Edison Neighborhood

How will Edison keep moving ahead? Neighborhood explores artistic answers

When Jane Schelhas, a metal artist, moved from the Vine neighborhood into her Edison house, a former funeral home on Clinton, she decided what she was--a bohemian, urban pioneer.

“Vine is closer to downtown, which I sometimes miss, but Edison is an urban neighborhood,” says Schelhas. “I feel like I’m part of the real world. You go into these carefully-pruned neighborhoods and lose sight of how a lot of people live. Your view of them is colored by your lack of presence with them.

“We have lot of interesting people who come here for very specific reasons,” says Schelhas.“Property values are low. If you have an artistic nature, you may not be as interested in making more money as other people. I call it the upper ghetto. Maybe we’re more of a bohemian nature because we’re more willing to live in the hood.”

Schelhas, who began working with metal six years ago after semi-retirement from an ad specialty business, finds her surroundings conducive to artistic exploration. Her metal creations now populate her three-story home.

She discovered metal, or as she tells it, metal discovered her, when she was considering retirement. As a landlord, Schelhas was used to fixing things. She used power tools and knew how to weld.

“There were things that I wanted that I looked around for and didn’t see,” she says. “I asked myself, ‘Why can’t I just make this table or make that toilet paper stand?’

So she signed up for a metal art course at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts.

“After I made my second piece, my art instructor said, ‘You need to be doing this for a long time. You have an affinity for metal and metal has an affinity for you.’ she says. “That first year, I felt like I was possessed by an alien, but I didn’t have any idea what I was doing.”
Jane Schelhas found she had an affinity for working with metal. Photo courtesy of Jane Schelhas
Schelhas has since moved on from more practical pieces to sculpture. “I’ve always been an artistic person, but I never thought of myself as an artist. Welding and making things appeals to me.” 

Edison draws its share of artists and creatives due in part to the reasons Schelhas describes: affordable housing, a diverse population, and proximity to city central. 

In the neighborhood are people like John Head, a former newspaper editor and Elton John tribute artist, On the Ground’s star photographer, Fran Dwight, whose Inside Out Project on buildings around Edison presents the faces of a neighborhood with soul, Steve Dupuie, who will soon be opening Dormouse, a sketch comedy theatre on Portage Street, and Patrick Hershberger, a muralist, as well as the artists and tradespeople in the Jericho Town buildings on Fulford, and the many who live in the rest of Edison’s populated streets, the rap artists, mitten knitters, writers, musicians, gardeners, and entrepreneurs. 

“We love art and we love our artists,” says Tammy Taylor, Edison Neighborhood Association Director. “We have so many artists in the neighborhood, and just like the neighborhood, our artists are equally diverse making incredible pieces of work that you don’t find anywhere else.”

Businesses such as Fire Historical Arts and Cultural Collaborative, Tremolo Guitar Shop, Bellydance Kalamazoo, and El Concilio (formerly the Hispanic American Council), which sponsors vibrant yearly festivals, such as Dia de lost Muertos, contribute to the artistic vibe.

Edison is a neighborhood, with both patina and shine, an old copper kettle with a few polished spots that are slowly widening and connecting.

Hershberger, an Edison resident muralist who has been commissioned to paint a postcard-like welcome mural on what is known in the neighborhood as the Green Building adjacent to Howard’s Party Store, was 50 feet up on scaffolding, spraying in cloudscape as he spoke with On the Ground. 

The mural, featuring block letters that spell out Washington Square with various landmarks, past and present, within the letters, will grace the side of the building so that travelers from the airport to downtown will see it and identify the area. 

Weather permitting, the mural, 35 by 15 feet, will be nearing completion by the Edison Art Hop on Friday, June 1. Two years in the planning and designing, the project was funded by the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo to conceal a wall that looked blighted, with bricks and blocks missing. Buildings Restoration, Inc., completed restoration and resurfacing before Hershberger began painting.

The mural is not Hershberger’s first neighborhood-related work. Previously he designed and completed a Kalamazoo Valley River Trail sign located at the corner of the Eastside, Northside, and Edison neighborhoods.

“Edison is such a big neighborhood and it changes all the time as far as demographics,” says Hershberger, who has lived in Edison on and off since 1995. “As far as being a working artist, there’s just a lot of diversity to play off.

“Because we are such a large and diverse neighborhood, we have a lot of creatives who live here. When you have places that have more cost effective rent or homeownership, a lot of artists aren’t super rich people, so you have to go where you can live.”

Often when artists move in to affordable areas, they can change things, says Hershberger, mentioning the gentrification that can occur, especially in larger cities like Chicago. “I think Edison is a little different than that. You still have a lot of freedom to live. You can find affordable housing. The standard of living here is all over the place—not just one bracket.”

In addition, Hershberger says, “Because this neighborhood is looking to improve itself, people from all different aspects of the community are ready for artistic answers.”  

Over the past few years, he says, he has seen some “really creative energies” coming to the neighborhood, citing Fire, and the upcoming Dormouse Theatre, and partnerships from all over the city, most particularly from the Kalamazoo County Land Bank, which has been hosting Edison Art Hops, and purchasing and rehabbing housing as well as significant neighborhood buildings for re-purposing.

Patrick Hershberger at work on a new mural for the Edison neighborhood. Photo by Fran Dwight

After years of blight, and the significant removal of the adult entertainment businesses on Portage Street, beautification is high on the list of neighborhood goals. 

With its wide boulevards that speak of former glory days, its Craftsman-style houses and ornate, historic architecture in the old fire station on Portage and the Washington Square brand of the Kalamazoo Public Library, Edison boasts the sort of landscape that inspires. The houses are not identical nor are they identically maintained. 

The metal sculptor, Schelhas, acknowledges that she lives in what might be considered the nicer side of Portage Street, the west side, which is closer to the Farmer’s Market. Clinton, Schelhas’ street, is mostly owner-occupied, though she rents out the two upper stories of her large house.

“If you’ve been on Clinton, west of Portage, you can tell our street is significantly wider. Our houses are separated. Some of the houses on the other side of Portage you can touch somebody reaching out the window. We are conducive to a nicer lifestyle.

“East of Portage, residents face significant challenges,” she says. “Too many houses, too close together, too many rentals, too much poverty. They have issues. Things that make it very, very difficult.”

Schelhas, like many others in the neighborhood, sees Edison on an upward trend.  “I like the idea of contributing to the overall movement forward,” says Schelhas. “I love living here. I know of people who have moved away because of children and schools,” she says. “But they don’t know their neighbors.

“They move to places where everyone is like them, but they’re afraid of people who are just like them. Which seems a little bizarre to me. I’m living around people who are not anything like me, but I’m not afraid of them.

“We have our challenges, but we know our neighbors because it’s important to know the neighborhood. Maybe that’s not important in other neighborhoods where they’re hiding.”

As a bohemian, urban pioneer, Schelhas is clearly happy in the area where she’s settled.

“Everyone should be so lucky that they should be such a free spirit willing to live here and be a part of this wonderful, vibrant world,” she says.

Theresa Coty O'Neil is a Kalamazoo area freelance writer. She teaches English at the Academically Talented Youth Program. Her articles have appeared in many local publications and her short stories have been published in Alaska Quarterly Review and West Branch, among others. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Edison.

Southwest Michigan Second Wave’s “On the Ground Edison” series amplifies the voices of Edison Neighborhood residents. Over three months, Second Wave journalists will be embedded in the Edison Neighborhood to explore topics of importance to residents, business owners, and other members of the community. To reach the editor of this series, Theresa Coty O’Neil, please email her here or contact Second Wave managing editor Kathy Jennings here. 

For more Edison coverage, please follow these links.

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Empowering Women in Edison: Two women who help others find their own strengths

The library building is in its 90th year, but the programs change to keep up with Edison

As the Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year, Damarion Johnson learns how to take center stage

For many single parents in Edison it takes almost super powers to succeed

Let your voice be heard in Edison: IK2025

From a single scooter company to three buildings, Jericho Town grows in Edison

Liga Azteca de Futbol offers convenient sports option for Edison parents

Fire: Where teens find a safe place to learn about themselves and others with poetry

Edison: Where helping your neighbor is what people do and diversity is a matter of pride

Edison Voices: Geno Hinton in his own words

On the Ground Kalamazoo launches in the Edison Neighborhood

The On the Ground program is made possible by funding from the City of Kalamazoo, LISC, the Fetzer Institute, the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region, Michigan WORKS!, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation and the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo.
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