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CANTON — A vibrant, full-wall mural greets visitors to Strauss Studios as soon as they enter the brick, character-endowed building on Walnut Avenue NE in downtown Canton.
The imaginative aquatic scene is a precursor to a furniture boutique and art gallery combo that is anything but ordinary.
Open at 236 Walnut Ave. NE since 2009, the former John Strauss Furniture Design recently changed its name to Strauss Studios to better reflect its artistic identity and focus.
The business was initially named Elemental Arts.
While Strauss specializes in designing and making furniture, business partner Carisa Marie Bell focuses on interior design.
The new name “was intended to better reflect all of what we do, which is centered on a creative hothouse idea — furniture, art, design, accessories all under the one umbrella,” Strauss explained. “And as well to incorporate Carisa into the mix…”
Strauss and Bell began working together professionally in 2012; they are getting married in June. Originally from the West Coast, Bell co-owns Strauss Studios.
Strauss Studios also has a full slate of public art exhibits scheduled for its upstairs gallery, which features exposed brick dating to the building’s construction in the early 1900s.
Earlier this month, local artist Steve Ehret opened an exhibit titled, “Keep Watering the Plants.” He also painted the mural inside the entrance of Strauss Studios.
His other works will be on display through Nov. 12, followed by artist Morgan Spangle’s exhibition from Nov. 19 through Dec. 17. The artwork of David Kuntzman was showcased earlier this year.
Using a style that is highly imaginative and often colorful, Ehret said he’s “pulled inspiration from ‘The Maxx’, ’90s cartoons such as ‘Ren & Stimpy,’ and rolling landscapes from trail running.”
Spangle, of Larchmont, New York, studied studio art and art history at Brown University before painting at The Art Institute of Chicago.
Spangle, former director of the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York, said some of her paintings are loosely based on photographs, either taken by her while traveling or pulled from other sources on the Internet or in newspapers and magazines.
“It’s now the artistic hothouse that we envisioned, that we view ourselves and this place as being,” Strauss, a trained sculptor, said of the furniture business.
“We like to share (the gallery art) with anyone who comes in (to shop for furniture),” he said. Artwork also can be viewed online at http://www.straussfurniture.com/
Background in sculpture
A Chicago native, Strauss graduated from Brown University in 1982 with an art-related degree before completing the Independent Study Program of the Whitney Museum of American Art. He also received his master’s degree in fine arts at The City University of New York.
With more than 30 years of experience in creating and manufacturing furniture, Strauss works with designers from across the country to fabricate their custom designs. He said he draws inspiration from mid-century and art deco stylings.
The company tagline is “creative objects for meaningful spaces,” Strauss said.
“We want people to understand the objects that they’re putting in their homes,” he said. “Not just something that’s going to sit in their home for five to six years and then be in a landfill.”
Artwork, photographs and other flourishes are incorporated into many of the furniture pieces.
“We love to find artists that inspire us and who we can work along with,” Bell said.
Collaborating artists are from Ohio and outside the state. Acrylic paintings and other imagery mesh with wood and metal to create memorable furnishings. Sculptural accessories also are designed and sold, as well as lighting and upholstered furniture.
Strauss said more retail gifts and smaller items have been added to the store beyond exclusive furniture.
“We’re really looking for the statement pieces that change a house to a home,” said Bell, who has more than 20 years of experience in interior design.
“These are things that nobody else is doing,” she added.
Prices range from “medium to higher-end,” Bell said.
The duo’s work also has been featured at the High Point Furniture Market in North Carolina, which is the largest furnishing industry trade show in the world, according to its website.
‘A state that makes art’
Organic materials are important, Strauss said, noting he uses lumber from an Amish company and certified sustainable forest.
“We’re very much about … keeping green,” he said.
Furniture is made onsite, but “we work with the Amish community for parts and pieces,” Strauss said.
“We can’t do everything,” said Strauss, whose great aunt was Mabel Schamberg, the interior designer of the “House of Tomorrow” at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.
His father owned a high-end furniture showroom in downtown Chicago and his mother was an interior designer.
Ohio is abundant with welders, metal polishers, glassblowers and artists, Strauss noted.
“There are resources for almost everything we need to have made,” he said. “We love that about Ohio — it’s literally a state that makes art. There’s so much creativity and manufacturing. This doesn’t exist everywhere in the country.”
Reach Ed at 330-580-8315 and [email protected]
On Twitter @ebalintREP