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Sunny Side

by Judith Ann Moriarty

Grava Gallery 1224 East Brady Street Tuesday to Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 414/277-8228

When the sun is shining like it was on the day I visited Grava Gallery, it floods the 600-square-foot space at 1224 E. Brady St., sending a wave of warmth through the south facing windows. If you arrive when proprietor Michael Wavra is opening his art gallery and framing business, usually around 10 a.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, you’re likely to catch him greeting the morning by positioning an American flag out front of the colorfully painted Victorian-era space. He’s careful about when he displays Old Glory, so don’t expect to see it if it rains or snows. He’s there on Saturdays too, from 10-5. Inside all is well. The space is not a grand amount of real estate, but the gallery has its own style of intimate, nurturing charm. “Three of those plants belong to Julilly Kohler, who winters them in my window,” Wavra remarks, urging me to gently rub the foliage on two scented geranium plants. Peppermint and lemon. A fine way to start any day. He adds that the sun’s warmth also helps cut down on heating bills. A Russian sage, a tree of miniature oranges, and a pot of pink azaleas soak up the Spring rays. He’s been at 1224 for two years. Prior to that he was on the shady side of the street, across the way, and before that he was next to Art Smart’s, a few blocks west on Humboldt. In March the slim trim chap celebrated his 55th birthday, and 15 of those years have been devoted to the business of selling art and framing both what he sells and what others bring in. His life partner, Tim Kraetsch, takes care of the accounting end of things. The two live a walkable 12 minutes away in a Victorian home. When they forget an ingredient for dinner at their Irving Place digs, it’s a short stroll to Koppa’s on Farwell. The Brady Street area is far more than a gentrified fashion central; indeed, many of the business have long been, and still are, service oriented. A hardware store. A shop for having your clothes cleaned and/or altered. A heating and plumbing place. Barber shop. Beauty parlors. An AIDS clinic. A church. A school. Nooks for wining and dining. Convenient drugstores. “Brady Street is a real village,” Wavra says, noting that currently, there are no other art galleries on Brady. He’s a survivor in a business that is littered with has-beens, perhaps because he features a regular group of artists who know what they’re about and have been producing art for many years. For example: Waswo X. Waswo, a consistently reviewed and respected photographer. Sally Gauger Jensen, maker of immaculate prismacolor paintings in the realist style. Fabulous brushy oil paintings by 70-something Otto Finger of Sheboygan. Serigraphs from the colorful mind of Randy James (one of this year’s Channel 10/36 featured art auction artists); pen and ink drawings by Jason Fricke. Nor does he have to exhibit things specifically because he thinks they’ll sell. The framing business helps keep the art side alive, leaving him free to tout the likes of Jimmy Von Milwaukee, and the famously infamous Laurencia Bembenek. In ny event, it’s hard to beat Spring and Summer Gallery Night & Day on the Brady Street beat. While it’s true that this neighborhood has both positive and negative aspects (certainly more of the former than the latter), when all is said, it’s definitely flavored with the essence of what makes it a real place for real people. This is no easy trick in a city with ever-changing neighborhoods, neighborhoods that often look good, but have little to do with the necessities of life. After all, who among us does not need nuts and bolts in addition to a night (or day) on the street? “It’s the people who bring in their kids’ pictures for framing, every year, for the past ten years, that make a difference,” he says. “I always tell my customers, and I have many right here in the neighborhood, that I live vicariously through them when they ask me to frame their travel pictures. It adds a lot to my life.” And it’s safe to say that in the past 15 years, Grava Gallery has returned the favor. Grab your coat and get your hat. Well, maybe. You may however, want to grab what’s happening on the sunny side of the street. Get there early, on a nice day, and watch the flag unfurl.
by Judith Ann Moriarty