Oak Hall Soirée Gathers Artists and Arts Enthusiasts

Poet and author Catherine Anderson (left), and Lee Smalter, owner of The Smalter Gallery, gave presentations about their work at a recent Oak Hall Art Soirée. (photos by Pete Dulin)

Every month or so since 2016, arts supporters Butch and Corva Murphy have hosted The Oak Hall Soirée in the Oak Hall Condominiums at 4550 Warwick Blvd. Residents and guests sit shoulder-to-shoulder in the building’s cozy Oak Room space as two artists present, discuss their work, and answer questions from attendees. There is wine, and the space can accommodate roughly 40 people. Featured artists from various disciplines have included sculptor Lisa Bjornstad, biographer Steve Paul, fiber artist Roena Haynie and many others. Butch Murphy himself is an artist, known for his metal sculptures of horses.

“With their longtime interest in the arts, the Murphys have created a vibrant community. Their gatherings provide not only an informal forum for writers and artists but also a good model for grass-roots involvement and appreciation of the city’s wide-ranging creative spirit,” said KC Studio contributing writer Steve Paul, author of “Hemingway at Eighteen” and “Literary Alchemist: The Writing Life of Evan S. Connell.”

Lee Smalter, owner of The Smalter Gallery, led the first presentation at a recent Oak Hall Art Soirée, where she faced a standing-room-only audience.

Smalter, who grew up in Connecticut, recounted her aspiration early in life to shift away from a nascent career in psychology. Instead, she felt called to own and operate an art gallery. She answered an advertisement for a space available in Kansas City’s West 39th Street neighborhood near the former D’Bronx restaurant.

“It felt like home,” said Smalter.

Her presentation included photographs of a raw space that underwent renovation from November 2018 through spring of the following year. The finished space was roomy, airy and inviting to passersby. Smalter noted that the gallery opened right before the COVID-19 pandemic ensued.

“After opening night, I was supposed to be happy,” she recalled. “But now I’m scared. People thanked me the next day for opening a gallery. They were grateful. The community got me through, as I felt imposter syndrome.”

Since then, The Smalter Gallery has hosted poetry readings, numerous art openings and walk-in guests. Smalter pivoted to virtual events and exhibitions during the pandemic. Over time, she “gained the trust of those who have been left behind” as the gallery attracted and built its non-elitist community.

Look for upcoming exhibitions and a birthday party for Core Zine in June at The Smalter Gallery, 1802 W. 39th St., Kansas City, smalterart.com.

The evening’s second creative presenter was accomplished poet and author Catherine Anderson. Her most recent book is a memoir titled “My Brother Speaks in Dreams: Of Family, Beauty & Belonging.” Anderson read selections and shared stories about growing up with her autistic brother Charlie and their family.

“Each person has a right to be understood,” said Anderson.

Her writing and stories detailed the tender, kind, and, at times, frustrating challenges and adaptations that connected the siblings and their parents.

Anderson shared objects from her childhood, such as a treasured painting and a cloth with needlepoint added by her mother. She relayed stories about these family belongings as they were passed among the audience.

The Oak Hall Art Soirée provides a collegial space for art lovers to gather as a community and interact in a personal setting with local artists who have rich stories and work to share. Upcoming events are posted at www.butchsmetalimages.com/future-performancers.html. The doors open at 6:20 p.m. with programming between 6:30 and 8 p.m. Masking is optional.

Guest artists for the June 1 Oak Hall Art Soirée are fabric artist Marg Higgins and Catherine Vesce, painter and printmaker. The program begins at 6:30 p.m.

Pete Dulin

Pete Dulin is the author of “Expedition of Thirst: Exploring Breweries, Wineries, and Distilleries Across the Heart of Kansas and Missouri,” “Kansas City Beer: A History of Brewing in the Heartland,” and two other books. His reporting has appeared in “AFAR Magazine,” “Feast,” “Kansas City Magazine,” KCUR, Zócalo Public Square, “The Kansas City Star,” “The Boston Globe,” and other publications.

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