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Kristen Watson

Owner yearns to reopen space

Profile image for By Lucinda Breeding
By Lucinda Breeding

A Creative Art Studio remains closed after mid-March blaze

Robin Huttash said she doesn’t know what to do with herself since a fire forced her out of her West Oak Street business on March 15.

“I want it to open up,” Huttash said of the popular downtown spot, A Creative Art Studio at 227 W. Oak St. “It’s springtime. It’s the best time of year to be in the gallery or the studio with the door open. I’m ready to get back in there.”

The Denton Fire Department didn’t return phone calls Thursday afternoon about the fire.

A video taken by Huttash’s son, Ben Huttash, shows what appears to be a charred cabinet from the apartment where the fire is believed to have started.

“Oh, wow,” Ben Huttash says on the video as firefighters lift and survey the burned object. “Is this the culprit?”

Huttash called the scene “miraculous,” because her only employee asked to work during spring break to make extra money. Otherwise, the gallery would have been empty.

When the employee smelled smoke, “She called me and asked if she should call 911,” Huttash said. “I told her yes, and then I ran over to the studio.”

Huttash wasn’t far from the studio. She was watching the Boxcar Bandits perform during the last day of 35 Denton music festival.

Huttash said she and her employee hustled to help the firefighters.

“The fire department got here fast,” she said. “They moved all the art into three groups in the middle of the gallery. Then they covered it with tarps. They acted fast.”

Huttash estimated there were 50 to 70 pieces of art on the walls. Other items, such as pottery and jewelry were on rolling displays, pedestals, baskets, counters and shelves.

A restoration company took all of the art from the gallery, and Huttash said only two pieces were damaged. Restorers are using an oxygen treatment to remove the odor of smoke from the them. No art was burned, and Huttash said none of the water ran down the walls. Instead, the water ran into the middle of the gallery.

A friend put an online fundraiser together to help Huttash meet her insurance deductible and business bills expected to come due while its closed. She has a policy common among business owners that protects their businesses from liability. She also has insurance for the contents of her business.

“I wish I was more insured on the content side, though,” Huttash said.

The fundraiser asked donors to help collect $2,000. By Thursday, $2,375 had been donated through a GoFundMe page.

Huttash opened the small gallery and studio in 2010. She and other artists teach classes out of the studio, and Huttash sells work by local artists for a commission in the gallery. The spot draws lots of foot traffic on the first Friday of each month, when Denton galleries either extend their hours or, like Huttash, offer refreshments and live music in their spaces. It’s tradition for A Creative Art Studio to have a community art project in which visitors can participate during the First Friday Arts mixer.

“We’re going to have music in the backyard tomorrow,” Huttash said on Thursday afternoon. “We already had musicians lined up, and we still wanted to be part of it.”

Huttash said her downtown neighbors have been helpful.

“Shop the Barn has let us use a spot in their shop,” Huttash said. “We had to stop our classes that hadn’t started. But Garden Gate downtown is letting us finish the classes we had already started.”

Janie Shoto, the mother of Christina Shoto, owner of Circa 77 Vintage, said the store next door to the gallery sustained smoke damage. Janie Shoto said the occupied apartment above Circa 77 Vintage also got smoke damage.

“We had to take everything off the walls,” Janie Shoto said. “All of our designer dresses were hanging high up on the walls.”

Shoto said the restoration company working for the building’s owners, Billy and Anna Ennis, immediately brought ozone machines into Circa 77 to remove the smoke smell.

“We decided not to file a claim,” she said. “We’ve painted and we’re redoing. We’re just doing it a little at a time.”

Huttash said she’s itching to move back in to the gallery. Originally, Huttash said she thought she’d be back in business in two weeks. It’s been 19 days.

“The ceiling started coming down,” she said. “It’s not like the ceiling was burned or anything. We think maybe some insulation got wet.”

Permit applications from the city showed that a contractor working on the building applied for one permit needed to repair the damage in the apartment and business. As soon as the applicant answers a few general questions about required fire suppression measures, city officials said the permit can be approved and construction can start.

The restoration company still has all the art removed from the gallery, but Huttash could still be teaching from the studio, which wasn’t damaged at all.

“Some people came in after the fire and saw it empty,” Huttash said. “Some people started crying when they saw it without any art.”

CINDY BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877 and via Twitter at @LBreedingDRC.