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Kyle Hobratschk: Building an Artists' Enclave in Corsicana

B.F.A art alum, one of 13 people to watch in 2013, talks the importance of building community

Kyle Hobratschk (B.F.A. Art, ’11) loves older buildings with character. As an under-graduate he began doing drawings and watercolors of homes for the Park Cities Historic & Preservation Society, leading to commissions from real estate agents, homeowners and commercial developers.

In fall 2012 he entered a juried art competition sponsored by the Oak Cliff Society of Fine Arts. The contest, marking the 100th anniversary of the historic Turner House in Oak Cliff, drew entries from 25 artists. Hobratschk won, with a copper plate etching of the house itself, earning both recognition and $500.

Meanwhile he had embarked on another venture with a historic building that landed him in the December 2012 issue of The Dallas Morning News’ luxury lifestyle magazine FDLuxe, where he was named one of “13 People to Watch in 2013.”

But first, some background: When he graduated in May 2011, Hobratschk couldn’t find a studio and didn’t know where he wanted to settle or what he was going to do. All that changed when he went to an art gallery opening a month later and met Matthew Cusick (M.F.A. Art, ’13), whose wife had helped found an art studio called Oil and Cotton in Oak Cliff the previous year. Hobratschk visited the space, loved it and signed a lease.

He now regularly teaches drawing and paint- ing classes at Oil and Cotton and has established a printmaking studio there. As part of the business plan he wrote with his parents’ encouragement, he used savings and graduation money to invest in a steel etching press that he could use himself and rent out to other artists.

Another of his goals was to create the furnishings for the studio.

“I wanted to have a studio where I made everything myself,” he says. “My B.F.A. focused on both printmaking and woodworking, including furniture making. I’ve always liked to plan my interior spaces. So over the summer I used the SMU woodshop to make all the furniture for my studio – three worktables, a drafting table and a light fixture.”

Since his studio wasn’t large enough to accommodate a woodworking shop, he began to dream of finding an additional space to continue creating furniture.

A few months later he was discussing the subject with one of his students, Dallas artist Nancy Rebal, when she told him about a space in downtown Corsicana. “She sent me photos of a three-story brick building built in 1898 as an Odd Fellows Lodge. It piqued my interest, so I drove down to take a look.”

The building was for sale, at much less than the cost of similar space in Dallas.

“It’s shown me the importance of building community ... you realize that a lot of things you want to do aren’t possible alone.”

“I obsessed about the building, because I like architecture and was drawn to its historical significance and wonderful interior spaces. I ended up bringing six different friends to see it within two weeks.

“Although it needed some work and some really deep cleaning, I saw it as a dream studio. My mentor, art professor Jay Sullivan, said to me, ‘You owe it to yourself to take a risk and try this.’ So I ended up buying the building, and with the help of fellow Meadows art alums and friends, we’re turning it into an artists’ refuge.”

The building has kitchen and bath facilities, and each of the three floors is more than 4000 square feet. “The idea is you’ve got more space and equipment than you’d have access to in Dallas, to make projects that are bigger, more intense, away from the Dallas scene. It’s very quiet down there.”

He currently has three part-time tenants. Several other SMU col- leagues are contributing manual labor and ideas, including Anna Membrino (M.F.A. Art/Painting, ’12), Travis LaMothe (M.F.A. Art/ Sculpture, ’13) and current student Kiernan Lofland (M.F.A. Art/ Sculpture, ’14).

Eventually he wants to host weekend retreats for four to six artists at a time. “We’d like other SMU alums to make use of the space too. There’s exhibition space and performing space that could be used for theatre or music or a student art installation,” he says.

Hobratschk functions as his own contractor because he can’t afford to hire one. “I go out and find the mason, the sheet metal guys, the roofer, the plumber, the electricians – I’m learning all this stuff I never thought I’d need to know about. I meet people in Corsicana, older gentlemen who own property and are retired, so I find out from them who they are using, how they fix this, how they work with the city. They are so helpful.”

Hobratschk is also working with the Historic Downtown Merchants Association to help its members build weekend traffic, collaborating with other volunteers to create hand-lettered sandwich boards to promote “Shop Corsicana.”

“It’s shown me the importance of building community,” he says. “Growing up, I thought of an artist as someone alone in a studio. You don’t imagine working WITH other people until you realize that a lot of things you want to do aren’t possible alone. I couldn’t do Corsicana on my own."

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