by Megan ‘Mac’ Littel
Artist Leslie Osborne always dreamed of opening an art gallery and studio. She talked about this dream with many of her artist friends, some of whom were fellow Eastbrookers.
Before Eastbrook Church was located on Green Bay Avenue, the church’s space had a small art gallery and fellow artists supported and encouraged each other. Art has always been a part of the DNA and fabric of Eastbrook Church, says Osborne, and this was one of the reasons she liked being at Eastbrook, and why she and her husband, John, have been members since the ‘80s. The relationships built through Eastbrook gave her the space to dream and to make those dreams into a reality.
When the opportunity presented itself to buy a condemned building on the corner of Green Bay Avenue and Lawn Avenue, the Osbornes were excited for its potential. They bought the property. It was dirty and rundown; it took a year of dedicated work from several Eastbrook families to clean and renew the space. They renovated the upstairs apartments into livable spaces and the downstairs became a gallery and studio.
Osborne describes the building’s history as a story of redemption. The building seemed beyond repair, but became a home for renters and a place for art to be created and celebrated. The Osbornes received a grant from the city of Milwaukee that allowed them to establish a rain garden; all rainwater that runs off the roof nourishes the backyard, which is full of native Wisconsin plants. The whole building, yard included, speaks of redemption and the beauty that can come from worn down things. From hard work, dedication, and a dream, Oholiab’s Art Gallery was born and hosted its first show in 2014.
The art gallery’s name, Oholiab, comes from the book of Exodus. After God delivered the Israelites from enslavement in Egypt, they spent 40 years in the desert, slowly making their way to the Promised Land.
During this time, God instructed Moses to have the people build a tabernacle, the place where God would dwell. God appointed artists to create the tabernacle and the things that would fill it; two artists, Bezalel and Oholiab, were called to use their artistic skills for the tabernacle (see Exodus 31:1-6). To the Osbornes, this story of artists creating for God was inspirational and the perfect name to embody the dream and vision for the space.
Osborne says of herself and fellow Christian artists, “we are God’s people wanting God’s story to be told here”. Often the arts community feels like a desert, but the story of Oholiab and the building of the Tabernacle took place in a desert where there were too many resources being brought by the people and they had more than enough. In the art world, this rarely happens. They loved the image of God providing for the work of artists.
Oholiab’s vision has always been to create a space for artists who have a Christian worldview to be encouraged and supported. Osborne champions the artist by affirming that “being an artist is a worthy and noble calling. It’s good to be an artist.” In a world that sometimes views the arts as inconsequential or misunderstood, this affirmation is essential. The gallery also provides a space to bring people together around the visual arts and to help bridge the gap of understanding and experiencing the arts. The gallery hosts artist talks at the beginning of each new exhibit, which allows people to learn and connect.
The book For the Beauty of the Church says, “the arts elevate, deepen, and sharpen each of these basic sensory actions [such as seeing and touching] and prime them as acts of worship.” In her work as a ceramicist, Osborne is worshiping as she creates. She describes her own creative process as a “dance with the Holy Spirit.” God is the ultimate artist, we only need to look at ourselves and the beauty and complexity of the human body, or out in nature to see all of God’s artistry. By soaking in the arts, appreciating it, and participating in it, we can engage more fully with God.
I would encourage you to step across the street and visit Oholiab’s. The building has bright west-facing windows that allow a lot of natural light into the open space. Art is intentionally placed throughout the gallery and is displayed on a rotating basis. To the left of the gallery space, they have installed several branches that act as the transition from gallery to studio. The branches allow you to see the artists working; there is not a hard separation between finished products and art in the making. Visit Oholiab’s Art Gallery and engage with the beauty that God gives us through artists and what they create. ■
Find more information about Oholiab’s current exhibitions, events, and gallery hours online at facebook.com/ohholiabs.