Hidden enchantment: The Hobbit Hole Gallery in downtown Kalamazoo

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan's Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series.

KALAMAZOO, MI — In the heart of downtown Kalamazoo, on South Burdick Street, surrounded by the eclectic shops of the Kalamazoo Mall, lies a hidden haven for art enthusiasts and collectors. The Hobbit Hole Gallery, nestled in Devisser Alley, is the brainchild of Trevor Jackson, a passionate artist and curator with a vision to bring his childhood dream of owning his gallery to life — a dream Jackson has had for some time, “since I was pretty young, I’d say single digits.”

As you walk down the alley, your brain might push you to continue like always- past the body-piercing shop, underneath the glow of the hanging lights over the brick, and easily by the windows and doors that lead to who knows where. This is a thoroughfare, not somewhere you stop; a transitional space. But this evening something catches your eye, an unassuming gold marker on a door that reads “The Hobbit Hole Gallery.” You stop, and peer in the windows of the space. 

The Hobbit Hole Gallery is halfway down the Devisser Alley on the North side of the walkway. “Hobbit hole just seemed like home,” says Jackson, originally from Greenville, Michigan, on his reasoning for naming the space after the famous J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy series, The Hobbit, and Lord of The Rings.

Jackson moved to Kalamazoo during the COVID-19 pandemic and currently pierces at Kitten Flower Boutique, the jewelry and body piercing boutique at the start of Devisser Alley off of the Kalamazoo Mall. The Hobbit Hole Gallery name “stems from a nickname” Jackson received as a piercer and also refers to the size of the space. Jackson has always had a smaller stature than most of his peers, who in his words were “big burly tattoo artist guys,” and the gallery space itself is no more than 20 by 7 or 8 feet.

Jackson seized the opportunity to transform an open space behind Kitten Flower into a vibrant gallery, officially opening its doors on January 18, 2021. A good amount of the artwork that was formerly displayed in Jackson's spare bedroom moved directly into the new brick-and-mortar location. Set against the light gray of the walls, the art inside of The Hobbit Hole Gallery highlights the contrast between black shadows and bright pops of color. Every few pieces, the art in the gallery shifts styles, something that Jackson says is intentional, 

Every wall in the Hobbit Hole Gallery is filled with the artwork of creator and owner Travor Jackson.“Art is subjective, and so many artists stick to one style. They try to specialize. Which is okay, you know when it comes to tattooing… but I feel like in not such a permanent on your body aspect, you don’t necessarily have to be a master of one.”

Jackson says he strives to have a good time creating his artwork and sees the learning and enjoyment aspects of the process as most pivotal. “If you get too into the business side of it (art making), you will probably fall out of love with it." 

Moving from one style to the next in an organic way is something Jackson says he does to avoid creative roadblocks... “That is the thing that keeps me moving forward… as an artist. If I get complacent with one style, I can just switch to another style, and still feel comfortable — still get out whatever I need to get out.”

Artist and owner Trevor Jackson inside of the Hobbit Hole Gallery. The essence of The Hobbit Hole Gallery lies not only in its hidden treasure-esque location but also in the type of artwork that lives in the space. All of the artwork is created by Jackson and is comprised primarily of mixed media pieces. When it comes to the selection process, Jackson’s take is refreshingly simple yet discerning — he showcases pieces that resonate with him and that he believes others will enjoy, but also includes "whatever is complete.”

There are plans to bring other creators into the Hobbit Hole because lifting local Kalamazoo artists is important to the owner. Presently, Jackson is in the process of finding makers of jewelry to invite into the gallery. “Art is always something that seems to get pushed out when something needs to get improved or added… musical and visual arts are always first on the chopping block, and I don’t think that is right,” says Jackson.

The owner of the Hobbit Hole Gallery recognizes the importance of nurturing the local art scenes and amplifying artists' voices in a world where virtual platforms often overshadow physical spaces. Jackson is convinced that giving artists more opportunities to share their work with the world does an incredible amount to revitalize those artists' passions for the act of creating, especially in an era dominated by digital consumption.

The first in a series of pieces leading to the self-portrait.While digital platforms offer convenience and accessibility, they often fall short of capturing the full essence of the artistic work. Jackson emphasizes the importance of experiencing art firsthand, sensing the nuances of texture, color, and form that can only be fully appreciated in person.

The tangible presence of artwork in a physical space allows for a deeper connection between the viewer and the piece, growing a sense of intimacy and understanding that can transcend pixels on a screen, such as the bubbles that appear here and there in one of Jackson’s acrylic pour pieces: the jagged edges of a mountainscape that jut away from the painting as they are traversed by a giant black shape that seems to be searching for something, just as we all are; the unconventional materials add an element of sculpture and roughness to the outline of a deep multi-hued cobalt and navy blue cloud, crying droplets of colored water off the canvas. 

A mixed media piece that builds away from the canvas. Jackson also considers physical galleries important because a lot of folks have trouble imagining dimensions without being in person. Standing in front of a piece of artwork, literally, “gives more perspective on the artwork.”

For Jackson, the future of The Hobbit Hole is to be open for more of Kalamazoo’s Art Hops and invite other artists into the space. While he acknowledges the challenges of balancing his busy work schedule with the demands of running a gallery, Jackson remains committed to his vision of creating a place where people can come to view artwork in a physical location, and where his artwork can find a home outside of his mind.

In a world filled with so much noise and bustle, places like The Hobbit Hole Gallery serve as a refuge of creativity and expression, reminding us of the beauty that surrounds us if we are not afraid to keep our eyes peeled as we rush from place to place. 

An acrylic pour that is no bigger than a few inches across, a good representation of what Jackson meant when he said physical galleries are important for collectors to understand dimensions.Next time you find yourself in Devisser Alley, watch for the glint of gold, like the one on the encrusted underbelly of the fearsome dragon Smaug. If you do, you may find there is a one-of-a-kind treasure just waiting for you to discover it. 

The Hobbit Hole Gallery is open by appointment only and for periodic Art Hops. If you would like to stop by, please message the gallery’s Facebook.
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Read more articles by Casey Grooten.

Casey Grooten is a Kalamazoo native who lived in the Vine and Stuart neighborhoods for over a decade and graduated from WMU with a Bachelors in English. Casey lives in Kalamazoo and spends their free time making artwork and music. Casey is passionate about social justice and equity, transgender rights, community events, and the arts.