Hands on work inspires 3 Port Huron area artists

Working with stained glass is a relaxing hobby for Lee Hillis.

Art Studio 1219 in Port Huron is a multi-purpose gallery in Port Huron that strives to assist artists in many ways on many levels.

They offer classes, workshops, private events, exhibits, and more. There are even affordable exhibit packages that help artists showcase their work in the gallery.

"Here at the art studio we give these artists a place to sell and showcase their beautiful artwork," says Executive Director Gina Panoff. "We are very lucky to have such talent in the Blue Water area!"

MIke Riley enjoys sharing his creativity with the communityMichael Riley is one of those talents. A metal and wood artist, he has worked as a piano tuner and restorer for over 30 years.

He also had the opportunity to help restore the Highlander Sea, a tall community schooner in Port Huron.

Outside of his day job, he was making art, but not showing it.

Thanks to a pushy neighbor who saw his work and convinced him to "get it out in the world," along with the recession of 2008, which slowed business for him, he decided to go for it.

"A few years later, Gina saw my work at a gallery and searched me out," he says. "Other artists, like Tim Shoemaker (also showing at Art Studio 1219), told me I needed to get my stuff in there. There were other artists in there, with phenomenal work."

Currently, his work can be found at area art shows, and on his Facebook page, Roundhouse Sculptures. https://www.facebook.com/RoundhouseSculptures/.

"I have shown at art shows in Lexington, Rochester, Traverse City, South Haven--mostly on the shore of Michigan," says Riley.

He credits Art Studio 1219 for supporting great artists. "It's a great place to sell work, they do well for me. They always have new stuff; art is always changing. In art galleries, change is good."

Dave Fry is another artist from the Port Huron area who has shown at art shows in the area. He works primarily in stone and Dave Fry created this stone piece entitled "People."finds that the material itself is what is so exciting to him about art.

"The effort it takes in manipulating or creating something unique or different--with stone, it's the focus when carving," he says. "My wife Maryjean has probably startled me on a weekly basis when I am working stone."

He says that with "other 3D work, it's just making something interesting from something that may not be interesting by itself. Like in writing the word, "it" by itself is not interesting, but used in a sentence--who knows."

Fry sources his work from many different places—mostly due to family connections, which makes art a family affair for him.

"My stone comes mostly from visiting my daughters and family," he says. "I got about two tons of alabaster from Colorado moving my daughter out there and back a few years ago. And I got around a ton of blue granite (that is mostly gray) from western Massachusetts moving my oldest daughter to Boston."

Fry also found limestone from a quarry that his grandfather worked at up until he was 80 years old—and discovered that his grandfather was carving in the garage the whole time.

"About a mile away from my grandfather's house that I visited him at until the early nineties, is a new-to-me small stone lathe business. The owner gave me 800 pounds of local limestone. As we talked he told me about how he knew of two bird baths that Carl Fry (his grandfather) made. A friend of his had one. I asked why he would even know that. It was unique enough that he tipped it over to look for a name. I went to see it in his friend's front yard."

Inspired from trips to the DIA and the Detroit Public Library with an older sister, he would eventually build a darkroom in the eighth grade, and study photography and film at Grand Valley State University.

After taking art classes at the St. Clair Art Association, and connecting with a mentor he still consults, Carolyn Symanski, Fry began selling and showing his work.

Sidelined from physically carving for the past year due to surgery on his hand, Fry has still been staying busy in the art community, with plans to get back to work this winter.

Lee Hillis enjoys making stained glass art in her spare time.Last fall, he won Birmingham's Our Town Art Show "People's Choice Award," and was elected to the SCAA board this past winter. For the ninth time in 10 years, he will design St Clair's Neiman's Family Market Christmas Tree out of shopping carts.

He also represents the art community by serving on the St. Clair FIT Committee. "The FIT organization from the state realizes the value of public art and its impact on a community."

Although he is not currently taking classes, he is being "schooled" by his 4-year-old granddaughter, Leona.

"We made a 12-inch, V-shaped ramp to roll bowling balls down and up to fall onto a catapult type to make things fly into the air," he says. "After trying different balls, she picks up a three-inch yellow oval Christmas bulb. I told her 'that won't work.' She instantly says, 'yes it will papa.' When she put it on the ramp it wiggled instead of rolled, and made a different sound that we liked. Yes, she may be a genius."

"The art scene seems to be growing stronger," he says of the area, and lists several examples of public art: "the County Building displays, sculpture by the bridge, the St. Clair Inn statues on the river."

Lee Hillis grew up in Port Huron with a passion for drawing and art in general, but after she had children, she had less free time to spend on her hobbies.

Years later, and now living in Marsyville, the stained glass artist recalls sitting in a coffee shop with a friend lamenting that now that her children were older, she had some extra time.

"I needed something to occupy my time," says Hillis. "My friend suggested I start drawing again, but I didn't feel the same passion as I did when I was younger. She then suggested changing mediums."

After doing some research, she especially looked at Art Studio 1219 and the classes that they had available.

"I love the local scene of artists. There is so much talent in our area, both artistically and musically, and everyone supports one another. There is such a wide range of diversity, there is something for everyone." - Lee Hillis

"That is when I came across the idea of doing stained glass," she says. "I signed on for one of their programs and began to read everything I could find. The studio lit the fire and I ran with it."

Hillis says she has been working on stained glass projects pretty much ever since.

"I make small ornaments for fun that are available at The Raven Cafe, the same coffee house where the owner and my dear friend, Jody Parmann, sat with me years ago and inspired me to change mediums."

She says she is so busy she does not need to advertise.

"My amazing network of friends and family keep me busy with large commissioned projects and I have had a waiting list since I started. Thanks to them, I haven't had a need to create a website or additional marketing materials."

Hillis mostly gets commissions and jobs through Facebook and/or Instagram. She works during the day as a receptionist in a dentist's office, and she also has a seasonal job, working retail on the weekends during the holidays. She finds time in the evenings and during her free time on the weekends to work on her glass projects.

"I love to keep busy!"

She also loves the art scene that has taken shape in St. Clair County.

"I love the local scene of artists. There is so much talent in our area, both artistically and musically, and everyone supports one another. There is such a wide range of diversity, there is something for everyone."