Sunday, June 15, 2014

St. Michael may just be the angel that downtown Cheyenne needs

On Saturday morning, I toured the new Creeque Alley Gallery in the Majestic Building right across from the Depot Plaza. It's on the second floor of the 107-year-old Majestic, a place you can reach by stairs or by one of the few manually-operated elevators remaining west of the Mississippi. A decade ago, when the Majestic was filled with offices of insurance agents, accountants and dentists, the elevator featured its own operator, a guy who may have been as old as the building. Now you're on your own figuring out the controls.

Cliff Brown is the proprietor of Creeque Alley. He's a well-traveled artist who now makes his home in Cheyenne. He wears a kilt on this Celtic Musical Arts Festival weekend. He points out his south-facing office window.

"Look at this view," he says.

It's impressive, I have to admit. Even with the window closed, you can hear the skirl of pipes and the pounding of drums and Harley engines and the train racket out beyond the depot. This is action central when it comes to downtown Cheyenne. The Corner Co-op Gallery soon plans to move next door to Creeque Alley. Brown says that the Majestic is filling up with funky new tenants -- just down the hallway is Cassidy's Message Therapy and a psychic's office. The Majestic connects with the building next door which is getting a makeover. New windows have already been installed and a construction crew is tearing up decades-old carpets and hauling away old desks and filing cabinets and phone books from the 1970s.

The Cheyenne DDA/Main Street organizations has moved into the building's ground floor corner office. The space used to be home to a hookah bar with a dicey reputation. On warm days, you probably can still smell the hookah fumes.

Michael the Archangel looks over Cliff Brown's shoulder in the Creeque Alley offices in the Majestic Building.
Cliff grew up in New Jersey and has lived all over the U.S., and in Canada and Northern Ireland. He lived in Northern Ireland long enough to develop an accent strong enough to befuddle American tourists. During "The Troubles," he conducted art classes that put Protestant and Catholic youth in the same room.

Kick-starting Cheyenne's downtown may represent a similar challenge. Downtown has tons of potential and artists are seizing the day. Camellia El-Antably and Mark Vinich will open their new Clay Paper Scissors Gallery and Studio on the 1500 block of Carey Avenue in August. A new studio/gallery will go into their old space in the renovated warehouse at 15th and Thomes. Another new art center recently opened east on Lincolnway. It's called FlyDragon Design Art Studio and offers classes such as "Hot Topics" on June 20, a date night class where couples come in to paint a masterpiece together. Sounds like a good way to see if you and your potential spouse are simpatico when it comes to the arts.

The ArtSpace Cheyenne project is gaining momentum. Downtown's infamous "The Hole" will soon be filled by the Cheyenne Children's Museum. The city council will vote on the project at Monday evening's meeting. Those of you anxious to fill The Hole with an arts-oriented business might want to drop a line to their city council rep.This summer, the Hynds Building will be the site of an exhibit of larger-than-life portraits taken by Wyoming Tribune-Eagle photographer Michael Smith in his bid to capture the images of 1 percent of the county's population. The exhibit will be open daily in July and Smith will be taking portraits in the building's main floor throughout the month.

Creeque Alley's offices feature a gallery where you can sit in overstuffed sofas and contemplate the paintings on the wall. Some are by Cliff and his fellow artists; others are by unknown artists, the paintings left behind in the building's storage area, retrieved and repaired by Cliff. It's a good place to hang out, maybe bring your coffee up from the Paramount Cafe for for a few moments and introspection and art appreciation.

Next to Cliff's desk hangs a big black-and-white print of a traditional painting showing Michael the Archangel driving Lucifer from heaven. Cliff calls this his good luck charm, noting that since it was hung on the wall, he's been to assemble all the furniture, computer equipment and some of the paintings for free. All he needs now is $700 in monthly rent to keep the place open. Cliff is counting on art sales, fees for art classes and income from his graphic design business to make the payments. He's meeting with the DDA on Monday to see what it has to offer.

The St. Michael print strikes a chord. I had a similar painting over my crib. My name's Michael, you see, and my parents thought that a portrait of a lanky, long-haired angel poking a trident at a prostrate, grimacing Lucifer is just what a young Catholic lad should see as his synapses formed lasting memories. Maybe they were right.

St. Michael may be a fitting patron saint for downtown Cheyenne. Devils galore stand in the way of progress: outmoded rules and regs, absentee landlords, niggling naysayers and that old demon, status quo. In Christian tradition, St. Michael led a band of angels against the forces of darkness. This time, he may be leading the charge of a band of local artrepreneurs.


Mary Gillgannon said...

Great post, Mike. Love how you tied everything together. I hope Cliff succeeds. Downtown Cheyenne has so much potential.

Michael Shay said...

Thanks, Mary. You're right, downtown has so much potential. It's getting there in fits and starts.

Teri said...

Fantastic article, Michael! Please do another in a year to track the progress of Downtown Cheyenne!