BY BRIDGETT HENWOOD
An enterprising artist and a preservation developer have transformed the old I. Fell Building, with its exposed steel beams and concrete floors, into a collection of studios for artists of all sorts. The building at West 4th and South Rogers streets, which began life as a car dealership in the 1920s and has had many incarnations, now also houses a gallery space and a vegan bakery.
When artist Daniel Evans, owner of the Bloomington Clay Studio (BCS), outgrew his studio in Brown County last year, he teamed up with Cynthia Brubaker to find a new space. Brubaker, who specializes in restoring old structures, says she always saw potential in the yellow brick building. “It was a sleeper and definitely underused.”
Evans and Brubaker began renting from the Fell family last summer. “I was needing about 1,200 square feet, and this is close to 8,000,” says Evans. “So I thought I should start developing the building for all kinds of artists.” He and Brubaker divided the space into studios that line the walls. The large middle space is divided in half, with one side dedicated to the BCS and the other to a gallery space. Each month, Evans and Brubaker curate a local art show, called First Fridays at the Fell.
Twenty artists occupy the building, including printmakers, jewelers, and a tattoo artist, as well as the Rainbow Bakery. Adding to the creative throng are budding ceramicists taking BCS classes.
With a grant from the Bloomington Urban Enterprise Association, Brubaker restored the west side of the building to its original appearance. She hopes to garner another grant to restore the 4th Street facade, particularly the transom windows currently concealed behind plywood.
The Fell building has housed its share of commerce over the past 80-odd years. Built in 1929 by Isaac Fell, the building was first an Auburn Cord Duesenberg car dealership, and, according to Evans, “they did not sell a vehicle.” As it passed through generations of the Fell family, the building became a muffler-repair and glass shop with a salvage yard out back. After that, it was a restaurant, a warehouse, and an ROTC office. Most recently, the building housed Thompson’s State Beauty Supply and Charlie’s Barber Shop.
Today, artists like Kim Ransdell, printmaker and owner of The Collective Press, are using the space. “I wanted to be around more artists,” she says. “I feel really fortunate to have slipped in at the right time.”