When you exist for 25 years as the “World’s Largest Collection of Artists Under One Roof”, you’re bound to have some good stories. We sat down with Pendleton Art Center mainstay Katherine Hurley and newcomer Jens (pronounced yenz) Rosenkrantz to talk about the Center’s uncertain beginnings, how German punks once ruled the third floor and the overall transformation in Pendleton and OTR
PAC – The Beginning
They tread lightly on the subject, not wanting to offend the people who started it all. But according to Katherine and Jens, when the fabled Verdin Company acquired the building at 1310 Pendleton Street in 1991 (for $1), they were world-renowned artisans but didn’t exactly know a lot about art. In fact, they were initially eyeing other uses for the former Krohn-Fechheimer Shoe Company building (the floors are still slanted with slits at the ends for the easy removal of tanning dyes).
As Verdin mulled what to do with this huge building, a wise friend made the suggestion to create a one-of-a-kind artist space that would compliment Verdin’s global headquarters already in Pendleton. The eight stories became dedicated artist studios and workshops for rent and the rest, as they say, is history. Katherine joined shortly thereafter and a community began to form that looked a lot more like a family than a random assortment of creatives.
The 1990s in OTR
The 90s in Pendleton and OTR were a strange but beautiful time. Katherine describes “hippie” lunches, wandering bike rides and late nights in Kaldi’s coffee shop where conversations were known to drag on into the night. There were bookstores and bars and the area began to take form similar to the Main Street of today; just somehow more alluring looking back.
It was by the late 90s that an eccentric German family moved into the third floor of the PAC and things got weird. The family apparently moved here for Cincinnati’s famous metal scrapyards. In their third floor space (where they also lived) they made metal sculptures of monstrous proportions that they would ship by boat around the world for sparkling prices. The floor was closed off to other tenants and you almost never saw or heard anything about its inhabitants. Katherine only got a glimpse of what was going on when the common elevator would be pulled up past the third floor and the doors within happened to be open. Inside you could see the movements of creation and metal creatures shimmering from the flare of welding guns. We don’t know what happened to the family, but they left before the riots hit.
Things were going well in Pendleton and OTR as we came into the new millenium. Final Fridays were launched and they served as a way to see the art spots speckled around the area. The event that we’ve come to love today probably doesn’t exist without the help of Katherine and the PAC. But things weren’t perfect and despite their disastrous effects, the riots weren’t the sole reason that OTR and Pendleton as they were ceased to exist. There was no engine behind the process as there is today and there was not a lot of soul behind the businesses migrating to the area in that time.
But still, in 2001 the city was hit. Riots of a magnitude that hadn’t been seen in the U.S. in a decade erupted in Over the Rhine. A military-style occupation settled down and as described by Katherine and Jens: there were armed guards and constant patrol as the city locked down. A curfew was put in place but the artists remained, unwavering.
OTR and Pendleton Rising
When the riots ended, everybody was left to pick up the pieces. But there was a renewed sense of optimism. And in a Darwinian twist, many of the soulless bars that had come to call OTR home could not conceive sticking with the neighborhood through the tough times; only the committed remained, Katherine and the PAC remained. “We all became advocates.”
And so OTR and Pendleton arose anew. Many artists came and went. Some could not afford to make art their living and some should have never tried. The economic downfall of 2008 hurt us all and artists struggled as people found less reason to spend their money on expensive paintings. And it’s a cutthroat game. Your livelihood depends largely on two nights a month (Final Friday and Second Look Saturday) where any person wandering through your gallery could be your next month’s rent. But art as a career has been a possibility for people like Katherine and she can’t imagine it any other way.
And so if Katherine serves as the old guard, the stalwart, opposite her there is Jens – the new blood. Not that he’s new to the Cincinnati scene, but this OTR revival is exciting to him. Successful in other venues, Jens finds renewed joy in the modern urban environment that has risen in OTR and Pendleton in recent years and is thus trying to capture it through his photography. And Jens is hopeful that more people will see the light, that OTR and Pendleton continue to grow and more of his friends are wooed down and inspired as he has been.
The PAC serves as a symbol of perseverance and fortitude. A fortress in its own right, it has held strong through these changing times and we can only wish it many more years of inspiration.
Unfortunately we were not careful to take down the names of all of the artists’ work we’ve shown here, so please if you know who they are let us know so we can credit them properly.