Artist Spotlight

Artisans and makers along E. 185th Street welcomed their newest neighbors with the opening of Shirley's Loft in late October.

Shirley Slemc and Amy Lauria - the driving forces behind Shirley's Loft - hosted upwards of 100 members of the North Collinwood and Euclid communities on Saturday, October 22 at the unveiling of their vibrant storefront. The space (located at 631 E. 185th Street in Euclid) is a temporary home for Shirley's Loft as Slemc and Lauria awaiting the complete renovation of the LaSalle Arts and Media Center, where they will open their permanent gallery space once construction is complete in early 2017.

For now the pair of artisans will showcase their unique portfolios in the temporary home amidst a backdrop of exposed brick walls, hardwood floors and natural light filtering through the storefront windows and skylights. And give the community a sneak peak of what's to come in their LaSalle storefront.

The open house in October featured Slemc and Lauria's works elegantly filling the walls and throughout the space in curated displays. Live music from Maura Rogers and The Bellows and food from Milk Glass Cakes and A Taste of Excellence - both also part of the soon-to-open LaSalle - perfectly rounded out the collaboration.
While vastly different in approach, style and - they'll even tell you - personalities, Slemc and Lauria make a dynamic pair.

At an early age, Slemc valued the importance of "space" - both in concept and reality. For her, the ability to conceptualize, take ownership and create space was incredibly valuable in and of itself, but also as a way for people to begin thinking about other facets of their lives as malleable "spaces." She never had formal training in the arts, but instead came to realize her inherent artistic gifts over time.

Professionally, Slemc was an interior decorator for years and began making furniture (with her husband Frank) when the widely available furnishings just didn't match her vision for her clients' spaces. With patience and experimentation over time, Slemc found herself going beyond furniture, creating abstract tapestries on canvas and glass, weaving arts into craft with home furnishings and exploring new cultures through her work.

Lauria took a much different path, but one that led her to a very similar place. Her identity as a maker was forged out of necessity and evolved as a meditative approach to life's demands.

Several unexpected life changes steered Lauria toward reusing and upcycling the objects in day-to-day life and made her think critically about the process of building the new from the old. She found solace by spending time on the beaches of Lake Erie; these trips became a form of prayer for her. Objects on the beach found their way back to Lauria's home where she brought them new life.

It's no surprise then that Lauria's works contain the rust and detritus of the city weathered by the elements. But the works also spring off the canvas as glowing snapshots of beachside living far removed from the noise of the urban environment.

Not even one year ago, Slemc and Lauria met at an art show in Avon - nearly an hour's drive from home for each of them - only to find out they lived just down the road from one another. They immediately recognized just how many values they shared - on top of a vision for community engagement - and haven't looked back since.

Shirley's Loft joins an extensive community of makers in North Collinwood - artisans forging neighborhood resilience through local enterprises and collaboration, particularly along E. 185th Street. Slemc and Lauria will also have access to Made in Collinwood - Northeast Shores' emerging program to support artisans in the neighborhood through shared branding, technical assistance and workforce development. As part of the LaSalle Arts and Media Center - a digital maker space for video and music production - Shirley's Loft will be at the heart of the makers' resurgence on E. 185th.

And they're up for the challenge.

Beyond just creating new works and operating as a retail establishment, Slemc and Lauria have a vision for community engagement through Shirley's Loft. Next year, they plan to engage children and young adults from the neighborhood to try their hand at creating and explore their own abilities - ones they might never know about otherwise. Slemc and Lauria want to inspire others and connect them to their inherent artistic abilities, while also opening new avenues for community dialogue.

Between now and re-opening in the LaSalle Arts and Media Center, visitors can check out Shirley's Loft (631 E. 185th) by appointment with Shirley Slemc at (216) 780-0156 or More information about each of the artists can be found on their websites.

Joe Barbaree

Resident of neighborhood since 1956. Worked on East 185th street since 1970.

Read More on Northeast Shores
Volume 8, Issue 11, Posted 7:00 PM, 11.07.2016