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Article and photos by Anne Jenkins

For a truly refreshing view of the nation's capital, ignore the politics, intrigue, lobbyists and world class art museums when you head to Washington, D.C. and take a tour on the real side of life and discover the local art. The funky, vibrant neighborhood, around 14 th Street NW between U-Street and Q Street (or DuPont & Logan Circles), hosts the Mid-City Artists Studio tour twice a year in spring and fall. The fall one is coming up the weekend of October 13-14, but keep checking their website for the next one if you miss this one.



There are a lot of studios, filled with excellent art, it would take more than the two days to visit all of them properly, but a large group is clustered all within easy walking distance. Most of the studios are in the artists home, so it makes it much more personal, relaxed and interesting.

Peter Alexander Romero's large skyline paintings line the stairway of his house


The first studio I visited was located on a tree-lined side street of beautiful row houses. Peter Alexander Romero's three story home and studio is easy to spot, it�s painted blue on the outside. Step through the door to a world of wonder, the walls are chock full of vivid paintings of skylines and bursting circles of color. Romero also sculpts fascinating small to medium pieces depicting figures or groups of women among other subjects. These often whimsical, often ephemeral pieces line shelves and tables throughout the house. Romero's quiet demeanor belies his joyful art and small chaotic studio on the second floor. He was a gracious mine of information on the area and the artists giving us time and all the information without looking hassled by all the folks wandering around his house.

Around the corner and up a narrow windy staircase, you reach Miguel Perez Lem's studio on the 3rd floor filled with large landscape paintings - many with dramatic clouds, and just as fascinating as his varied art are the many old manual typewriters or vintage model cars on display. Lem also was generous with his time and attention, and happy to sing the praises of his fellow artists are the tour. A visiting artist, and one of Lem's students, Ryan Harding was a guest in the studio, with a few small intriguing pieces depicting balloons and people. He talked excitedly about heading to Europe to study.

Miguel Perez Lem's cloud filled landscape greets the visitors to his studio

Artist Brian Petro's studio a few store fronts along the street and down some stairs at the back of a furniture store is a bright, wild cornucopia of large canvases filled with words, collage and grocery items. He has a multitude of themes and groceries is one of his current themes. Petro is an enthusiastic, expressive and very prolific artist who paints with energy and verve, not to mention humor which is always an asset. He explains his work with forthright honesty and modesty as you gaze on his world of intense design and color.

Artist Brian Petro (L) explains his art to a visitor

Across the street is Regina Miele's gallery, arts@1830. In contrast to the studios, it's the only gallery on the tour that I visited. A bright welcoming space complete with Scout, the happy pooch and gallery greeter, the visitor is drawn straight to the art on display. There is no intimidating silence, or severe earnest stares. Miele is a top rate artist with an impressive resume but she is a friendly soul with a natural touch of humility and an intense interest in women artists. Her large, soaring canvases of skylines are evocative of her home city of New York and her adopted city of Washington, D.C. and her series on figurative works are luminous. Miele's work has been exhibited in the Corcoran Gallery in DC and at the Florence Biennale among many other places. Apart from her own work, the gallery also offers ever-changing exhibits by visiting artists plus framing and workshops.One of the featured artists at the gallery during the spring weekend was the imaginative sculptor, Mark Morgan, with his �Bottled Up� collection. He fashions used detergent plastic bottles in to whimsical sculptures of animals. His depiction of a kangaroo was just captivating. He calls it upcycling - trash to art.

In his artist statement, Morgan explains, �Each sculpture is an expression of previously unexpressed emotions stiffed due to years of avoidance. Today, when faced with an emotion - anger, sadness, joy or fear - I grab a knife and a gun (carving knife and heat or rivet gun) and turn to an unsuspecting bottle order to release that emotion. The result: two new creations - the bottle and me.�

The resulting new creations brought a smile to everyone who saw them and many found new homes.

Mark Morgan shows a couple of his up-cycled sculptures of animals

Scout the official greeter

Down another tree-lined side street of pretty row houses is photographer Charlie Gaynor's home and studio. Among traditional photo formats he also exhibited large photos of close ups of boats or pastels on aluminum. This is becoming a popular way to display photography and his was very polished and well presented. Down the passageway from the main room the walls were lined with travel and still life photos.

Charlie Gaynor's studio in a tree-lined street of row houses. All the studios are well signposted.

There are plenty of trendy pubs and restaurants in the area to fuel your artistic voyage of discovery. But if you want to load up on chili dog carbs, the famous Ben's Chili Bowl is in the area. Well, if President Obama can take President Sarkozy there, we felt we ought to eat there too. It would help if you are a hot dog fan. I'm not, but the atmosphere was quite something! And I loved the bright colorful painted bear outside, so it qualifies as an art stop.

The beautiful painted bear outside of Ben's Chili Bowl

The group put out an excellent map and listing of all the studios on the tour. Be sure to get one ahead of time and spend some time looking at the artists styles. I'm glad I did and I was very happy with my selection although I would love to see every single artist on the list. On a practical note, parking can be a headache, so it might be easier to take the Metro to U Street (the green or yellow line) and walk.

It was an inspiring day among the capital's local artists and if their work, and their personalities, are anything to go by, the D.C. art scene is an exciting place to be an artist. And it sure makes a nice refreshing change from political shinannygings when you find yourself in the nation's capital.

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