by Jane Durrell
Lily Mulberry’s long and difficult battle with cancer ended this month. For almost a decade her 1305 Gallery has given authenticity and continuing interest to the vivacity of the upper Main Street art scene and she herself was always a pleasure to encounter. The loss to the art community is both professional and personal. I had been aware of the gallery from its early days, often reviewed it and when, in late 2011, Aeqai editor Daniel Brown asked me to profile Lily and 1305, the assignment was a welcome one. If Lily knew of her illness then she wasn’t talking about it. We had a fine time tracing her unlikely career, its pleasures and difficulties. When, later, her struggles with her health became apparent, the shock and distress of the situation touched all who knew her. Courage can only win some battles; this one it lost.
Aeqai, December, 2011
Lily Mulberry and 1305 Gallery
The idea of opening a little art gallery is one of those persistent day dreams seldom carried out in real life. 1305 Gallery, a model of its kind, opened more than six years ago at 1305 Main Street in Over-the-Rhine and has presented a steady program of exhibitions since. Plans for 2012 are in place, proving that some dreams have legs.
When Lily Mulberry was studying painting, along with arts, sciences, and women’s studies, at the University of Cincinnati a decade ago she and a friend talked of opening a little art gallery because no existing gallery “was really a good fit for our art. Lots of shows were in coffee shops or restaurants or they were massive, poorly organized group shows, or they were on a whole other level. We wanted to make a serious art space accessible for the artists and for the public.”
They graduated in 2003, the friend went on to graduate school elsewhere, and Mulberry was left with the idea. “I trimmed it down, because in the end I was doing it by myself. I made a business plan and stuck to it” she says practically.
“With only myself to rely on I have to know my limits, but I do take on more than I originally planned and try to expand in terms of making things better. It’s easier in some ways, including the pending show realm, now that I know what I’m capable of.”
The first question, once she’d decided to carry on, was where to locate. At the time, she lived above the first floor space that became the gallery, then unused, “but for some reason I didn’t think of it. I was thinking of downtown and didn’t look in Over-the-Rhine. But downtown space was too big, too slick, really expensive, so I called my landlord for advice, because he had other properties. He said, what about this space? It did need work, but not overwhelmingly, we could agree on a price, I put some investment money into it and signed the lease March 1, 2005. We opened the gallery on Final Friday, April 29, 2005. I was thinking perhaps the end of May, but lots of people were saying ‘When???’ so I pushed it. The first show was all my work, I didn’t have time for anything else, we were still working on the space.”
She seldom shows her own work there now; it appears elsewhere from time to time. “I still paint, still work on it,” she says, “steadily, slowly, surely.” What she does show at 1305 is a clear reflection of her own aesthetic. “A lot of work doesn’t fit in the line of what I want to show,” she says. She’s not sure how to characterize what she looks for, but says whimsey is a frequent component, “dream-like, introspective, a sweetness even when darkness, not political. . .sometimes a graphic look doesn’t fit what I like to look at. I have to use myself as a guide.”
The work shown at 1305 is often playful but can have a sharp edge and consistently reflects a high level of skill. “I’m trying to fill a niche for people at the beginning of a career, for artists that are often extremely prolific, for artists who have developed a reputation but are discouraged by options of exhibition space. They don’t have to live in Cincinnati. I show people from Lexington, Louisville, Bloomington, Chicago. I do want them here for opening night, I want them to be part of the show in that way.”
As a relatively long-time business person in a neighborhood where businesses sometimes have a short life, she is optimistic about today’s OTR Main Street. “There’s a big difference in activity on the street, new businesses, a good community of people. The businesses are more permanent, mesh better, and the new people are a positive influence.” Although she used to close in August, she no longer does as activity continues to percolate even in the summer.
Mulberry no longer lives above the gallery but in an apartment “up the street” with her husband Richard Applin, whom she married in 2007. He is British, a carpenter by trade. “We both work with our hands,” she says.
Mulberry does other work as well, a day or night job having always helped to support herself and the gallery. For several years she was a bartender, the last stint at the Hilton’s Netherland Plaza Hotel. Night hours “worked well with the gallery, after I figured out how to do it.” Those were the days when the gallery closed at 3 in the afternoon. “I was a bartender for eight years all told, but I’d been in restaurant work since I was 15, waiting tables, bussing tables, cocktail servicing, and then bar tending. It’s a challenging business physically and can be emotionally exhausting. I decided to try something else, but I miss it sometimes.”
The something else is the day job she’s held for the last year, working in rental leasing for The Model Group, a real estate company located in Over-the-Rhine. “There’s been a lot to learn. The job keeps me in the loop of what’s going on in the neighborhood,” she says. Gallery hours changed; she currently has two interns from U.C. and a volunteer, “a retired man who’s extremely helpful,” and is able to have the gallery open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Hours in 2012 may change to noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday and possibly Friday evenings, depending on interns and other help. “I’m developing a comprehensive business plan,” says Mulberry, who knows more than most about making dreams come true.
Yuletide 2011, in place now, is an out-and-out holiday show with everything for sale and including small boxes artfully crafted, coasters, paintings on blocks of wood, tee shirts, spice racks and other gift giving art productions. Prices are as varied as the works themselves. “The range is fifty cents to $500, but I’d say average prices are ten to twenty dollars,” says Mulberry. “I have a corps of artists I draw on for this show, a few new every year.” Artists represented include Cincy Craft Cartel, Rich Fruth, Larken Design, Katie Swartz, Saint Lexi, JK Smith, Hark Hark, Lori Larusso and more, among the more Lily Mulberry with a rare appearance of her work in her gallery.
“Will power to keep the gallery going sometimes wanes but vacation once a year helps that,” she says, and laughs. Vacation comes immediately after the current show closes on December 30, and will leave the gallery dark until January’s Final Friday, the 27th, when a new show will open. This exhibition is to feature recent woodblock prints by Shawna Khalily, an Art Academy graduate of some years ago, now living in Louisville. And in April, 2012, 1305 Gallery will have been in business seven years. Not a bad track record for an undergraduate dream.