Sometimes it’s hard to remember that behind the windows of small businesses are people in our community, says local artist Grace Chin. Large storefront windows displays showcasing colorful, striking and often iconic images and pop culture characters happen to be a pleasant reminder in Lawrence.
“It’s something very personal and meaningful to downtown Lawrence,” Chin says. “It’s nice to see human touch when a lot of stuff is super manufactured, cardboard cut-outs and pre-made.”
With a college campus nearby, and some graduates staying put, local businesses can tap creative artists to spruce up their storefronts and get noticed from the streets. Here are just a few artists behind the glass.
Grace Chin, The Toy Store
Chin, a Kansas University graduate in printmaking, collaborates with her co-workers on the window displays at The Toy Store, 936 Massachusetts St., switching them out on a monthly basis depending on the season or any upcoming events they may be hosting. For their first annual tea party, they decided on an “Alice in Wonderland” with papier-mache, tissue paper, deflated bouncy balls turned into mushrooms and stuffed animals.
This month’s window is home to a series of community-entered Lego creations for the contest they held throughout June.
“It’s a nice greeting on the street,” she says. “People in this community take a lot of pride from creating really interesting displays at their stores, and we're no exception.”
Upon her hiring, Chin was told the store wanted to upgrade the artistry of its windows to draw in customers off the street. She and fellow artists on staff painted a scene from “Where the Wild Things Are.”
“We kind of have it made at The Toy Store because there’s so much to work with,” Chin says. “Every color, every texture. We look inside the store to find inspiration, using the toys themselves.”
A favorite of Chin’s was a display for Valentine’s Day where they painted a giant whoopee cushion with a cloud coming out of it that said “love stinks.” Then they took direct advantage of product advertisement by hanging up 140 whoopee cushions and every “flatulence-related” item in the store.
“That was the perfect combination of something funny, and something eye-catching and something relevant to what was going on,” Chin says.
Scott Burr, Game Nut and The Burger Stand
Before entering The Burger Stand, 803 Massachusetts St., to satisfy a hankering, take the time to look at the front windows to see a few dinosaurs munching on the restaurant’s prized burger and fries.
These vibrant three-dimensional sculptures are hand-carved Styrofoam (coated in epoxy) handiwork of Scott Burr, a local artist and 2011 Kansas University sculpting graduate.
“It’s a successful advertising tool, I think,” he says. “It makes the businesses more of a landmark. If you were trying to give a person directions to Burger Stand, you could say, ‘It’s the place with the dinosaurs.’”
Down the block at Game Nut, 844 Massachusetts St., Burr works on commission on the storefront displays with co-worker at Blue Collar Press, Tyler Snell, who paints. These displays —including a recent "Adventure Time" scene and a KU basketball/Super Mario Bros. mashup — have widely circulated the Web by way of photos snapped by impressed passersby.
“We get a lot of response from Reddit and social media groups because people take photos with (the displays),” Burr says. “The first one we did [Legend of Zelda] ended up on the front page of the gaming section of Reddit. Someone saw that and ordered that game specifically from the store because of that display.”
Game Nut's current “Game of Thrones” installation (timed with the season finale) has only been unveiled for one week, and has already gotten its fair share of interested parties who want to get behind the glass to sit on the throne with sigils hanging behind them.
“I was in yesterday and heard they’ve been getting nonstop requests to go in and get their picture taken,” Snell says.
Caroline Mathias, Foxtrot
Caroline Mathias, owner of shoe boutique Foxtrot, 823 Massachusetts St., says she tries to think outside the box when turning her storefront into a set to showcase a new line of footwear. Mathias graduated from Kansas University with a degree in graphic design.
“It’s a creative outlet for me,” she says, referencing the change from working as a designer for several years out of college to owning her own business.
Her favorite was a Christmas-themed display based on the claymation “Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer” TV special. Mathias crafted PEZ dispensers out of cardboard, making the heads out of paper lanterns into characters from the movie.
“The shoes were the PEZ candy,” she says.
Using handy and low-budget supplies like cardboard and paper, Mathias switches out the display on a monthly basis. The current display is a recreated scene from “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” with trendy shoes in a grocery store set-up, among odd food items, along with hand-painted, dancing fox characters from the film.
Even before putting the final touches on the scene, the setting did its job of drawing in potential customers, Mathias says. She can see people stop in their tracks to try to figure out the reference instead of plowing down the sidewalk otherwise unfazed.
“In this one, before I had the characters in it, it was just a grocery scene, but it had the weirdest groceries in it, like goose crackle,” Mathias says. “So it threw people off and they weren’t sure what it was, but they slowed down and were like ‘Oh, that’s 'Fantastic Mr. Fox.’
“It causes people to stop, and look and come into the store. It slows traffic down.”