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Unique downtown salon exhibits sinfully artcentric experience

Jeffrey and Bob share a passion for abstract art as well as thinking outside the box when it comes to sharing it with the public.
Julia Meek/WBOI
Jeffrey and Bob share a passion for abstract art as well as thinking outside the box when it comes to sharing it with the public.

Jeffrey Benjamin Hair, an ultra-modern salon on the Landing in downtown Fort Wayne, doubles as an art gallery, currently displaying an exhibit called “7 Deadly Sins” by acclaimed regional abstract artist, Bob Cross.

It’s a perfect pairing, according to salon owner, Jeffrey Ptak, whose goal is to, “give each client the best version of themselves while creating an aesthetically pleasing environment for all.”

For artcentrics like Cross, a self-proclaimed regionalist dedicated to portraying his environs through his paintings, this opportunity to get up close and personal with his work is a “singularly satisfying experience.”

Here WBOI’s Julia Meek discusses the advantages a dual venue like this provides with Bob and Jeffrey, how this sinfully clever show came about and its impact on the neighborhood it serves.

Event Information:

7 Deadly Sins Exhibit by Bob Cross at Jeffrey Benjamin Hair,
on The Landing at 116 W Columbia St. Fort Wayne
Now through the middle of September

Connect with Bob Cross and learn more about his work at the artist's website.
Find hours of operation and more about the salon at the Jeffrey Benjamin Hair website.

Courtesy/Jeffrey Benjamin Hair

Below is a transcript of our conversation:

Julia Meek: Jeffrey Ptak, Bob Cross, welcome.

Jeffrey Ptak: Hi.

Bob Cross: Hi.

Julia Meek: So Jeffrey, your hair salon on the landing doubles as an art gallery currently displaying Bob's sinfully fun exhibit. (chuckles) Let's start right there. How did that multi purpose space all come about?

Jeffrey Ptak: It's been on my mind for since I was probably about 15 years old. I always wanted to do hair. And through my travels overseas, I got to look at several different art museums, libraries, barbershops, and salons and I kind of mixed them all together.

Julia Meek: And in full disclosure, you were not overseas being a haircutter you were a volleyball player.

Jeffrey Ptak: Yes, I played professional volleyball for 15 years overseas. I played in Italy, Cyprus, Russia, Brazil, Puerto Rico, I was in Bahrain and as well as the United Arab Emirates.

Julia Meek: And it must have really spoken to you to have the hair salon and be very serious about that. Putting an art gallery within that space, how did it form up then?

Jeffrey Ptak: it was honestly, when I was a child; I always wanted to do the hair since I was really young. And we would actually skip school sometimes and go to art museums. (laughter) So I love them both.

There's really nothing better than getting your hair done. And I love going to museums and looking at art. So if you can combine them both in a beautiful space, I can't think of anything better.

Julia Meek: It's all about the artwork indeed.

Bob Cross: Like peanut butter and chocolate. (laughter)

Julia Meek: Bob, leave it to you to get that wonderful way to describe it. And it must be music to your ears to hear somebody that regards artwork such a daily and in your face, "needs to be enjoyed that way."

Bob Cross: It is; it's you know, nice to see people who enjoy things and immerse themselves in it. The world can be a pretty dark place, so art I think is very often a, you know, a way to, will shows our better day.

Julia Meek: True; and you have been making amazing artwork from your home in northern Indiana, actually, most of your life, let's say. You are a frequent flyer at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art already. What makes Jeffrey's art space so special?

Bob Cross: Sara Fiedelholtz first mentioned Jeffrey's salon art space to me. And after pressing my nose up against the window (laughter) I got in touch with Jeffrey.

The space itself is really unique. It's a lot of raw plaster and high ceilings and beautiful light. And you've got an audience which is a little bit outside the normal gallery or museum audience, which I think is important.

But also the fact that Fort Wayne has grown culturally, to a point where something like this is normal and accepted is really unique. And it shows you know how enlightened Fort Wayne is.

Julia Meek: You make a great point. And it's not only accepted, it's expected I think anymore, especially downtown.

Jeffrey Ptak: I agree.

Julia Meek: We've got a savvy downtown going. And you now put that together with those Seven Deadly Sins which you chose to make your show on. (chuckles) What inspired that clever topic, Bob? And how hard is it to convey in your signature abstract style those very, very concrete sins we got going there?

Bob Cross: Well, it is different because I'm not an illustrator, I'm an abstract artist, but still very much something that's doable. The idea came up in a conversation with my friend Sara Fiedelholtz.

She thought I was just going to pull some artwork out of my studio, which was already on hand and, no, everything is gone. I paint things and they leave. So I was creating a new series and I wasn't sure what I was going to do. And Sara suggested the seven sins and I thought wow, that's, you know, earthly pleasures. Let's go there.

Julia Meek: Great topic. (laughter) Well, job security for a couple of different professions that we know of, including the devil. But it can be rendered and has been rendered in so many ways.

Did you actually feel like you had a bit of an advantage because you approach from an abstract perspective, and that's a different perspective for that topic?

Bob Cross: I did. I felt like I didn't have to measure up to Hieronymus Bosch's version. (laughter) And secondly, I do a lot of my painting, I sort of think in musical terms often and you have themes in music, like the Four Seasons, which are conveyed abstractly in music, and so it didn't seem like a huge stretch to convey the Seven Deadly Sins.

Julia Meek: It's a great show too, yes, works as well.

Bob Cross: And it was a lot of fun. Every topic you know, you can really dive into.

Julia Meek: Were you surprised, or were you tickled once you got into it, with the fun you could have?

Bob Cross: Oh, yeah. Oh yeah! I think I probably had the most fun with lust, which was loosely based on a Harlequin romance novel and (laughter) it was fun, yeah!

Julia Meek: That's just great. Now it exhibits like this are meant to be social as well as artcentric experiences, much like hairdos and treatments going on there. So what does happen when the two meet Jeffrey, at your shop, as a matter of fact?

Jeffrey Ptak: It's just an amazing experience; nothing is better than getting your hair done. You go in looking maybe disheveled and you leave feeling like a million bucks, right? And then if you can look on the walls and see some amazing artwork, while you're getting pampered, it's awesome.

People love the art. I think all of our guests look forward to us changing to new artists every three to four months, because we keep it fresh and clean and just beautiful. It's neat to see people walk in and, "Oh, you got new art!" And they just walk around and look at all the new very cool and unique art that we have up.

So I believe every business needs to change every five, six years, right? Whether it's looks or concepts, but we're changing every three to four months, because we're constantly changing the art. So it's just...I'm lucky to have all these amazing artists in the space.

Julia Meek: It's great you have the idea. And yes, Fort Wayne is a great space to find great artists to be sure. Now let's flip that question. How does it feel in this venue from the artists perspective, Bob?

Bob Cross: It's exciting. It's a little bit outside of what I've been doing recently, as an art student it was common for us to you know, have pop up shows in the cafeteria or anywhere we could find a space but as I've aged it's gotten more and more formal.

So this is a lot of fun to break out and you know actually be out in public basically doing what I do. I wish I could be more of a fly on the wall and... (chuckles)

Bob Cross: It's all good stuff. It's all good stuff.

Julia Meek: Be careful what you wish for, it also being a hair salon. (chuckles)

Bob Cross: It could go either way. Yeah. (laughter)

Julia Meek: Now you tend to show the work of cleverly offbeat creatives at your salon, it seems, Alex Hall, Angelina Dolores recently, too.

Jeffrey Ptak: Yes.

Julia Meek: And now Bob, is this intentionally keeping with your holistic "just being as cool of a shop as you can" philosophy? And what kind of common connection do you feel or look for?

Jeffrey Ptak: Um, I enjoy abstract art. I enjoy highly creative individuals. And I think that's it. I think whether you're an introvert, if you're an artist, though, you are such a cool person, because you're creating this really unique stuff, you know?

Yeah, I look for just great people, great people who create art that's unique and creative. I would say all art's unique and creative, but we have such an abundance of excellent artists in Fort Wayne that I'm lucky. We are booked up through at least the middle of next year with artists.

So I only had to actually ask one artist to come in. That was the first one whose name is Thomas Leffers. And ever since, people have contacted me, which I love that. Makes it a lot easier on me and I think that my space is being appreciated by artists.

Julia Meek: Total proof and total good word that this is the right way to go.

Jeffrey Ptak: Yes. Definitely.

Julia Meek: And Bob, it has to make you feel good that you're in this showing.

Bob Cross: It does. I'm really grateful and I appreciate Jeffrey's sort of mindset of bringing in quality work. I think he's got a great eye and he loves art. It's you know, evident.

Jeffrey Ptak: I'm kind of a geek for art. (chuckles)

Bob Cross: Yeah, I mean, it's a nice feeling for an artist, you know?

Jeffrey Ptak: Yeah.

Julia Meek: Sometimes Geekdom is good here it's real good and we love that. And let's talk neighborhoods now. Bob, you are in a warm and quiet arts forward community up there Elkhart way; beautiful, friendly country. How does that influence, drive, maybe inspire, actually, your artwork?

Bob Cross: It's really part of my aesthetic. I draw constantly. I keep paper and a pencil with me all the time. And I'm doing abstract sketches of the things I see and experience each day.

So the area we live in influences that greatly, whether it's the weather or the wildlife, the nature, or urban centers, you know, that mix. Some locations only have rural settings. Some cities are just city, but we've got a nice mix here, which I think is important to making art.

You've got sort of a Apollonian and Dionysian range of mindset there, that's really important.

Julia Meek: That's fair. How important then is sense of place to you ultimately? And really, how do you convey it through abstract methods? Is that any kind of a stretch?

Bob Cross: it's a natural undertaking, it just feels really comfortable. For a long time. I thought, you know, gee, I have to make work that sells in New York or Paris and no, we've got a great thing going on right here.

And it's really indigenous. You know, the work that's made here plays well in our architecture in our spaces, in our lives.

Julia Meek:'re a regionalist kind of guy.

Bob Cross: (chuckles) I am a regionalist, yes.

Julia Meek: And proud of it; good for you as you should be. And Jeffrey, you're obviously all about this sense of place, operating in a very unique neighborhood, the Landing. What kind of ways have you really been able to connect with both of the services that you offer in that space? And really, regarding it as a neighborhood, how is it being received by the locals?

Jeffrey Ptak: It's such a cool space. There's been so many things that's been through my building. There was a furrier, there was a one room movie theater, there was an ice cream shop, a law office, and now we're a salon, which I think is awesome. This space itself goes so well with the area in the street. It's a walkable street.

So many people walk up and down that street daily. And so in the beginning, I felt, okay, this would be great for artists, because people be looking in the windows because we have large windows there and I'm right in front of the windows.

People feel free to walk in even if you're not getting your hair done, you could walk in, there's enough space you could walk through, look at all the art and it happens all the time. So I think it's such a perfect space, the Landing, for both our salon and a gallery. And luckily we have to have one,

Julia Meek: it's perfect. And in your modern incarnation, you have neighbors living behind you, above you and all around you. Is it, does it feel like it's a neighborhood?

Jeffrey Ptak: Like a neighborhood. It is--it is totally like a neighborhood. There are, I can't even, I think within three years when the project next to Club Soda over there will be finished.

There's going to be over 400 apartments in a two and a half block radius, which is kind of wild. And that feeds into just a walkable, eclectic space that we have with Promenade Park, the Landing, you know, soon to be The Pearl over there. It's just, downtown for me is where I want to be. I live seven minutes from downtown, over by foster Park.

And I'm more of an urban guy. And I really love our downtown. I could live anywhere in the world. I traveled all over. I've had jobs everywhere. I have connections everywhere. I chose to live in Fort Wayne, Indiana, because I believe in it. And it couldn't be more perfect for what I'm doing.

Julia Meek: Amen to that. And it couldn't be more perfect for people like you, Bob, to do the things you're doing from the environs and be a part of all this. I am curious, how does this interactive kind of showing, as you're doing it in this space, maybe for the first time exactly this kind of a space?

How does it work for you? What kind of direct responses are you hearing by now and what other local outlets besides this space do you have that you feel works for you in Fort Wayne?

Bob Cross: I've been really pleased with the response to the show. From what I've heard, Jeffrey has given me some really sparkling feedback and some from other artists, which I really appreciate greatly.

Jeffrey Ptak: Couldn't be a better compliment than from another artist.

Julia Meek: And your stuff's cool. Yes. But when the show ends, where are we going to be able to find Bob Cross art?

Bob Cross: Yes, you can always find my work at Sharon Eisbart Corporate Art and at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art's Paradigm gallery run by Abby Leon.

Julia Meek: So those are yet two different spaces, not as homey and friendly as Jeffrey's maybe and I don't think you can get here either place (laughter) but, other than that, does speak to Fort Wayne's artcentricity.

Bob Cross: Oh for sure. (chuckles)

Jeffrey Ptak: I truly feel that a lot of people are nervous to walk into a sophisticated art gallery that only has art, almost as if they're worried they're going to get maybe the salesman treatment or something.

Now that's not true when I go to art museums at all, or galleries at all, but I feel like they have more, you know they feel easier to slip inside my salon just to look at our because it's right there and there's no pressure, and it's for everybody. So I think that's good.

Bob Cross: You can let your hair down. (laughter)

Julia Meek: I think you two have been working together too much, here lately. (more laughter) Your corniness is infectious and that's just great. And Bob what is up on your drawing board now? Wherever we might be seeing it, what's next in your life?

Bob Cross: I am working on a group of paintings right now that will go to the Toledo Museum of Art, working on a group show for the Indiana State Museum and potentially another group show at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art. This is going out into 2025, '26.

Julia Meek: Okay, you've got a busy several years ahead of you. We are happy for that. And Jeffrey, what about your crazy world?

Jeffrey Ptak: Oh I just want to continue to making everybody around me happy and keep letting everybody be beautiful and and and they work with a lot more amazing artists.

Julia Meek: So you've got plenty of shows coming up?

Jeffrey Ptak: Yes!

Julia Meek: That we should be checking in for--we certainly will. Now obviously you both love what you do and you are passionate about sharing it with the world. We thank you for that.

So before I let you go, from your hearts, what does this unique kind of storytelling do for each of you that nothing else has ever been able to do? I'll ask you first, Jeffrey,

Jeffrey Ptak: I get to see the smile on people's face when they look at art. I truly enjoy that. From what I used to do when I played volleyball professionally, nothing can compare to that because I have had you know, 10s of 1000s of people's emotions in the palm of my hands.

If I score a point I made these people cheer, or I made these people hate me (chuckles) depending on a home or away team. But now I get to see it and what I create with hair I can see how people leave my salon just happier, and when I see them look at the art and the comments that they give and enthusiasm about the art it for me makes, it's very close to the other feeling that I have.

Julia Meek: It's a sport?

Jeffrey Ptak: Yes. Mmmhhhmmm.

Julia: And you Bob?

Bob Cross: You know Picasso said once that art cleans the dust off your soul. And I think there's a lot of truth to that.

You know, at the end of the day, the art I make, if it makes somebody happy, if it makes their life better, that's something you can't measure in terms of money or you know, material things and it's a feeling like nothing else. I really enjoy it.

Julia Meek: Jeffrey Ptak is owner of Jeffrey Benjamin Hair and Gallery Space on the Landing and Bob Cross, current artist showing the Seven Deadly Sins exhibit there. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful story with us. Do carry the gift, guys.

Jeffrey Ptak: Thank you.

Bob Cross: 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.