New Strokes

By Sam West | Staff Reporter

New Strokes

Fuel and Lumber Company focuses on exhibiting artists who may not have been able to put on a show in Birmingham or Tuscaloosa otherwise. Photo courtesy of Amy Pleasant

By day, a downtown storefront nestled near Birmingham’s Alabama Theatre is the studio of artist Amy Pleasant. But at night, she often transforms this space into a gallery for the work of others. The same goes for a refurbished rental house in Tuscaloosa, where University of Alabama assistant art professor Pete Schulte frequently showcases the work of regional painters and sculptors.

The two are the co-founders of the Fuel and Lumber Company, a gallery that focuses on exhibiting artists who may not have been able to put on a show in Birmingham or Tuscaloosa otherwise. Schulte and Pleasant have created a new venue with an artistic rather than commercial sensibility.

“There’s a different lens through which artists put together exhibitions than dealers and traditional curators do,” Schulte said. “A lot of those folks do a wonderful job, but I think you see a show that artists put together, and it just feels inherently different.”

Both artists said that the main goal of Fuel and Lumber was to enhance and engage the creative communities of Birmingham and Tuscaloosa.

“We both have a desire to be a part of the communities we live in,” Schulte said. “We really want to be active and involved outside of our studio practices by trying to give something to the community, by putting something there.”

Schulte and Pleasant are both working artists who run the gallery in their free time. The moniker comes from the observation that every town used to have a “Fuel and Lumber Company” that produced a product essential to the community. To them, art is no different.

“A lot of times, art is seen as extraneous, but we feel like it is as important and vital as anything,” Pleasant said.

The group’s most recent exhibit, “Hither and Yon,” ran in Birmingham, showing the work of four contemporary artists whose work ranged from feminist sculpture to abstract painting. Though this exhibit skewed modern rather than traditional, Schulte said that he doesn’t look for a specific style of art for the gallery.

“It’s not a specific plan. It’s artists whose work that we find compelling,” he said. “On one level maybe we just like it, but it also goes a little deeper than that. Sometimes I think a work may ask questions that we feel like we’d like to explore or to think about more.”

Schulte also sees the gallery as a way to familiarize student with the life of a working artist. He invites the artists he exhibits at Fuel and Lumber to speak at the University about their work, and then encourages students to attend their show later.

“That allows students to hear the artist talk about the work, and then actually see the work in the flesh,” he said.

Because Schulte and Pleasant travel often when showcasing their own work, they are familiar with art communities in cities across the country. They recommend museums, exhibits and studios in a “Travelogue” on the Fuel and Lumber Company website. Pleasant said she considers this to an important part of the group’s work outside of exhibiting.

In the future, Pleasant said she’d like to present shows in cities outside of Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. Schulte said he would like to incorporate new styles of work into the gallery, such as performance art or live music. But for now, both artists are enriching the communities in which they each live.

“We’ve been so excited that we’ve accomplished what we have,” she said.

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