20 North Gallery marks 20th season on May 25Written by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
Eric Hillenbrand, owner of 20 North Gallery, will celebrate the debut of his gallery’s 20th season on May 25 with family, friends, artists and food. It’s hard to believe that nearly 20 years ago, he felt a little lonely at work.
“There was one other business in a four-square-block area. Often at nighttime, in this end of town, there would not be a single light on for blocks in any direction … but there’s the gallery. At times when it was on the corner, you could see it for blocks on Monroe Street, it would just light up the whole area,” he said. Now 20 North is surrounded by restaurants, galleries, businesses and Fifth Third Field. The gallery, the oldest independent Toledo gallery, was located at 20 N. St. Clair St., before moving to 18 N. St. Clair St. in 2005.
Hillenbrand, also owner of Hillenbrand Investment Properties renovation company, had sought to open an artists’ colony in the early ’90s, but found that idea morphed into something else. “The gallery really grew out of the response we had from the artists saying we need to display our work,” he said.
It wasn’t long before the gallery became a Downtown draw. “The gallery very quickly took on a life of its own and I was very fortunate early on to have an incredible art director, Peggy Grant,” Hillenbrand said. Grant came on in 1994, bringing many of her artist connections with her. Many of these artists are on display at “20 North / 20 years: The Debut Exhibit of Our 20th Season,” leading up to the May 25 gala.
“Because of my love of art and Toledo, I found out about many of the artists who are showing in this exhibit right now. We have a tremendous amount of excellent talent,” Grant said.
Grant, a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art, came to Toledo from Detroit in the ’50s after the paint-by-numbers company she worked for transferred her and her husband. Her husband, Adam Grant, was a Polish painter who survived a World War II concentration camp by painting for his captors.
After working for the paint-by-numbers company, Grant went on to curate for Owens-Illinois and later work for Northshore Displays. One of the exhibits Grant started during her time with O-I was the Black History Month display, still an annual occurrence at 20 North and something the staff is very proud of.
“I look for artists of African-American heritage to exhibit their art and get them recognition because so many are not recognized,” Grant said of what is the longest-running Black History Month arts event in the city.
About five years ago, Condessa Croninger, a former colleague of Grant’s, joined 20 North as associate art director, also bringing her connections. Before Croninger was a gallery employee, she was a fan.
“I am happy to say I attended the very first exhibit … and I have seen every show and I’ve been to almost all of the opening receptions,” she said.
Croninger and Hillenbrand are also very proud of the fact that exhibits organized by Grant at the gallery have gone on to museums.
“To have a commercial gallery in a market like Toledo create a quality exhibit sought after by museums says a lot about Peggy’s ability to find these fabulous artists,” Hillenbrand said.
One such exhibit was the 1997 “Baltimore Realists,” which went on to the Midwest Museum of American Art, the Salem, Ohio, branch of the Butler Institute of American Art and the Washington County Museum in Hagerstown, Md.
The exhibit “Adam Grant: Figure Master” started at 20 North before continuing to the Toledo Museum of Art, the University of Toledo and Collegius Maiues in Krakow, Poland. Grant still curates her late husband’s work, which is on display at the Midwest Museum of American Art until July 8.
But, the greatest accomplishment of 20 North may be its impact on the Toledo arts community. Grant, Hillenbrand and Croninger have all served on the board for the Arts Commission and the area where their gallery is located is an “arts hotspot.”
“It’s been wonderful to have the opportunity to work through other organizations like the Arts Commission and see the industry develop in Toledo. It is a totally different ballgame [from when 20 North started],” Croninger said.
20 North also honors its Toledo home with its latest exhibit. Nineteen of the 20 artists included are local. The 20th is painter Joseph Sheppard, who studied with Grant in Maryland and was included in the “Baltimore Realists” display. Both Grant and Sheppard studied under Jacques Maroger, former technical director of the Louvre.
Michael Sheets, the first artist to exhibit at the gallery in May 1993, also has work on display in addition to paintings by Adam and Peggy Grant. David Eichenberg, whose work is included in the BP Portrait Award exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in London, will also unveil a commissioned portrait at the gala. The subject of the portrait is a surprise.
Other artists on display include Leslie Adams, Kimberly Arden, Mike Basista, Aaron S. Bivins, Michelle Carlson, Wil Clay, Steven Conine, Joe Ann Cousino, Philip Hazard, Skot Horn, Tom McGlauchlin, Elaine Mikel, Kelly Sheehan, Mike Sohikian and Bruce Works.
“This particular show is not unique to the extent that all but one of the artists in this exhibit are local artists,” said Hillenbrand, whose gallery has survived many changes in the art market over the years.
“When we first started the gallery, there was a real push in the corporate business world for art and then that changed,” he said. “It really moved from corporate buying to purchasing on a very individual level. The trend now is I see a lot more interior designers and architects approaching us for work in conjunction with spaces they are designing.”
For the future, Grant hopes 20 North becomes recognized as the pacesetter he believes it is.
“We’re equal to what you see in New York City or Washington, D.C.,” said the usually humble art director. “If it weren’t for Eric Hillenbrand, we would not have this dynamic Downtown.”
The gala anniversary reception for “20 North / 20 Years: the Debut Exhibit of Our 20th Season” is 6-9 p.m. with recognitions at 7 p.m May 25. The reception and exhibit, which runs until May 26, are free and open to the public at 18 N. St. Clair St., Toledo. Gallery hours are noon-4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday or by appointment. Call (419) 241-2400 or visit www.20northgallery.net for more information.
Tags: 20 North Gallery, Aaron S. Bivins, Bruce Works, Condessa Croninger, Elaine Mikel, Eric Hillenbrand, Joe Ann Cousino, Kelly Sheehan, Kimberly Arden, Leslie Adams, Michelle Carlson, Mike Basista, Mike Sohikian, Peggy Grant, Philip Hazard, Skot Horn, Steven Conine, Tom McGlauchlin, Wil Clay