Rocheport event celebrates history through art

Saturday, October 18, 2008 | 8:32 p.m. CDT; updated 12:21 a.m. CDT, Sunday, October 19, 2008

COLUMBIA — A renovated tangerine Volkswagen Beetle sits parked on the lawn of the Rocheport Gallery. The piece of vehicular history serves as a welcome to Saturday's visitors and also as the subtle theme that connected the afternoon: history.

The Rocheport Gallery and the Shirahaze Gallery, which face each other across Second Street in historic Rocheport, combined their artistic efforts Saturday afternoon in Rocheport's West End Art Demo Day. The Rocheport Gallery walls displayed "Volkswagen Art" by Bill Helvey, while his wife Julia Helvey occupied the gallery lawn in her presentation "Aprons — Icons of the American Home." The Shirahaze Gallery, owned by Tom Scharenborg and Yukari Kashihara, housed pottery wheel and weaving demonstrations, as well as photography and ceramic work by the married couple.

Rocheport is a little piece of history in itself. Near the banks of the Missouri River and a stop along the historic Katy Trail, Rocheport residents are used to getting visitors from the trail, Les Bourgeois Winery or the Rocheport Bed and Breakfast. Local shops, artisans and galleries serve the tourist-exclusive town, Rocheport Gallery co-ownerRoger Pilkenton said.

"In a historic town, bringing in art from the past increases Rocheport's historical experience," he said.

The VW bug's animated image seeped into the newly renovated interior of the Rocheport Gallery in a collection of Volkswagen paintings by Bill Helvey, Columbia artist and Stephens College professor. The bold-colored car outside was just a preview for the colorful two-dimensional replications inside.

The round shape and bold colors of the cars are two reasons Bill Helvey chose them as his subject. "I can show color relationship and harmony with them, and I can make them any color I want," he said.

Bill Helvey finds his inspiration for the paintings from the collection of actual Volkswagen beetles that Carl Edwards Sr. keeps. Many of the scenes are direct representations of the retired VW vehicles in Edwards' yard.

He used the paintings last year when he taught a painting class at Stephens College. The simple shapes, quick creation process and bold primary colors served as a perfect teaching tool, he said.

Pilkenton said he wants visitors to connect not only with history but with the artists as well. He provided opportunities for people to talk and interact with Bill Helvey.

"I like to build a bridge between folks who may not be acquainted with artwork," Pilkenton said.

Vintage and homemade aprons strung across a clothesline served as a backdrop for Julia Helvey, sitting just outside the gallery doors. Her interest in making and collecting aprons began when she was 9 years old.

"Everyone's home has an apron," she said, stressing the important role aprons play in history. "In the olden days, women often owned more aprons than dresses."

History portrayed through art is complemented by a sense of the history created by the galleries themselves. Both the Rocheport and Shirahaze galleries are renovated from older buildings. The Rocheport Gallery was originally a church and then a private residence before becoming a commercial space. The Pilkentons recently finished up the 3-year renovation of the building.

Yards away, the Shirahaze Gallery also has a past in renovations. Scharenborg and Kashihara have made both their home and their business within the walls of the structure.

When the couple first bought the house, which dates back to the late 1800s, it was in less-than-mint condition.

"We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into," Kashihara said. Sitting at her potter's wheel, hand deep in clay, she described how she and her husband renovated the entire interior.

They eventually turned the fixer-upper into the home and business that it is today. The Shirahaze Gallery opened a year and a half ago, showing Kashihara's ceramic work and Scharenborg's photography.

This aspect of living and working in the same place is the best part, Kashihara said, and it's something that they would not be able to do in Columbia because of residential restrictions in commercial property.

Whether the history is as bold as the tangerine Volkswagen or a more subtle renovation story, Saturday's collection of artists and their spaces was an overall experience based in the past. The Rocheport Gallery's Volkswagen Art Exhibit will be up until Nov. 19, and samples from the apron exhibit will be kept for showing in the gallery. Scharenborg and Kashihara's work can be found in the Shirahaze Gallery.

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