An Artists’ Haven
By Meda Kessler
Photo above by Ralph Lauer
From a bare-bones studio to a white-box gallery, Artspace111 celebrates 40 years of showcasing local and Texas talent.
What started out as a bare-bones studio for a group of Fort Worth artists in 1980 has blossomed into one of the premier galleries for modern and contemporary art.
Located near the railroad tracks on the northeastern edge of downtown Fort Worth, the 1911 two-story brick furniture warehouse, originally called Studio111, was the creative hive for twin brothers Daniel and Dennis Blagg. For a time, the other Blagg brothers, Doug and Woody, joined them.
“Back then, it was kind of quiet on this side of downtown,” says Daniel, who also called the studio home for a while. The Blaggs invited fellow Fort Worth artists, including Cindi Holt, to join them. In 1989, Holt came up with an idea of having a little party for friends in the hopes of selling off some of her inventory. The other artists cleaned up their workspaces and joined in. They all sold a little art and had a lot of fun.
The event continued to grow each year, drawing 700 friends and art lovers by year four.
In 2007, Margery Grella and her brother, William Grella, bought the building ahead of a potential buyer who had been circling it in hopes of turning it into a boxing club. The Grellas hired Fort Worth architect Norman Ward to create a serene white box space that was inviting but still felt raw. The concrete floors are sanded, but paint remnants remain. It is windowless on the first floor, but the massive back doors open up to a deck and patio space. The courtyard, now surrounded by an artfully woven metal fence, has morphed into a destination for weddings and other special events with the addition of the deck. Short concrete pillars — remnants of the past — now serve as bases for outdoor tables.
The upstairs remains the painters’ studio. Daniel Blagg still paints there, as does Holt. Gallery manager Ariel Davis also works and offices in this space. We recently saw this sanctuary for the first time, climbing stairs we didn’t even know existed. Daniel’s closed-off workshop takes up part of the second floor — he stretches his own canvases — and is neat and orderly, from wood to tools.
The studio itself is well-lit thanks to a large skylight. Works in progress lean against the wall and on easels. It’s quiet and peaceful. The weathered wood floor is in warm contrast to the concrete in the gallery, although it, too, bears the colorful spatters of paint from many artists over the years.
Back down in the 3,000-square-foot gallery, it’s quiet. A makeover that included the removal of one interior wall has created a bigger exhibition space. The Blagg brothers have their own little gallery there, and the walls are filled with Daniel’s urban landscapes and Dennis’ Big Bend paintings. The gatherings that the artists used to host have turned into Gallery Night events, where friends and strangers pack the building and courtyard. Daniel looks at a portrait of himself done by brother Dennis. “A lot of things have changed. I certainly had more hair back then,” he says with a smile.