Home is Where the Art is
A Pasadena couple turns part of their Craftsman home into the Offramp Gallery for art, resurrecting the residence’s unusual past as a public-private arts space.
By Jessica Hamlin 03/02/2009
Most art galleries are located in public spaces, Jane Chafin decided to take a road less traveled toward becoming an art dealer — she converted part of the quirky Pasadena bungalow she shares with architect Chaz Alexander into a public art gallery. That alone makes Offramp Gallery — named for its location next to the 210 freeway — unique, but the home’s history and architecture also contribute to a charmingly “off” feel.
“The history definitely had an impact on me buying it,” says Chafin, who serves as gallery director. “I lived in Sierra Madre for 18 years. I love the architectural history of Pasadena — it’s just rich.”
The original bungalow was completed in 1924 and later underwent various additions and renovations. One of its most notable homeowners was Evelyn Le Mone, who moved in around 1942 with husband Wallace and ran Le Mone Studios dance school from two adjacent rooms that now serve as the gallery and a guest room. Le Mone also founded the Pasadena Dance Theater and Pasadena Junior Ballet and was the dance instructor for the Pasadena Playhouse. Wallace Le Mone died in 1971 and Evelyn sold the home in 1998. The home had a few other owners before Chafin and Alexander came along to resurrect it as a public arts space.
“I feel like I’m carrying the torch for Evelyn,” says Chafin, also an artist and former Barnsdall Park Municipal Art Gallery employee. She first encountered the home online in 2007, when she was contemplating a move from Las Vegas. But her first site visit with friend and fellow artist Anita Bunn was disappointing. “I left totally discouraged and thought there were loads of possibilities, but it was overwhelming,” she says. “It was purple and magenta and all these colors, and stuff was growing up around the house. Chaz wanted to see it, so we saw it the next weekend and, being an architect, he said, ‘We’ll do this and do that’ and made me feel like we could really do it.”
After the couple moved in in December 2007, they set about converting the former dance studio, a long room with wood flooring and white walls ideal for displaying art. After painting the lavender walls in the living room and library — both adjacent to the gallery — more tolerable shades of golden yellow and off-white, the couple unveiled Offramp in September 2008. (The library is also used as gallery space.) The venue is currently open three days a week and by appointment.
The gallery’s inaugural show featured Bunn’s photographs — images of treetops against sky, mounted on square pieces of wood. The opening drew 150 guests who lingered to savor the work and the ambience, the artist says. “I think what really sets [Offramp] apart is the whole atmosphere,” says Bunn. “It’s in this lovely home with a mishmash of architecture. It’s an asset to the Pasadena contemporary art scene.”
While Offramp’s website labels it a contemporary art gallery, Chafin says her vision is more expansive. “I don’t really have a narrow curatorial focus,” she says. “I am trying to stay open and see what I really like that I think maintains its integrity when you have it around for a few days.”
Offramp’s eclectic exhibitions have included portraits by painter Linsley Lambert and mixed media constructions by Rick Araluce. March 8 marks the opening of a show of works by Los Angeles–based artists: sculptor Carlo Marcucci, who uses food products as his materials; Susan Sironi, who creates altered books (ordinary books transformed into works of art); and Joyce Dallal, who contributes an installation made from ink-jet-printed rice paper and wire.
Chafin acknowledges that she sometimes finds it difficult to draw a clear distinction between home and work, but she says that hasn’t been a problem. “I love it so much that it has not felt like an intrusion,” she says. “I have met wonderful people. Some people just come in and look and leave, and others stay. It’s a natural thing to want to sit in this beautiful living room.”
A free cup of coffee and conversation accompany a gallery viewing, if visitors so choose. “A lot of times it becomes a coffee klatch,” says Chafin, who hopes to open a small café in the gallery space. “This is a piece of Pasadena history and we’d like to keep that going. It’s not the Gamble House, but I think it has its place.”
The Offramp Gallery hosts an opening reception for an exhibition of work by Carlo Marcucci, Susan Sironi and Joyce Dallal on March 8 from 2 to 5 p.m. The gallery is located at 702 Lincoln Ave., Pasadena. Hours are from 1 to 5 p.m. Thursday and Saturday,1 to 6 p.m. Friday and by appointment. Call (626) 298-6931 or visit offrampgallery.com.