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Upcoming Artists’ Studio Tour leaves you "Falling for Art"

If you’re looking for some artcentric seasonal activity, the 2022 Falling for Art Artists’ Studio Tour takes place this Saturday & Sunday, Oct. 15 - 16.

A brainchild of Joe and Kathy Pelka, this free and all-age friendly two day event will offer “tourists” the opportunity to visit 14 studios and meet 17 artists and their work in progress.

WBOI’s Julia Meek discusses the origins of the project and this year’s tour highlights with Pelka, as well as the importance of making these up close and personal community connections.

Artists you'll want to meet: Drece L. Guy, Hilarie Couture, Fred Inman and Alex Hall
Some of the artists you'll meet on the tour: Drece L. Guy, Hilarie Couture, Fred Inman and Alex Hall

Event Information:

Falling for Art Artists’ Studio Tour
@ 14 Studios in and around Fort Wayne
Oct. 15 - 16
Saturday: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Sunday: 12 to 5:00 p.m.
Free Admission

For more information, tour map and a complete listing of artists & studios, visit the Falling for Art website.

Some of the artists you'll meet: John C. Kelty, Jake Patten, Rhonda Inman and Paul Raiman
Courtesy/Falling for Art
Some of the artists you'll meet on the tour: John C. Kelty, Jake Patten, Rhonda Inman and Paul Raiman

Julia Meek: Joe Pelka, welcome.

Joe Pelka: Hello.

Julia Meek: Now with your autumnal celebration on the horizon, it's all about the creativity. So let's start with your own, which all began in California. Would you tell us about it?

Joe Pelka: Well, I started taking ceramic classes early in high school and proceeded to work in the industry a bit. And then big changes, I moved up to Ojai, California, it was a very, very artistic community, real supportive of the arts and started my own studio.

Julia Meek: So pretty early on, you must have known that you wanted to turn that artcentric passion into profession?

Joe Pelka: Always wanted to, always wanted to be a professional artist, just didn't really know how to. A lot of the college courses that I took was in the community college. And it was a fantastic school, but there weren't a lot of classes to talk about marketing.

Julia Meek: Ah, those opportunities, sure.

Joe Pelka: Exactly, exactly.

Julia Meek: And by then you lived in Ventura County?

Joe Pelka: Yes, yes.

Julia Meek: That's a West Coast arts hotspot as a matter of fact. So how was the artists' scene that you did fall and otherwise thrust yourself into with, with vigor and passion?

Joe Pelka: Well, in Ojai, being an artist was a very popular thing. You know, I grew up in Orange County, California, which is quite a bit different. And it was a bit different when you tell people that you are an artist. If you tell your people in Ojai, I'm an artist, you were popular, you're very..."let's talk."

Julia Meek: It's a mecca, sort of?

Joe Pelka: Absolutely. Yeah, a lot of people in Hollywood live there, actors, because they know that, you know, people want to ask them for autographs, because everybody's really mellow and laid back.

Julia Meek: How wonderful for you to incubate and, and grow your own profession and passion even more. And so being part of Ojai's studio art scene and artists tour that was well established there, what did you take away from just participating in all of that for your own future reference?

Joe Pelka: I think the connection you made with people that were about ready to buy your work; it was different than being at an art show. Having you know, work that you're demonstrating, creating, and then they would pick one off the shelf that looks similar, that connection that you have with the client, then it's very special.

When they see the work being made. It's a connection that they'll always remember. And it seems to be kind of a, a thing that they want to do. They want more than just the purchase.

Julia Meek: How very satisfying then for both of you, the seller and the buyer. Also to note you did have a lot of opportunities in the very wonderful mainstream in the in the galleries and such, but that immediacy, having people into your own studio has always appealed to you?

Joe Pelka: Absolutely. You know, as artists, we all have our own situation, so to speak, what our studio is. Mine right now has two large fish tanks, because I do a lot of things with fish in them and they're my inspiration. And we have conversations about the fish tanks for a while and they get to know me better than they do at an art show or a gallery opening.

Julia Meek: They see how you think.

Joe Pelka: Exactly.

Julia Meek: Yes, very good. Okay, so once you did arrive in Fort Wayne with the mind that you could maybe settle here. And in fact, you did sell here. How did you find our own local state of the arts compared to what you had been in with?

Joe Pelka: Well, when we moved here, we moved here because we could definitely afford a house, it would be a great place to raise our son, and my goal was to do a lot of the arts and crafts shows like in Chicago and Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, and not necessarily market so much in Fort Wayne.

And then people started asking me, you know, if I'm going to do the Covington Art Fair, and I started investigating the art scene in Fort Wayne, and I was surprised how large it is, I mean, it's even gotten larger. But at that moment in time, I didn't really think about marketing in Fort Wayne.

And then I changed my mind when I started seeing there's a love for art here in this town. There's a lot of people that want to buy it, which is fantastic.

Julia Meek: So whether or not the drive to start a tour like this was in your heart, it had to be somewhere there in your mainframe to know that it would work here and then once you knew it could work here, had you ever thought about spearheading something of that proportion before? Because it's not a small task to be doing this, Joe.

Joe Pelka: Well, my wife Kathy wanted to start it from the get go, when we first moved here, but we're so busy doing shows out of town and there just never seemed to be any time to do it.

Julia Meek: Then it was really just a matter of making the time to do something you wanted to do?

Joe Pelka: Exactly, exactly.

Julia Meek: Okay, being the new kids on the block and having such a brainstorm, what did it take to get this off the ground?

Joe Pelka: At the time we started it people were eager to do things.

Julia Meek: Other artists?

Joe Pelka: Other artists. We didn't have any trouble convincing people to join us. We only had five studios at first, the first one, but it was an immediate yes from the people we asked.

Julia Meek: And spreading like the literal wildfire? (chuckles)

Joe Pelka: Like the literal wildfire because it was a good success at the very get go. We did get really good print coverage and people were really wanting to do something because we were all looking for something very positive at that time,

Julia Meek: And you have good sponsors. Was that equally doable, to find sponsors?

Joe Pelka: Well our sponsor that year was the Well Grounded coffee shop next door to where my studio is. And you know, they have great coffee, and it was a wonderful, you know, kind of meeting with...who doesn't drink coffee and look at art, the perfect marriage? (laughs)

Julia Meek: It is a match, yes it is. And so from there, everything takes off. Okay, since timing is everything, and you got off to a good start, your launch being in 2020, what did COVID do to the whole project, to the whole foundation going forward, actually, to your whole studio artists' world?

Joe Pelka: Well, what we did during that time, we wanted to make sure that we weren't being inconsiderate to people's needs and wants, and obviously, their safety. So we did everything we could to make it a safe event.

Julia Meek: That was in that first literal breakout in 2012?

Joe Pelka: Yes, yes, we required people to wear masks, we did all the protocol that to keep everybody safe. We had good airflow in our studios, and it really paid off. Because I think everybody felt very, very comfortable during that time and very eager to buy art and very eager to have a bit of normalcy at that time.

Julia Meek: Yes, and something beautiful in an otherwise pretty ugly scenario.

Joe Pelka: Exactly.

Julia Meek: Of course, it was satisfying to be able to pull something off like this.

Joe Pelka: Yep.

Julia Meek: Did you ever think about the fact that you might not be able to get that first show off the ground?

Joe Pelka: It was, it was kind of scary at first. We were wondering if people would be so scared and so, you know, bewildered by the pandemic that maybe they wouldn't, but we threw the dice and it worked out. People still said, I want to have a life, I want to do some fun things.

Julia Meek: That's fantastic. And in the meantime, of all of that our own Arts United, umbrella organization of all things wonderfully artcentric here in town, really did see that same need and make things as best they could for the whole artcentric community, also for the community in general, knowing that art does connect us. Did you feel that? Do you feel it now?

Joe Pelka: I do. I think right now with everything that's happening in Fort Wayne, it's an eclectic bunch of artists and it's interesting to see the downtown change, if you will. When we moved here 19 years ago, there wasn't a lot going down downtown.

You know, they've done a lot of improvement. It's been a fantastic, robust Renaissance, if you will, for Fort Wayne. I do a lot of traveling for my art shows, I'm cutting back lately, but I see a lot of towns the size of Fort Wayne not doing so much good. And they should look at us and say, Hey, maybe we should do that and change gears a little bit in a positive manner.

Julia Meek: Great. And you be the ambassador.

Joe Pelka: We try to.

Julia Meek: The more the merrier. And so it is 2022 now and we are back on that Falling for rt trail, full force. What's the prevailing energy you've got driving this year's tour?

Joe Pelka: I think it's creativity and connection. I think being able to connect with people with creativity is a wonderful thing. And you'll see people with smiles on their faces, whether they've purchased a piece of artwork or they've just experienced one of us making something in front of them.

There always will be smiles on their faces. I've asked a couple of them did you have fun on the tour and everybody's come back and said they had a wonderful time on the tour and they love the different art forms that are represented and a lot of people demonstrating different things.

Julia Meek: So it's a whole package and great thing.

Joe Pelka: Yep.

Julia Meek: And meanwhile, this year, you do have 14 s1tudios 17 artists, how broad of a range of mediums are on this year's tour?

Joe Pelka: Well there's something for everybody. We have a glass artist, we have several painters and everybody paints in different styles. There's abstract painters. There's people like John Kelty's doing really, really wonderful watercolors.

There's everything, there's a woodturner that will be demonstrating. His name is Fred Inman, and Rhonda Inman, they're a team. There are several that are package deals like Rhonda is a great artists on her own they just share the studio.

Joe Pelka: So you get to meet couples and you get to see everything art centrically put forward there.

Joe Pelka: Yes, yes!

Julia Meek: And what are the geographic boundaries?

Joe Pelka: We're going from Churubusco to Huntertown to like New Haven and then lots downtown.

Julia Meek: Okay.

Joe Pelka: That seems to be where we're at.

Julia Meek: A nice, broad base.

Joe Pelka: It is and it's not a real long journey. Like we took it all and we cut a bunch of miles off. So we're encouraging people to, four of you jump into a car and save gas and have fun and drive around in packs if you will.

Julia Meek: And it's spread out over two days too.

Joe Pelka: Yes it is.

Julia Meek: So you can do one or both, and see all of them or see a handful...everybody's pretty guaranteed good time.

Joe Pelka: Yes.

Julia Meek: Now since you are quite used to hosting visitors and in fact, this is your whole idea, Joe, yours and your wife, what are they going to see at your place? How does it work?

Joe Pelka: Well on Saturday, I'm going to demonstrate my pottery skills. I'll be throwing pots in front of my studio and I'll let people see the whole process from the start to the finish of throwing a pot.

And then they can go into my studio and see where I create everything, I'm going to have pieces halfway made, pieces that are just being glazed, they'll see my inspiration with my fish tanks.(chuckles)

And then on Sunday, since it is a two day event, I plan on doing my abstract painting, and they can see the process that I use there, which has been very exciting for me this year, because people are actually buying my stuff, that's fantastic.

Julia Meek: That's kind of a new endeavor for you?

Joe Pelka: It is.

Julia Meek: And of course, it's wonderful. And so you're poster child as well as the instigator and organizer for all of this and how it's done. And wherever our participants do visit, what should they especially look for, and ask about, you know, what's the quickest way... give them some tips to dive in and make the most of each stop, each experience.

Joe Pelka: I think it's important to immediately connect with the artist. Say Hi, how you doing? You know...

Julia Meek: What are you doing?

Joe Pelka: What are you doing? How you doing it? (chuckles)

Julia Meek: (chuckles) And not be shy?

Joe Pelka: Don't be shy. Jump in, this is a studio tour.

Julia Meek: Maybe not touch?

Joe Pelka: Yeah, a lot of people won't want anything to be touched and stuff. I have lots of things where people can touch--some people won't, but dive in there make an attempt to talk to the artists and say, Hey, I'm on the tour. This is awesome. I really want to know your inspiration. Or, how do you do this? You know, things of that nature.

Julia Meek: Don't be shy,

Joe Pelka: Don't be shy!

Julia Meek: And going forward, because it sounds like you've really really got your act down pat, is supposed to be nice, maybe a little bit chilly of a weekend, but it's going to be full speed ahead.

And you're going to have a wonderfully artcentric, autumnal tour.

Joe Pelka: Yes.

Julia Meek: What do you hope to add to this project as an annual event, you know, really grow as you're going forward?

Joe Pelka: You know, what we really want is we want it to be successful for the artists, first of all, I mean, that's one of the things as far as like have artists sell things. And, and we all make a living with our art.

But we want people to say to their neighbor who didn't go on the tour, we want them to say, we went on this fantastic art tour and you got to go next year because this was really fun. We connected with the artists, we saw their inspiration in their studios, we found out why they're artists just because we were talking to them and stuff.

You got to go on this tour, you have to try that. Word of mouth like that is powerful. You know, like, Man, I just spent two days driving around to all these studios around town and it was a really very fun event. There'll be people that want to be artists that think that they're artists and they'll be inspired to go on and be artists.

One of the things in Ojai that started me as I went on the Ojai studio, our tour and I had not started my studio yet and I was working at another job. One of the potters was very kind to me and pushed me into joining the Ventura Potters Guild. And a year later or two years later, maybe a year and a half later, I was on the tour, and it was her pushing me, you know, nicely in guiding me to get going.

I think that our tour will do that to some artists that may be like kind of in limbo right now. Ahhh, I don't have a studio yet. Or you know, I haven't really decided what medium I want to... I think there'll be a lot of people that will be encouraged to say, I'm going to start it this year. I'm going to get my studio up and running.

Julia Meek: Oh I hope so, Joe. And last question, what do you want everyone in this creative city we live in to know about the collective artcentricity your Falling for Art Studio Tour represents?

Joe Pelka: I think we represent a lot of the positive things about art. And what I mean by that is our openness to share. I think that a lot of times, and I'm not saying it in a bad way, but a lot of times that art shows or galleries and stuff, you don't get to talk to the artists as much, which we all want to have this communication.

This is a perfect time to communicate. And some people are just going to communicate by demonstrating. Their body actions of actually carving into some wood or throwing a pot or painting a large canvas.

That kind of memory with the idea that you could maybe even purchase that piece later on when it's finished, that connection is really important to us, that connection that we're making with art and the people who love it.

Julia Meek: Fort Wayne creative Joe Pelka is cofounder of Falling for Art, along with his wife Kathy. Thanks for sharing your wonderful story and your creative spirit, Joe, have a great tour.

Joe Pelka: Thank you.

A Fort Wayne native, Julia is a radio host, graphic artist, and community volunteer, who has contributed to NIPR both on- and off-air for forty years. Besides being WBOI's arts & culture reporter, she currently co-produces and hosts Folktales and Meet the Music.