Columbus, Ohio USA
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More Cosmopolitan Than Its Name
By Jeff Link
The hottest seller at the newly opened Cowtown Art is a light switch plate decorated with a painting of Michelangelo's David. The light switch is not included, but you can probably guess where it turns on.
"I can't keep it in stock," laughed store owner Jason Slagle, adding that pricier metal sculpture has also flourished in the art store's infancy.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Waltz through the store, to a pounding techno beat, and you'll
see it all. A transparent soap bar embossed with the image of Mona Lisa. A folkloric mask made from the remnants of a World War II bomb shell. Kissing heads carved in shimmering metal. A day-glow portrait of Louis Armstrong.
From the ridiculous to the sublime, Cowtown Art at 668 N. High St., offers an eclectic mix of contemporary art for both the casual buyer and the serious art enthusiast at prices ranging from $5 to $2500.
Slagle opened Cowtown Art on June 5 as a personal studio and a showcase for his mosaic work and the work of roughly 40 local and nationwide artists he has met through art shows or solicited through Internet consignment. Slagle said he is filling a niche in the Short North arts market by offering affordable artwork and a fun, funky atmosphere. The energized bass thump and vibrant orange walls that greet visitors walking through the door seem testament to the store's youthful upbeat approach.
"So many people I see just laugh at things they see. It's approachable art, not just stuffy things you find in galleries," Slagle said.
Despite opening the store in the midst of a difficult summer selling season, a sagging national economy, and a Short North hampered by construction, Slagle has had early success selling paintings, glass and ceramic mosaics, sculptures, blown glasswork, jewelry, mobiles and other kitschy curios, like puzzles, magnetic sculptures, and magic stones.
With only limited marketing, he said, he has been able to surpass early sales expectations due to heavy foot traffic in the Short North Arts District, which is "like being in a mall," while offering inexpensive pricing to attract customers of varied means.
"It's easy to find great things that are expensive. The trick is to find things that aren't," Slagle said, adding that most pieces in the store range from $20 and $50.
A marketing major at The Ohio State University who later worked as an electronics salesman selling alarm systems, televisions, and home audio video equip-ment, Slagle forged his way into the art world after taking a trip to France and seeing beautiful mosaic work he felt he could emulate.
With prior experience laying tile, Slagle had a head start. He was able to use his old tile lippers to cut and shape the tile, and began purchasing glass and ceramic tile at the relatively inexpensive cost of roughly 2.5 cents per .75 square inch. Fashioning mosaics modeled after some of his favorite artists like Henri Matisse and Keith Harring, including a replicate of Matisse's well known Flight of Icarus, Slagle was quickly complimented by friends and family and encouraged to pursue his artwork as a career. The Short North was the place to start.
"When I think of art Columbus, I think of the Short North," Slagle said.
He found the 1400 square foot space available in January with the departure of former tenants, Ethniciti, and after "four, long, excruciating months" of haggling with real estate proprietor Jim Kirkpatrick he secured the location for $2000 a month and began the tireless work of painting, carpeting, remodeling, and furnishing the building to prepare it for opening. The name selection was a bit of an accident, Slagle said chuckling.
Originally, it was going to be called Mosaico, invoking the Italian word for the art form, but no one seemed to understand the allusion, and Mosaic was just up the street. Abandoning his first idea, Slagle began searching for an available domain name and found cowtownart.com was not taken. He chomped on the bit.
"It's cool because people refer to it (cowtown) as a pejorative term, but if you live in Columbus you know it is much more cosmopolitan."
Some of the more visually enticing pieces in the store include Fred Conlan's mask and propane tank composed of partially corroded World War II relics, colorful, three-dimensional Biblical tableaus by artist Kevin Frazee, and Slagle's own mosaic work featuring bright
active scenes which pay homage to his favorite artists and interests – like the colorful Asian Koi fish that dart through the tiled blue water of a mosaic displayed in the rear of the store.
The biggest challenge thus far, Slagle said, is finding new material to keep the store fresh and stocked. He logs extensive hours attending art shows and searching the Internet for national artists while also courting local artists, fifteen of which currently have a spot in the store. Slagle is also trying to launch the cowtownart.com Web site, and establish stronger ties in the Short North community, a place he finds to be closely knit, friendly, and hospitable.
"I want to get more involved in the community. I don't know the community yet. I'd like to get involved in an organization with other businesses for marketing the Short North," Slagle said.
Recently, Slagle has endeavored to teach others the tricks of the trade. He started an Art and Wine class from 6-8 p.m. on Thursday's for a cost of $10 plus the cost of tiles, which run about $.05 per square inch. The class provides all the necessary tools and instruction to create mosaics. Music and wine keep the atmosphere fun and lively.
"It's not difficult, all it takes is patience and practice. We have a lot of fun," Slagle said.
For Slagle the store is in some ways the fulfillment of a long time dream, the culmination of early attempts at self-employment spent mowing lawns and tending bar. "I've always wanted to be in business for myself. It's a ton of work
A ton of time. But there is a sense of satisfaction in trying to build something out of nothing."
Cowtown Art, 668 N. High Street, Columbus, Ohio, offers affordable art and a fun, funky atmosphere. Call Jason Slagle at 614-228-7690 for more information.
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