By the end of the year, the Commerce Connection Artists expect they’ll be forced to leave their art studios for good. In response, artists Pauline Sensenig, Ann McTaggart, Lynn Johnson, Susie Rodriguez and Austin Rodriguez have prepared their final exhibit for the public to attend.
The artists said they have yet to receive any official notice from Commerce Building landlords. But the rumors were strong enough for McTaggart to reserve a small storage room in the Benson Building to stockpile her paintings and supplies. “I haven’t officially gotten the word to leave,” she said. “So we’re kind of like all up in the air.”
For decades, the Commerce Building -- once known as the Motor Mart Building, which displayed, repaired and providing parking for automobiles in 1912 -- has been home to a handful of Siouxland artists. Artists Lynn Everest and David West were some of the first to find refuge in their spacious art studios overlooking downtown Sioux City. Businesses also occupy space in the Commerce Building.
“It’s always been an art-y building,” said Sensenig. “From the dance to the music and the belly dancing downstairs.”
When one artist left, another would take his or her place. Sensenig was eventually given West’s studio, the largest on the floor. And when the time comes, she plans to move her framed artwork and other belongings to her home, leaving behind a vast studio where she spent countless hours honing her craft and sharing memories with her fellow artists.
Sensenig and McTaggart would often spend their weekday mornings inside their studios, drinking coffee, conversing with each other and painting new projects. Susie Rodriguez said she would spend more time in her workspace just before art shows, creating new jewelry to meet inventory. Sometimes she’d spend entire Saturdays preparing pieces.
“Once it’s time to get started, then I’m here quite often, whenever I can be,” she said. “I can be here 12 hours in one day if that’s what it takes to get stuff done.”
Rodriguez’s studio is fashioned much like her contemporaries’ spaces. There’s a distinct display area and a work area. Sensenig and McTaggart have even constructed a “living” area complete with homey furniture, a mini fridge and a coffeemaker.
Rodriguez also shares space with her son, Austin, who is also an artist. His room is about as big as two closets but with a substantially higher ceiling.
In addition to a few storage rooms, Rodriguez lamented that there will be a lot of stuff to move out. “I don’t even want to think about it,” she said. “I don’t have a lot of time. I really am sad to leave this because it’s a home away from home. In fact, my son does sleep up here once in a while when he’s working really late.”
Knowing that she will no longer have the space to freely work away from her home, Rodriguez laughed and said she expects she’ll have “a lot more junk” in her house. She enjoyed having her studio separate from her house.
“I like to get out,” she said. “This is where I created things. It was a whole different mindset. […] This is my studio. This is where I’m creating. It’s not, oh, well I have to do some laundry in between doing the earrings. That will definitely be something I miss.”
Like McTaggart, Rodridguez hopes to find occupancy in the Benson Building -- a place that already houses its fair share of local artists -- in order to continue building her passion.
Despite having to move from their creative spaces, the artists don’t harbor any hard feelings.
“Sometimes you just get stuck where you’re at and then something needs to happen to move you on,” said Rodriguez. “I’m going to remain optimistic that is what it is, because I really was sad when I heard the news.”
Sensenig, who has been at the Commerce Building the longest, compared leaving her studio to when she retired from Morningside College five years ago.
“This is like another door closing,” she said. “We have a studio at home […] but you can’t work big in a small space. So I’m on hold for how I feel about it.”
The artists commended the building and its workers for being “so accommodating.”
McTaggart said, “[Commerce Building owner] Jim Johnson has done a lot for us. He’s allowed to have open houses, he’s allowed us to store, he’s allowed us to alter the walls with our paintings.”
“This has been a great place to be,” said Rodriguez.
The Commerce Connection Artists’ work will be on display and for sale at 4 p.m. Friday (Oct. 13) inside their fourth floor studios in the Commerce Building, 520 Nebraska St.