Marketing & Communications

Young alumni revive historic space as art gallery

Amber LeFever '09 and Adam Soboleski '10

Launching a small business is something many dream about doing for years. Amber LeFever '09 and Adam Soboleski '10 didn't wait.

The young alumni have opened LeSo Gallery at 1527 Starr Avenue in Toledo. Both are artists and graduates of the BGSU School of Art.

The two started dating while taking a BGSU course in ceramics, a medium that remains Soboleski's focus and simply fit into LeFever's first-year class schedule as an art education major and business minor. And just as the gallery's moniker was derived from a combination of their last names, the business blends their individual passions and skills.

LeFever works full time as an art teacher at the Imagine Clay Avenue School, and it was during her commutes through the city's east side that she noticed the striking architecture of many abandoned properties in the neighborhood. Soboleski works full time at Home Depot, and embraces a DIY attitude that came in handy after the pair identified the historic space in need of major renovations.

"I don't really think it was a renovation. It was more of a rebirth," Soboleski said.

An original tin ceiling was hidden behind two layers - an old drywall ceiling covered by a drop ceiling. The two teamed with willing family and friends to remove about 50 cubic yards of aging building materials in order to expose bare brick walls.

"We want to stir the pot and let the community know there are a lot of great artists out there." Much of the interior beauty of the century-old building was unexpected, as was the overwhelmingly warm reception from neighbors of the gallery. Area residents regularly interrupted renovations to share their memories and photos of the building during its various incarnations. As the Circle Bar, it was popular as the last trolley stop in the 1930s and 1940s, and later served as a carryout store, an insurance office and housed the original national headquarters of Marco's Pizza.

The gallery owners seek to overcome the stigma associated with east Toledo, which attracts fewer startup businesses than the city's downtown, west side or suburbs. Their commitment to the area is 24/7: they live together on the second floor, and a basement studio is Soboleski's ceramic studio.

"I know the east side has a bad reputation, but we live in a really beautiful neighborhood," LeFever said.

Their inaugural art show, Overture, was in late September, and several BG graduates were among those with works selected for their inaugural show. LeFever and Soboleski assemble a jury to choose the wide range of styles and types of art that will be featured behind frames in the gallery. There are oil paintings, pop art prints, ceramic works, jewelry and more.

"We're not sticking to one demographic. We're open to almost anything," Soboleski said. "We want to stir the pot and let the community know there are a lot of great artists out there."

Though their creativity is expressed through different forms of art, LeFever, gallery director, and Soboleski, production manager, both demand the highest professional standards when selecting and displaying collections at the gallery, other alumni observe.

Photographer Kara Fallon '12, who was selected to display several pieces during the Overture opening, noted that the two installed a track lighting system, and took special care in preserving the original character of the building during renovations.

Despite "how young they are, their (modest) budget, and all the risks they are taking, their gallery is top notch," Fallon said. "Some of the galleries in Toledo are a little more casual. (LeSo) has really high standards."

Brad Scherzer '10, a graphic designer and painter, works closely with the couple to promote LeSo. LeFever and Soboleski worked hard to attract diverse submissions, and among those the jury selected his paintings of freckle-faced women splashed with turquoise paint.

"The space itself is really unique, which is kind of an attraction," Scherzer said. "But the great thing is that the call for artists drew a bunch of people we'd never met before, and a bunch of people we'd never seen showing in the Toledo-area before. A lot of people showing (at LeSo) are new or really diverse, and many have connections to the University."

Both LeFever and Soboleski credit the influence of BGSU faculty for instilling the attitude, vision and drive behind their business.

"Generally both my art and business classes were rigorous. Faculty held you to such high expectations, and that carried over into our work ethic," LeFever said.

That's why the pair are working to build upon their relationships with faculty in the BGSU School of Art, by inviting them to host critiques or workshops at LeSo.

"The (BGSU) faculty are phenomenal," Soboleski said. "Their world experiences influence your standards."

 (Posted January 14, 2013 )