menardie-Yokom produces “fashion forward women’s wear and accessories.” Gowns have everything you would expect from couture clothing – sumptuous fabrics, expert draping, and meticulous craftsmanship – but all with a Bliss twist. Past pieces have surprise details such as peacock feathers or hand-boned bodices that truly make each dress one-of-a-kind.

Menardie-Yokom started sewing seriously as a student at Grand Rapids Community College, although she learned the craft from her grandmother many years before. “I started taking clothing classes because I thought it would be an easy A,” she admits with a smile. “Becoming a designer was totally accidental.”

Her design process is similarly spontaneous.

“I just get obsessed with an idea,” she says. “And then it all comes out. It just happens.” One collection of corseted evening gowns began as a preoccupation with a North American bird book. These days she is inspired by gardening. “Right now I’m garden obsessed. I’ve been making all these pieces with really utilitarian pockets,” she says.

Menardie-Yokom’s colleague, Erwin Erkfitz, also works in fashion, among other things. His clothing line Independent Operations, a.k.a. IndeOps, features T-shirts emblazoned with edgy and often politically motivated fine art prints. “We the People presents a bipartisan political viewpoint carried out through images,” he says of a recent collection.

Both Menardie-Yokom and Erkfitz are members of Ideal Collective, which operated out of 1111 Godfrey until 2006. Formerly an artists’ design firm, the collective has become less structured of late. All artists now work independently, coming together mainly for events.

Jones and Quigno met members of Ideal Collective at 1111 and were impressed with their ability to organize an event quickly and efficiently. Together, they launched Destination 1111 five years ago.

The two designers are currently working together on the fashion show portion of this year's event. The runway show will take place at dusk on Sept. 27.

Let’s Get Together
Partnerships like this are the rule, not the exception, among 1111 artists.

“Everyone got to know each other really well and were very supportive of each other’s work and ideas. The relationships with the other artists were very communal,” recalls Nick Monoyios, a Destination 1111 installation artist and former Godfrey 1111 tenant. “Everyone was continuously and authentically interested in each other’s progress on projects.”

Jones, the weaver, also values the spirit of camaraderie at the warehouse. “I enjoy seeing what other artists are working on. I take two or three breaks a day to visit with the other artists,” he says.

This sense of community extends beyond the warehouse walls— Godfrey 1111 artists are thrilled to be a part of Grand Rapids’ burgeoning arts scene.

“The last five years have brought a jump in awareness of art due to places like (Frederik) Meijer Gardens and the Grand Rapids Art Museum,” says Jones. “With events like Destination 1111, we’re doing our part.”

Multimedia artist Michael Pavona hopes that Destination 1111 will become one of Grand Rapids’ “pillar” art events. “We’re taking baby steps toward ensuring the permanence of this event,” he says.

Erkfitz, who rents studio space at the warehouse but lives on South Division, sees 1111 as inextricably linked to the downtown art scene. “A lot of the art that’s sold downtown is actually produced in places like 1111,” he says. “This is where it’s created, downtown is where it’s sold. They’re different animals, but the same breed.”

Though the Godfrey site may not have the visibility of its more geographically central counterparts, its supporters are hopeful about its future impact on the community.

“This space has been housing amazing artists for many, many years, and it will continue to,” says Monoyios. “And as with all cities, the ‘scene’ will always move around.”


Ruth Terry is a freelance writer and artist living in the East Hills neighborhood. She also works as a fund developer and consultant for local nonprofit organizations. She recently wrote for Rapid Growth about Grand Rapids runway show Fashion Project GR.

Photos:

Jason Quigno grinds stone in his studio

Artist Geary Jones

Jason Quigno

Erwin Erkfitz

Exterior of part of the Destination 1111 complex of warehouses

Photographs by Brian Kelly - All Rights Reserved

Brian Kelly is a commercial photographer and owner of The Photography Room. He has been Rapid Growth's managing photographer since it was launched in April of 2006. 

You can follow his photography adventures on his blog here.

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