An artist’s journey: Coffman opens gallery in downtown Tonganoxie near where father, grandmother once had local businesses
Leigh Coffman has come full circle in her hometown — and she’s followed in her family’s downtown business footsteps in the process.
Coffman, who previously operated Heartland ArtWorks in a small retail center between Tonganoxie and Basehor, moved her art business this past month to her hometown.
She now has Coffman ArtWorks at 420 E. Fourth St. in what formerly was Dr. Richard Dean’s optometry office and then most recently Fun and Fabulous Floral and Gifts.
Coffman noted that she’s a third-generation downtown Tonganoxie business owner — her grandmother, Juanita Hand, operated a restaurant for almost two decades in the 500 block of Fourth Street on the north side of the street. And her father, Stanley Hand, operated a laundromat a few doors down in the same block as her new business to the west. He also built the car wash that’s another couple blocks to the west along Fourth Street.
She’s excited to be in the same area where her father and grandmother ran their own businesses.
With her art gallery, Coffman wants the space to be a place to enjoy and learn about art.
“You teach someone to hear if you want them to sing,” Coffman said. “I want to teach someone how to see so they can paint.”
Coffman plans to have workshops and other events, including ladies’ nights out festivities.
Her husband also has a workshop in the building and, thanks to a suggestion from fellow artist and friend Marti Anderson, she will have a rotation of artists at the studio for people to meet and learn from.
Anderson got the idea from a sister who has a similar format at her business. Anderson, originally from southwest Colorado, is this week’s featured artist. Folks can still visit her during the day today and Thursday. She’s been giving prints to visitors who stop in at the gallery.
Another local artist, John Maack, who specializes in acrylic, was at Coffman ArtWorks this past week.
A grand opening/open house is planned for 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday at the gallery, with a ribbon cutting scheduled for about noon.
The walls inside the gallery are adorned with many of Coffman’s pieces, along with some from Anderson. A prized piece is a large work depicting the Kansas City Chiefs in action. She a Super Bowl enthusiast/Chiefs super fan will be in the market to take that artwork home this weekend.
Coffman ArtWorks also is home to the Tonganoxie Arts Council. With a fireplace and a couple cozy chairs so far, Coffman hopes the gallery will be an inviting place for visitors and artists alike.
Growing up with art
Coffman credits teachers at Tonganoxie for pushing her toward a career in art.
She recalled Miss Petch leading an art project in which students had to collect leaves on the playground and use them to create some form of art.
“Oh, Leigh Ann, you’re an artist,” Coffman recalled a comment from Petch, thinking back to that day when she was 6 years old. “‘Oh, I am?’”
She also credited teacher Ann Durham with encouraging her artistic ways when she was 12.
That also was about the time Coffman took a family vacation to Universal Pictures and Disneyland in California. That’s where she saw the backdrop of a show she watched and realized it was a painting.
She said that she realized then that painting is what she wanted to do for a career.
Coffman went to Kansas State University where she earned a bachelor’s in fine arts with emphasis on graphic design and illustration. Drawing and painting were her specialities.
From there she worked as a designer in the Kansas City area. A few years ago, she decided to open her own gallery. She had Heartland ArtWorks for about a year and a half.
For many years Coffman volunteered on various Kansas City-area art councils and boards.
She also likes to take part in plein art festivals — no matter the distance. A favorite is Augusta, Mo., about a four-hour drive that typically is a 10-day event.
She’s brought that enthusiasm to Tonganoxie for its plein art festival.
As for other art preferences, Coffman has created several murals, mostly indoors for customers wanting a mural in their home or inside a church.
Her latest though, is her biggest to date.
Coffman is working on a mural promoting Leavenworth on the Leavenworth Main Street Program building near Fourth and Cherokee streets.
The first is 22-by-61 feet. A second, which is on the same exterior wall extended to the north, is 21-by-64.
The Leavenworth project has been exciting for Coffman.
It adds to the joy of having a gallery back in her hometown.
“Art started here for me,” Coffman said about Tonganoxie. “And I’m excited to give back to the community that inspired me as an artist.”