Lumberyard Arts Center showcases artist with close ties to building’s history

photo by: Contributed Photo

Sandy Cardens holds her watercolor depicting an early vision for renovating the downtown Baldwin City lumberyard building that would eventually become the Lumberyard Arts Center. A show of her work will be on display at the center through Oct. 13, 2020.

A watercolor in the Lumberyard Arts Center depicts the center as Sandy Cardens envisioned it once it shed its former commercial purpose and became the home for the arts in Baldwin City.

Cardens, a one-time art education student, moved to Baldwin City with her husband, J.T., in 1997. Her watercolor documents her early interest in saving and renovating the distinctive downtown lumberyard building at 718 High St.

Cardens said the makeover idea first occurred to her in 2002 as she was enjoying a cup of coffee at a now-gone bistro across the street from the closing Baldwin Lumber Company. The idea soon became an obsession that she freely shared at the coffee shop.

“Finally, the owner of the coffee shop said, ‘Sandy, if you want something to happen, you need to stop talking about it and start doing something about it,'” she said.

Cardens took the advice to heart. She soon visited the home of Cleo Langley, a Baldwin City friend, with plans for the building’s conversion sketched out on a napkin. The idea took hold in the community, and an ever-widening group of volunteers raised money to convert the building and, led by Jim and Diane Niehoff, provided much of the actual labor during the decade-long makeover.

“A lot of people were involved,” Cardens said. “I got the Niehoffs involved early. So many people worked so hard. I am eternally grateful.”

All the work paid off in March 2010, when the building that began life in 1914 as the Ives-Hartley Building reopened as the Lumberyard Arts Center. Phase 1 of the renovations constructed a gallery, classroom/studio, administrative office, kitchen and large gathering space in the red brick half of the building. The planned Phase 2 conversion of the rear metal-sided portion of the building into a theater still awaits funding.

Since the arts center’s opening 10 years ago, its gallery has featured shows of many local and regional artists. Cardens has not been among them.

“I was president of the Lumberyard Arts Center when it opened and then in charge of coordinating and selecting exhibits,” she said. “It wouldn’t have been right for me to have a show.”

In recent years, Cardens has left the Lumberyard’s board and surrendered her gallery responsibilities. With no remaining conflicts of interest, she agreed to have her first show in the gallery that she did so much to make possible. The show, “A Few of My Favorite Things,” opened Friday and will continue through Oct. 13.

The show’s title reflects its variety, Cardens said.

“I have oils, watercolors and graphite,” she said. “One wall of the show is all landscapes and another still lifes. There’s some abstract works and ceramics, because that is one of my favorite things to do.”

photo by: Contributed Photo

Sandy Cardens is pictured at the Lumberyard Arts Center in Baldwin City.

The work includes landscapes from in and around Baldwin City, plus landscapes inspired by a trip to Ireland, Cardens said. The show has some experimental pieces, such as a watercolor wash that was intended to be a backgrround but that turned out so well that it became a stand-alone piece.

The opening of Cardens’ show on Friday was celebrated in conjunction with the city’s sesquicentennial observance in the new Sullivan Square park in the lot just east of the Lumberyard Arts Center.

The new park has a performing stage in approximately the same location where Cardens placed one in her original watercolor.

That development led Cardens to think of how cultural projects can be mutually supportive and enhance communities.

“I think it’s an open question if the park would have ever been developed if the Lumberyard Arts Center wasn’t here,” she said. “The park works beautifully with what is planned for Phase 2 of the Lumberyard. I think the park’s opening can provide momentum for building the theater.”


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