LISBON, Ohio – Mark Hamilton always knew that someday he would own and operate an art gallery.
That day arrived earlier this year when he opened Source Gallery in downtown Lisbon.
Getting it up and running took a while. The building at 40 N. Park Ave. in Gazebo Square was built in 1837 and needed a lot of work. Hamilton purchased it 12 years ago and had been steadily improving it but gave it a thorough remake in 2020.
Hamilton wears all the hats in running Source. He serves as curator, acquiring paintings, sculpture and decor items that reflect his aesthetic; handles the business end; and mans the shop during daily hours.
Being at the center of a gathering place for art is a familiar place for him.
“Part of my creative thing, what I’ve always done, is being a facilitator,” he says.
He notes that he has been indirectly planning for this day for most of his life. “I’ve worked in the art world and understand the business and I’ve known local artists as I’ve moved around the country,” he says. “It’s always been a passion of mine to support art.”
A native of Canton who has lived in several states through his long career, Hamilton has varied experience but has always maintained a link to the art world. With a bachelor’s degree in art and a master’s degree in virtual reality reconstruction, he has worked as a professional picture framer in California, a producer for NBC.com in New York, and as a webmaster.
Source Gallery is more than just the realization of a dream for Hamilton. He also sees it as part of a nascent effort to transform Lisbon into a destination for culture and leisure.
Hamilton, who has lived in Lisbon for 25 years, says young people are moving into the village because they appreciate its small-town charm and historical buildings.
“I’ve always hoped [that would happen] and I’ve seen some of that lately,” he says.
Hamilton is also working with village and chamber of commerce officials to put on events that would attract more people to Lisbon. The village has other attractions, he points out, including Stage Left Players theater, and The Courthouse Inn, an upscale vegetarian restaurant.
Courthouse Inn closed during the pandemic but owner Renee Lewis says she has recently hired a new chef and is ramping up toward a spring reopening.
The building that houses Source Gallery originally housed a saloon. It later was a church. Then it was the site of various retail stores for decades. Its last refurbishing came in the 1950s or 1960s and it has sat empty for years.
“I put a lot of effort and money into it,” Hamilton says.
The interior of the gallery has been impeccably restored and retains its historical aspects including a worn but polished wooden floor. Soft jazz plays in the background and a variety of pieces are arranged throughout on repurposed shelving and fixtures.
Some of the region’s finest artists have work on display there, as do artists from afar that Hamilton knows. Visitors will see work by Chris Leeper, Sherry Fry and Gail Trunick among others. All of it is available for purchase.
As word spreads, Hamilton will feature works by other fine artists from across the region.
“I want this to be a destination gallery for the area – a place where people can come and experience art,” he says. “My vision is to attract people from Pittsburgh and beyond this region through marketing, sales and by building relationships.”
Source Gallery, he says, will also support local artists and provide another place for them to show their work.
Lisbon officials are also taking steps to use the arts to attract visitors and liven up the downtown.
A new Arts on the Square festival will debut June 18 in the town square in front of Source Gallery, or in Gazebo Square, says Lindsey Smoot, executive director of the Lisbon Chamber of Commerce.
The festival will feature a juried art show, vendors and live performances on an outdoor stage by Stage Left Players, who will be staging “Freaky Friday” that weekend at their nearby theater.
Smoot is working with Hamilton to create Arts on the Square, which will run from noon to 6 p.m.
Also planned is a May 14 car show on Gazebo Square.
A monthly Third Friday event will take place on the third Friday of the summer months on Gazebo Square with food trucks and live music.
There will also be a farmer’s market on the square every Saturday from May to October. Smoot says a wine tasting is also planned.
“We’re also partnering with the Greenway Trail for an event on May 28,” Smoot says. The trailhead is a couple of blocks south of Gazebo Square.
The Greenway Trail event will feature vendors and food trucks, Smoot says. Local bicycle shops will have displays. And there will be a community bike ride along the trail.
The village hopes to lure riders on the 13-mile trail to pause and visit Lisbon. Toward that end, it is putting in a bike lane to connect the trailhead to Gazebo Square.
Smoot says one of her tasks is convincing more residents to believe in the village. “People don’t see the potential for growth that we have,” she says. “We’re trying to get more residents in this community to see that.”
Smoot is an East Liverpool native who returned to the area in 2018 after living in Colorado.
“I started volunteering and then took over as executive director [of the chamber of commerce] in November,” she says. “It’s my dream job. I love connecting people to resources and giving people a reason to come here.”
STAGE LEFT PLAYERS
Kandace Cleland, the longtime director of Stage Left Players, is another proponent of the arts who sees its role in revitalizing Lisbon.
“We have some momentum for the arts here,” she says.
Cleland, who is also secretary of the chamber of commerce, has expanded the offerings of her theater at 234 Lincoln Way.
The expansion started as a reaction to a bad situation.
Last May, a water line ruptured at the theater and flooded the basement. The basement was cleared out as it was repaired and has since been restored and transformed into a dance studio with the help of a $14,000 grant from the Ohio Arts Council.
The studio, led by Christine Martin, has 80 students.
More is planned for the space, Cleland says. In the fall, Stage Left will partner with Lepper Library on a book club there.
Pictured: Mark Hamilton shows some art at Source Gallery, which he owns and operates.