Art In Life: Seiler’s Studio And Gallery

When my pal Jerry and I planned to visit Alan Cottrill’s studio, Jerry arranged for us to also meet artist Mike Seiler in his downtown Zanesville studio. Little did we know that we would also meet Mike’s wife Kathy and that the studio is also their home.

I will be very honest with you. Jerry arranged the visit but I had little understanding of where we were going or why. Nor did I care. I was simply delighted for the adventure.

So imagine my surprise when Mike opened the door and welcomed us into their kitchen! Kathy, who was sitting at their dining table potting seeds, welcomed me with a smile. “You must be Brandi” she exclaimed.

We chatted about the Four O’Clocks she was planting and about the therapeutical qualities of having hands in soil. Then she asked if I was interested in architecture and she whisked me away on a tour of their home.

It is an old Christian Science Church that they have thoughtfully transformed into a studio/home that feels both spacious and intimate. Their home is filled with color, life and creativity. It’s positively inspiring.

And then there’s the art. Oh my goodness. Mike’s paintings are astounding. You won’t believe the medium he is working with. It’s liquid asphalt and alkyd. The asphalt is shiny and smooth and it reflects the colors around it.

The results are extraordinary. I especially appreciate the way it changes and seems to be alive in the light. It looks different when you stand close than it does when you view it from across the room.

He can skillfully explain the science behind the art and even makes the science sound like an art form. I absorbed none of that but did absorb the beauty of it all.

Kathy is a prolific poet who gifted me a volume of her work. She writes independently and he paints independently but they pair their works, finding poems and paintings with similar emotional tone. It’s a lovely collaboration too.

Another meaningful collaboration is their marriage as they clearly are partners in every way. They held court on the sofa while Jerry and I sat on the edge of our seats. They finished each other’s sentence as they shared their life stories. And what a fascinating life it has been!

He recalled a conservative religious upbringing where he knew from the age of two he would be an artist. A home next door was inhabited by a series of artists who exposed him to an intriguing new world. From a scantily clad bohemian woman who kept a skull as part of a still life on her kitchen table to a man who introduced him to clay, these years were clearly formative in more ways than one.

Kathy has a gentleness about her and a sense of faith that clearly defines her actions and thoughts. She said that they met in college and decided to marry when they realized they would be better together than apart.

There is evidence this is true. They have devoted themselves to making the world a better place. Their current project is in their own neighborhood where they are rehabbing their community one structure at a time. They have actively pushed out drug dealers and prostitutes, replacing them with families and artists. They foster a sense of community among their neighbors where they look out for each other and where art and beauty are central to the community’s health.

They have worked hard and it shows. They are near what many would call retirement age but don’t appear to be slowing down at all. I believe they said they are now rehabbing their sixth structure and when I asked why they are still at it, their answer was simultaneous and heartwarming. They do it because they can and because it matters.

Every town should have people like Mike and Kathy who take it on themselves to serve others and to build rather than tear down.

Friends, Jerry and I went to see art but what we found was so much more than paintings. The life they have built together is beautiful. The conversation we had seemed like something from a grand design, a conversation we were meant to have. I’m grateful to them for so generously opening their home to us.

Want to know more? Click here to visit their website. There’s a really nice video where Mike explains why art matters. You really should watch it so click here and do that now.

Alan Cottrill’s Studio

Alan Cottrill’s life story sounds like the plot of a great book. He grew up poor in Appalachian Ohio, the first in his family to graduate high school. He tried the Army and college before starting a successful fast food chain that led him to become an international entrepreneur.

When he discovered the joy of working with clay, he sold his business interests to dedicate his life to becoming one of the world’s finest figurative sculptors. He has studied both art and anatomy and has studied under some of the world’s best sculptors.

Did I mention that he did all of this while living with ADHD?

My first introduction to Alan’s work was last year when I found his installation at the Muskingum County Courthouse in Zanesville. You can read about that here.

Despite his talent and fame, Alan still takes the time to chat with visitors who stop by his studio in downtown Zanesville, Ohio. That’s how my pal Jerry and I got to meet him earlier this month.

Located on an old industrial space, this is a working studio and gallery for both Alan’s work and for his personal art collection. The first thing I noticed when I walked in was how the morning light streamed through enormous old windows. The second thing I noticed was the smell. It smells old, a cocktail of scents like clay, dust, hot metal and oil that have accumulated over time. I mean this as a compliment as the smell of a place lends to its authenticity. This place is very much alive with an abundance to take in.

Honestly, I didn’t know what to look at first. I was there to see Alan’s work but was so taken with the building and with other art on the walls that it was much like being a kid in a candy store.

His sculptures are incredible and you’ll find representations both large and small inside as well as some gorgeous life size pieces outside. His subjects range from athletes to historic figures to everyday people.

I took a few art history classes in college but, when it comes to art, I really just know what I like. I really like his work.

My favorite piece, pictured above and below, is called “The Old Mushroom Hunter.” It seems larger than life and so full of motion that I expected him to start dispensing wisdom about the woods. Alan seemed pleased when I mentioned it and explained that this piece is somewhat autobiographical. He said he has been a lifelong mushroom hunter but that he also found inspiration in childhood memories of his relatives from West Virginia.

I saw in this statue’s face character and wisdom that comes from living off the land. He reminded me of my own family and of generations of Appalachians who earned every line and crease in their faces.

There are so many amazing things to see here including a bust of Thomas Edison. This is from his work on a statue that you’ll find representing Ohio in the US Capitol’s Statuary Hall.

He won a national contest to design the Edison statue. His competitors came to the table armed with small models of what they would do if chosen. Alan came armed with the completed statue. He invested $100,000 of his own money and countless hours in research, design and creation to edge out the competition. I can hardly wait to go look for it in DC someday.

Alan is friendly, he smiles easily and is quick with a story. He studies people and doesn’t miss much. The artwork is fabulous but chatting with him was the highlight of our visit. Getting to meet the artist, the insight that you’ll get from the conversation, is priceless.

He’s working on an important and very personal project to tell the story of his own Native American ancestry. We learned about this and about the very intricate work that goes into the process of creating a single sculpture.

We also learned some about the business end of this work from an artisan. While it is a business where people can and do commission pieces, what he does seems incredibly personal and meaningful.

Here’s one more picture of a man with his faithful friend. The dog’s eyes are soulful and the deep sense of caring between the man and his dog is palpable.

Go visit Alan Cottrill and take it all in for yourself. Smell and see and talk and listen. It’s well worth your time. Want to learn more? Get hours and see more of his work, at Alan’s website by clicking here.

I say this a lot but – one more time for the cheap seats – this is why we explore.

This is how we get the most out of our experiences. Take the time to look around, to absorb your surroundings and to talk with people who will tell you their story. The reward often is found in the people rather than the place. Don’t just rush through life. Slow down, study a place, talk to the people and take it all in. I loved seeing the art but the true reward came from listening to others share the wisdom they have amassed.

Do More Of That

If you are lucky, every once in a while you’ll find yourself in a place where you sigh and say “this is it, this is why I exist.”

Take note when that happens and do more of that. Whatever it may be.

This feeling defined Saturday for me.

I spent the day in Zanesville, Ohio where I had a lovely visit with my pal Jerry and had meaningful interactions with people who I never knew I needed to know.

Jerry is the co-manager of the National Road-Zane Grey Museum where we met a few years ago. Truth be told, he has children who are about my age but, despite the difference in years, we are kindred spirits and pals who delight in rich conversations.

I wanted to visit sculptor Alan Cottrill’s studio and Jerry arranged for us to also meet painter Michael Seiler at his studio around the corner. We were fortunate to also meet his wife Kathleen who is a talented poet.

These were two drastically different experiences but both were fascinating, enlightening and fun in their own way.

Alan Cottrill’s studio is an old industrial space with an atmosphere defined by fabulous light. You can chat with and watch the artisans at work while examining representations of an assortment of pieces from Alan’s vast body of work.

We had the pleasure of meeting Alan and had a positively delightful chat. He is one of the most modest men I have ever met. In his own way, he dispensed wisdom that gave great insight into his own success and worldview.

Worldview was also the emphasis of our conversation with Mike and Kathleen. Their studio and home are in an old church. It’s also defined by light and filled with eclectic pieces, lots of plants and small animals that breathe life and beauty into every corner.

We talked about his painting and her poetry but their art is only a part of this beautiful life they have built. They seem to bring an artistry to all they do beginning with their faith and marriage, their contributions to the world at large and their community where they have surrounded themselves with those who share their vision as citizens of the world.

I am excited to tell you about both places so come back for more very soon. These experiences are the reason why we travel. These experiences remind us of our humanity, of the beauty in the world, of the goodness in others.

It was a breath of fresh air and food for the soul in one.

Old Zanesville Post Office

This grand building is the old post office in Zanesville, Ohio. An enormous Beaux Arts building, it was designed by Cleveland architect George F.Hammond and built in 1904. Stone eagles stand sentinel over an entrance framed by imposing columns.

Just one of the gorgeous light fixtures remain and vines grow up the walls but it looks sturdy. It’s sad to see it abandoned and I can’t help but dream about all the potential. I have seen other towns carve up a space like this to provide storefronts for small businesses like retail shops, art studios and cafes. It would make a terrific event center too.

This is the kind of place that keeps me looking and traveling. I was driving through and just stopped to nose around downtown Zanesville on my way home from Jamestown, New York. It was a great surprise and a fun find. I’m grateful that I had a chance to see it in its abandoned beauty.


This little number can be found in Zanesville, Ohio. It’s a slice of Americana, a fun remnant of advertising past and the sort of thing I live for on my journeys. It’s sometimes shocking how little it takes to make me happy.

This sort of thing isn’t in any guidebook but it adds character to a community and makes me want to nose around a little longer.

There’s another advertising mural not far away. See that picture here.

Tom’s Ice Cream Bowl

Tom’s Ice Cream Bowl is a Zanesville tradition. With its great exterior sign, chrome stools and long counter, I was a sucker for the place before even opening the menu. As my friend Jerry said “it’s not vintage- it’s just old!”

Old indeed. The restaurant began life as a partnership between two cousins in 1948. Those cousins were Jack Hemmer and Tom Mirgon but for some reason the restaurant was just called Jack Hemmer Ice Cream.

That first restaurant specialized in ice cream with counter seating for seven and an additional four tables. They quickly outgrew that spot and moved into their current location in 1950. Tom eventually bought out his cousin and renamed the restaurant Tom’s Ice Cream Bowl.

Tom retired years ago, selling the business to former manager Bill Sullivan. As far as I can tell, he has maintained a high level of service and quality.

In fact, my two scoops ice cream were heaping and the service couldn’t have been better.

The menu includes far more than ice cream and I was impressed to see there was even a veggie burger. I went for ice cream though so that’s what I got along with a pound of fresh roasted nuts to bring home. They also have a case filled with their own decadent looking chocolate candies.

Want to drool over the menu or just learn more about this Zanesville landmark? Click here to visit their website.