The JAX Wake: JAX artist DeAnne Parks: “An Artist’s View of Lowertown”

May 6, 2016 | News

An Artist’s View of Lowertown

This text is an edited version of the speech DeAnne gave at the JAX Wake.

JAX artist DeAnne Parks.  (Photo: Craig Frailin Evans)

JAX artist DeAnne Parks. (Photo: Craig Frailin Evans)

When I moved into the Jax Building in March of 2000, Lowertown was a little sketchy. Artists and homeless people were the only ones that wandered in this forgotten corner of St Paul. You could get coffee and soup at The Black Dog and Goldens. Christos and a Leeann Chin were open for lunch on weekdays in the mostly boarded up Union Depot. Generally though, Lowertown felt pretty deserted on evenings and weekends.

The crunching of aluminum cans was a common sound coming from the alley under my studio window. A steady stream of street people would rummage through the alley dumpster looking for them. I’d look out the window to watch them and say a quick prayer over them. The red brick buildings that make the alley are over 100 years old. Black painted words are still visible that say things like stocks, carriages and harnesses.

I’d imagine what horses hooves might sound like echoing off the brick walls. I did finally hear that sound years later as the mounted police clip clopped up the alley, allowing their horses to grow accustomed to the new light rail trains. By this time, the cobblestones had been removed or paved over during the building of The Farmers Market Lofts.

The Farmer’s Market is one of the things that hasn’t changed much in the last 16 years. On Saturday mornings from May to October, I’d swing open my large single pane windows and listen to the music. Bluegrass, Old Time, Folk and sometimes Irish, the musicians made Saturdays my favorite day to work in the studio. Around noon, I’d take a break to wander the market enjoying fresh produce and flowers. The smell of Rocky’s brat cart always lured me over for a cheddar brat with extra kraut. I could pull up a curb and visit with Tacoumba or just watch him make and sell art… holding court at the corner of Broadway and Prince, the “Mayor of Lowertown”.

I have great memories of Saturdays at the market. I once saw a homeless family with a young, scruffy little mutt. They were holding up posters the kids had made that read, “Please give our dog a home”. I still have that dog. He’s 13 now and the best free sample I ever got at the market.

Last week I moved out of my studio. I’ll miss the market. I already miss the view of the word “Factory” out my window… and the can collectors. They stopped coming around, replaced by urban hipsters who mostly, but not always, clean up after the dogs.

Over the last few years I’d often have to close my windows on Saturday mornings because of the noise. Large, well dressed wedding parties and graduating seniors line up to have their portraits taken on the loading dock under my window. Light Rail Transit, the refurbished Union Depot and CHS Field have led to the building of restaurants, lofts and condos in the once vacant warehouses. The Jax, which has held artists studios, Books for Africa, and a classical ballet studio for almost 40 years, is now part of the gentrification of Lowertown.

Two weeks ago I participated in my 33rd consecutive and final St Paul Art Crawl in Jax studio 306. Now, all of the artists have vacated the premises. It will be gutted and turned into upscale lofts as will the 262 Building across the street.

I’m grateful for the 16 years I got to spend in that studio, the artist community I was able to be part of and the conversations I had with the homeless of Lowertown. My life is richer for it.

Oh how I loved standing in the big north windows looking into the alley, but the view has changed.


DeAnne Parks (www.artdeanne.com): “I am a full time working and teaching artist. My work has been published internationally in calendars, magazines, Bible studies and on book, CD and DVD covers and is held in corporporate and private collections. Past exhibitions include The Basilica of St Mary, Central Lutheran, Hopkins Center for the Arts and Bloomington Art Center in Minneapolis. In addition I have exhibited at Luther Seminary, Central Presbytarian in St Paul and at The Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson, Wisconsin.”

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