Shades of Brown, 3302 S. Peoria, has functioned dually as a coffee shop and art gallery since it was opened six years ago. For Melinda Curren, Shade's owner and gallery director, it was important for her to create a space where local artists could show their work in a relaxed and unintimidating environment.
Curren described her mother as an artist who has always been shy about showing her work, which has helped Curren understand that many artists fall into that category.
Consequently, Shades of Brown has become a space to give creative minds the confidence they need to pursue their artistic passions without pressure of fear or judgment.
Curren has also afforded several local artists the opportunity to display their artwork in the monthly gallery space.
This month, Lisa Dahlman has brought a glimpse of the daily lives of people of contemporary Chinese culture to the walls of Shades of Brown.
Dahlman spent two years in China teaching English at a university from 2003-2005 in the city of Wohan, an industrial city of eight million known for its high number of colleges. The imagery in her paintings are drawn from photographs she took portraying the everyday goings-on of life for the Chinese people.
Scenes of individuals selling flowers and produce to children walking together under their parents watchful eye are among the moments of life captured in her work. Dahlman calls this body of work, Ten Feet of China. This title speaks to the fact that China is a vast, dimensional and impressive nation of which Dahlman feels she was able to experience very little.
"I was only there two years in one city," she said. "If you measured out all of China, I only saw maybe 10 feet of it."
Dahlman's work is a reflection on the relationship between her own Western and Eastern cultures experiences. The paintings are portrayed in a realistic manner, typical of western art but are painted on traditional Chinese fabric so that they hang like a banner without a mat or frame.
This lovely mélange of East and West was a deliberate decision of Dahlman's to reflect on China's rich history, while nodding to that fact that it is quickly becoming a highly developed and Westernized nation.
"They are real people with real issues in their lives," said Dahlman, who feels that as Americans our impressions of the Chinese people are a bit dated. Her paintings show Chinese culture as more than chopsticks and the Great Wall but instead a contemporary people with many of the same daily struggles and joys we experience as Americans.
Dahlman's art is on display until Aug. 27. The show features a mixture of portraits done in oil and daily scenes painted in acrylic on colorful silk fabric.
This body of work was originally exhibited at Texas Tech in November 2008 when Dahlman received her Masters in Art Education. Dahlman and her husband now live in Tulsa, and she currently is busy painting from home and raising her baby girl.
Throughout the past year, Dahlman gave herself the challenge of making one small five-by-seven inch painting every day. "It has been kind of like a diary," said Dahlman, who used this exercise to capture whatever stood out most to her during the day. The paintings have ranged in content from a memorable scene in a movie to an inspiring color she remembered.
Her one-year painting challenge has come to an end, but Dahlman has decided to continue with the exercise for the time being as a practical way to keep her painting and responding to her daily experiences.
In addition to a monthly rotation of visual art adorning the walls, Shades of Brown coffeehouse provides opportunities to all kinds of local artists and craftsman. Intermittently on the weekends or evenings, local bands play live music and many local musicians sell their CDs at the front of the shop. In addition, local artisans sell their work ranging from handmade cards to jewelry to journals converted from old books.
Many of these artisans donate their profits to groups and organizations in need and heighten the impact Shades of Brown has made on the Tulsa community. One of the most notable characteristics of Shades are the handmade mugs coffee lovers sip out of while settling into the shop's eclectic variety of chairs.
Curren and her mom make the mugs themselves and get together twice a week to produce mugs for the shop's patrons to use or purchase.
Throughout the years, Shades of Brown has developed a reputation as a casual venue for local artists to display their work. In order to show their work, artists must submit to Curren a portfolio of images documenting their work, and, from there, Curren decides if they would be a good fit for the coffee shop.
She is open to all varieties of art barring it does not compromise the inviting and relaxed atmosphere of her coffee shop. Artists consistently contact Curren with hopes of showing their work and the schedule of exhibiting artists is often booked up to six months in advance.
More information is available at shadesofbrowncoffee.com.
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