Part of downtown Elkhorn’s appeal is its historic charm. During the early 1900s many of the buildings housed gas stations and service centers for motorists passing through along Lincoln Highway. One of those buildings, built in 1912, sold tires, and Tyler Curne’s grandfather used to stop there every time he drove through town. For 30 years the building sat vacant, until recently, when Tyler purchased the building at auction and turned it into artist studios and a gallery that could once again benefit the downtown Elkhorn community.
Tyler seemed destined to create this project. As a finance major in college, he decided to pursue art after traveling abroad and visiting a glass blower’s studio in Venice. After returning to the States, he changed majors and learned how to work with glass, buying bigger and bigger kilns each time. He envisioned opening artist studios but hadn’t decided on a location. Then one day while sitting at Shevy’s Sports Bar and Grill in Elkhorn, he noticed an auction sign on the building across the street—the same building his grandfather had told him stories about growing up.
Taking all the money he had saved to put toward buying his first house, Tyler went to the auction, bid on the building, and won. Then he and his father spent the next two months on demolition and rebuilding it from the ground up. “There was no plumbing, electrical was 38 years out of date, and since it was winter, snow had fallen through the cracked roof and piled up,” he said. There were even 85 used tires still sitting inside from when it had been a tire shop.
After working with CLH Architects and Phoenix Construction, Tyler finally got to a point where he could invite other artists to join him. He designed the building to include four separate artist studios, accessible to the public, with the main hall serving as a gallery to showcase their work. “All of the artists who are in the building fell into my lap,” he said. Each one has a unique discipline. Tyler creates custom kiln formed glass art and lighting, Jane Kathol is an acrylic landscape artist, Dave Biehl is a bronze sculptor, and Levent Oz creates handcrafted silver jewelry.
Jane lived across the street from Tyler, who has been friends with her son since kindergarten. Dave, who is a retired veterinarian from Hastings, learned about the planned gallery during a chance conversation with the owner of Bella Vita restaurant next door, and Tyler’s mother had purchased a piece of jewelry from Levent at his previous location and suggested Tyler talk to him. Now Tyler has a waiting list of artists who want to join the group, so he’d like to include guest artists at the gallery when space allows.
All of the artists in residence say it’s a perfect combination because they’re able to focus on their work more in the studios but are also accessible to the public and potential customers. The gallery doesn’t just house each artist; they all oversee operations as well. On any given day, at least one of the artists is working in house, but they take turns running the front desk. “When people walk in, they’re greeted by the artists and can ask us questions about our work,” Jane said, adding that they also find inspiration from each other and collaborate on the pieces shown throughout the gallery.
A unique addition to the 5,500 sq. ft. space is the apartment Tyler built at the back of the building—appropriate since that’s where his initial housing money went. Using repurposed wood from the building and nearby Elkhorn grain elevator, Tyler designed the space himself and loves the convenience it provides to his work. Eventually it may become additional gallery, classroom, or event space, especially as those needs grow. But in the meantime, Tyler just wants people to come for the art and interact with the artists. “We’re all here daily,” he said. “And this is an amazing opportunity for us.”