Artists find community in Hannibal

Friday, September 10, 2010 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

HANNIBAL — The word is out. A growing number of nationally known artists are making their home in Hannibal, sharing the company of each other, the economic lifestyle and the welcome they receive from local residents.

Six full-time artists who travel to shows together and visit one another's homes explained their work and background at the home of photographer Michael Cole and his wife, Melissa Dominiak, a painter.

Some of them market their work on eBay and said their buyers are from around the world. Cole said they call themselves the Hannibal Uptown Artists Association, but this is an informal name.

In addition to Cole and Dominiak, the artists gathered included Joachim Knill, his wife, Janice Ho, Matthew Naftzger (to be joined later by his girlfriend, Maura Curry) and Jennifer Kraus. Several more artists share their lifestyle but were not there.

The first of this group to move to Hannibal was Joachim Knill of Switzerland, who arrived about eight years ago and shares a large downtown house with his wife. When he heard about the artists' community in Hannibal, Knill was living out of his van. He found he could live cheaply in Hannibal "so I could keep my overhead down" and have a place to go home and work.

Knill also owns the old jail, which will someday become his studio. He chose Hannibal "because it has Mark Twain and the river and the art community, and I like the mix of people and how they all get along," regardless of political party. Knill sculpts, paints and is now making three-dimensional "installations." He takes large Polaroid photographs of them and sells the Polaroids.

His work is evolving all the time, Knill said. One installation named "National Treasure" was shown at the Cherry Creek Art Festival in Denver, which several of the artists said is their favorite show in the country. He once won best of show at Cherry Creek. His wife, Ho, makes one-of-a-kind silver and gold jewelry. She also uses enamel, copper and stone. About Hannibal, she said "part of the charm of what's here and what's drawing other people here is, it is an interesting community, and we are all really supportive of each other."

All six said they are full-time artists, and Ho explained they work long hours. "We like to joke we can work any 80 hours of the week we want." Ho had an apprenticeship with a Peruvian man "who was a master jeweler of all Peru." Ho has work in a "handful of galleries" and goes to shows across the country, with Cherry Creek and The Plaza show in Kansas City among her top choices. However, her favorite is the New Orleans Jazz Festival, because it also has music and food.

Seattle was the former home of Cole and Dominiak, who have lived in Hannibal for five years. He first visited at Knill's invitation after participating in The Plaza show in Kansas City. "He always talked about Hannibal and the affordability of the place," Cole said. Cole bought the former First Pentecostal Church building at 11th and Broadway, which is their art studio. During their first visit to town, Cole said, "we saw this beautiful old church for sale and decided to buy it. We fell in love with it almost immediately."

They learned the house next door went with it, and this is their home. Dominiak explained they hope to someday have the studio open to the public, because "it's such an incredible building." One advantage of Hannibal living is it "puts us in the center of the country," said Cole. "We do national shows. We travel from the East Coast to West Coast, from Texas to Chicago. We are close to about 12 major cities, within a day's drive." He called the St. Louis Art Festival "one of the best in the country."

Acceptance in the juried Cherry Creek show in Denver is very competitive, Cole said, yet Hannibal has had four or five artists there in recent years. "The representation of Hannibal is over the top, comparatively."

Cole's large photograph of a cicada has been in the Cherry Creek show. He explained he put tar on the photo to make the insect look decayed. He also had a photo of a Joshua tree in this show.

Dominiak paints pictures of room interiors, explaining they are "like you are looking into a building." She studied architecture in college. Dominiak noted one thing all this group shares is not having children, adding that in addition to traveling together, they share their "passion for the architecture and the buildings" that have become their homes and studios.

"If we are not traveling or working on our art, we are working on our buildings," she said.

Naftzger, formerly of Philadelphia, has lived in Hannibal for two years. His work, "Works of Man," features jewelry, which he designs and makes, as a metalsmith. His home/studio is near the pubic library.

Curry is a painter who formerly lived in Texas. Kraus, a newcomer to Hannibal, arrived three months ago from Chicago. She formerly lived in New Mexico. Her business, O Live, is one-of-a-kind jewelry. "I do a lot of crocheting," she said, at times using vinyl or plastic. She moved to Hannibal, because "I looked at real estate. I bought an old Victorian house. It was cheaper than renting in Chicago, and I can have a garden. And I have all these people here, who are just amazing."

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