Dayton husband, wife spend day preparing opening

Artist-run space relaunches gallery program in former farmhouse.

There’s something out of time and place about the Catalpa Woods neighborhood of North Dayton, a residential area off Siebenthaler Avenue. Heading down Catalpa Drive, one passes signs for Artisan Village and Heliotrope Art Studio, resembling the vestiges of a 1970s artist enclave. Then there are suddenly horses, casually grazing by the side of the road, part of the Dayton Urban Riding Center. Steps from the small pasture is The Blue House, a 1917 farmhouse turned alternative gallery space.

Based inside the home of artists Nicholaus Arnold (41) and Ashley Jude Jonas (42), Blue House has been putting on experimental art shows for nearly a decade. In 2014, the couple, fresh out of graduate school, teamed up with then-owner Diana Cordero to rebuild the vacant house into gallery space, studios and living quarters that has since shown the work of over 400 artists. Arnold and Jonas took over the program in 2019 and still call it home. The artist-run space recently re-launched its in-house gallery program after taking a break during the COVID pandemic.

Arnold, who grew up nearby, felt a calling to return and help revitalize his childhood neighborhood. Jonas, who was raised in Florida, now realizes that in some ways her life here in Dayton has come full circle. “My grandfather was an artist and a designer, and my dad had a pretty unconventional way of being,” says Jonas. “The house that he lived in for over 50 years in Key West was always a space for artists to come and stay and make work. There were always creative folks visiting.”

“After he died, we made a clear connection to what we do and how we live,” adds Arnold.

Both University of Dayton employees, Arnold is Gallery Director there and Jonas teaches Foundation classes in the Department of Art and Design. Arnold is gearing up for the April 2024 opening of the Roger Glass Center for the Arts, where he will oversee a new 2,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art gallery.


On the day of artist Rosario Parker Gordon’s opening, Arnold and Jonas wake up at 8 a.m. They made extensive renovations during the pandemic shutdown, including building out new walls and restructuring the gallery space. The interior design is colorful and eclectic with midcentury modern furniture and a wall hand-painted by Jonas (“wallpaper is expensive”).

Credit: Contributed/Hannah Kasper Levinson

Credit: Contributed/Hannah Kasper Levinson


Daisy and Violet — the dogs — go out while Arnold gets his caffeine fix from a Coke, and Jonas heads downtown to the 2nd Street Market for a coffee and chocolate croissant from the Yellow Springs Baking Company. She returns with a breakfast sandwich for her partner.


After the morning fuel, they busy themselves with tidying the house and running errands for that evening. Parker Gordon has transformed the gallery space, a white room, into an uncanny copy of a garage. Most items — a toolbox, crates, cans of paint — are made out of papier-mâché, cardboard and acrylic paint. Looking into the gallery from the dining room down the hall, the sculptures seem realistic, as does the paint job on the wall rendered to look like spackle swatches. Up close, the objects reveal their DIY quality, overlapping with Parker Gordon’s interest in making zines. According to the artist’s website, the work explores “the culturally specific contexts of mancrafts in the American Midwest,” commenting on the intersection of feminine crafting with the man’s domain of the garage workshop. It’s an appropriate contrast considering the setting — domestic space meets formal gallery.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed


Parker Gordon, who works across installation and sculpture, arrived from a teaching post in Minneapolis a few days earlier to put final details on the show, though it is typical for the process to be highly collaborative with Jonas and Arnold. They describe Facetime calls where they worked together with the artist to tweak the placement of objects and get the aesthetics right.


After cleaning, Jonas and Arnold make a run to the grocery store for beverages (“there’s always cucumber water at Blue House openings”) and snacks (“only ever pretzel rods”) and any last-minute adjustments to welcome guests into their home. A large to-do list hanging on the kitchen wall categorizes all the areas of the house to be organized (“clean front porch, stash things upstairs, refreshment table — where?”)


The artist arrives later in the afternoon, and they order dinner at 4 so everyone is ready and energized for the first arrivals. Despite having organized shows in their home for nine years, there’s always an element of the unknown and some sense of anxiety when it comes to opening night. For Jonas, it’s important that visitors will be comfortable and feel welcome; and for Arnold, it’s wondering whether anyone will actually show up. “We’ve had opening nights where 10 people come, and others when there are 70 people in here at once.” Sometimes it depends on whether the artist is local or not; it’s part of the Blue House mission to bring in artists from both near and far and to challenge the audience with work that isn’t typically found in Dayton. Guests start to arrive at 5 and the evening wraps up by 8 with some folks, sometimes the artist and friends, hanging out later.


Clean up waits until Sunday, which is also a studio day for Arnold and Jonas, who have built out space in the back of the house for their own work. Arnold, a conceptual artist, makes work that spans sculpture, photography, performance and video. “The idea drives the work,” Jonas explains of her partner. “I’m an image maker, but mostly work with sculpture,” she adds.


The exhibits at The Blue House live on beyond the walls of the home. Last year, the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati presented “Artist-Run Spaces,” which highlighted 10 noncommercial artist-run galleries; and for their part, The Blue House duo created an interactive installation featuring several of their artist collaborators. “Object Drag” will run at The Blue House through Nov. 26 before moving on to another artist-run space, The Neon Heater in Findlay, Ohio.


The Blue House Arts

3325 Catalpa Drive Dayton, Ohio 45405 (937) 829-8016

Currently on View: “Object Drag”

New Works by Rosario Parker Gordon

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