Art opportunities abound on 15th Avenue East

Hunting for art on 15th Avenue is a real treat. From East Mercer to East John streets, there are several venues to view interesting, original artworks. This self-contained shopping district offers everything from soup to nuts. But even better, the neighborhood offers a variety of both local and international artists. The neighborhood is an invitation to grab a cup of coffee and stroll down the street, popping in and out of the shops that make up this urban village. Nowhere in Seattle can you have the experience of an old fashioned English High Street, with its warm diversity of goods and services.

Victrola Coffee

Victrola is the largest café on 15th Avenue. They experienced Andy Warhol's 15 minutes of fame last fall when they turned off their wireless Internet connection on the weekends. News outlets like the Financial Times of London and the New York Times ran in-depth features on the meaning of such an act.

What got lost in the shuffle is the fact that the café has a large amount of wall space for art exhibits. The high volume of foot traffic make this an attractive outlet for young artists. Currently they are showing paintings, drawings and etchings by artists Tracey Higgs and Rachel Lordkenga.

The most outstanding aspect of this show is the etchings of Higgs. To make an etching, the artist must incise a line onto a copper plate which is deepened by soaking the exposed lines in acid. After that step is completed, the artist must apply the ink to the plate and then hand wipe away the excess. The plate is then run through a press to transfer the ink to paper.

These prints are the gems of the exhibition. "Bad Memories" is a small etching with aquatint done in a style that echoes the German Expressionism of Gabriel Munter and Otto Dix. The figures in the works are rendered with a confident line and rock solid compositional skill. The small scale of these works makes for an intimate aesthetic experience. The best thing about any prints is that more than one copy is made, so many people can collect them. Leave your laptop computer at home and visit Victrola Coffee at 411 15th Avenue East.

Casita International

Casita is tucked away in a building set back from the street. This whimsical store provides a rich diversity of fine and folk artifacts, such as woodcarvings, tin ornaments, pottery, mirrors, crosses and rugs. Crammed into the shoe box-sized storefront are superior quality items from floor to ceiling.

The most striking objects are the small devotional sculptures of saints from Guatemala. In each piece you can trace the pious artistry from top to bottom. The saints sit on a top shelf with arms extended into a gesture of universal understanding. Unlike European religious statues, these works have a raw quality which gives them an incredible power as a demonstration of faith. An army of masks hangs from every available wall space. Some are representations of Mayan, Aztec, Toltec and other ancient civilizations' pantheon of deities.

They can be vividly colored with bright saturated hues of red, gold, green and blue or be simply monochromatic in differing shades of black. Some fine copies of paintings from the Spanish Colonial Art Baroque era are arresting in their iconography of angels and saints. You can see the artistic heritage of Velasquez, Goya and Zubarin in the dark backgrounds and brightly articulated figures. There is also an excellent selection of books on art of Latin America including a cookbook inspired by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.

If you are looking for an eclectic selection of art objects from all over the world, including Latin America, Central Europe and the Iberian Peninsula, Casita International is located at 423 15th Avenue East.

Café Lladro

Café Lladro now displays photographs by Emily Rieman who owns Best Friend Photography. These studio portraits of dogs, and cats were done in the subjects own home. Artists like William Wegman have long made pets the subjects of their photography and video. Pets reflect the personality of their owners. Rieman's work gives us character studies of these pets with the formality of a studio portrait. Touchy tabbies, goofy Great Danes, and pushy poodles stare right into the camera with expressions of both awe and contempt.

The unifying theme of these portraits is the puckish sense of humor that all of the subjects seem to have. These black and white photos are a sharp contrast to the pumpkin colored walls which makes them pop off the wall visually. Café Lladro is located at 435 15th Avenue East.

Frames, etc.

Two frame shops bookend 15th Avenue East. On the south end is Simply Frames & Miner Gallery, where you can find a beautiful seriograph by Leon Dupin published originally in 1933 by Joseph Charles in Paris or a nice selection of vintage maps from Seattle and Washington state. They are located at 346 15th Avenue East. At the north end is Museum Quality Framing, where manager Cheryl Swent can advise you on archival preservation issues in framing artwork. Visit her at 519 15th Avenue East.

15th Avenue has always been a distinctive and pleasing neighborhood on Capitol Hill. The people are as friendly and relaxed as those in a small village. The remarkable thing is that this takes place in the epicenter of a major metropolitan city. It is in many respects the closest thing Seattle has to the urban village which has long been the goal of many of our civic leaders.

Freelance writer Steven Vroom lives on the Hill and can be reached at

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