If everything goes according to plan, this will be Wanda Dye's last weekend in Dallas. After her closing party on Sunday, the artistic force behind RE Gallery, a progressive space in The Cedars neighborhood, will pack her shotgun shack and head home to Alabama to be closer to her family. Although leaving Dallas is bittersweet, Dye has dedicated much of her career both at the gallery and in her years prior as a professor of architecture and design to the concept of renewal.
"Renew, repurpose, retrofit, recycle. I just call it RE practices, because there are so many different terms for it," says Dye, in the back kitchen of the house she renovated into her gallery and living quarters. "When I first opened the gallery it was going to be a laboratory or venue for the work of students, or local architects and artists doing work with reclaimed material."
She opened the space in fall 2012, as an outgrowth of the research she was pursuing in a tenure track position at University of Texas at Arlington. That first show, Illuminations, contained 28 light sculptures created by architects, designers and artists both locally and nationally. A few months later she learned the university hadn't renewed her contract after nearly six years teaching there. She decided to focus her attention entirely on the gallery. Her next show would be a solo show for self-taught Dallas-based artist Ricardo Paniagua, who at the time was creating sculptures from scrap materials.
"I was shocked at the whole situation in my job, but I wanted to see this new project to fruition," says Dye. She wasn't ready to leave Dallas just yet. So she reinvented herself. An academic turned gallerist, she immersed herself in the local art scene and beyond, relying on artist and collector friends to navigate Dallas. It was fun. Besides, she'd already taken strides to create the neighborhood in The Cedars she wanted to live in.
She first moved south of downtown at the encouragement of her friend, Albert Scherbarth, an artist, steel welder and longtime resident of The Cedars. Dye moved into a house at the corner of Browder and Beamount streets, which later became home to curator James Cope's space And Now Gallery. When she wanted to downsize, she reached out to Mark Martinek, whose MOD Construction has reinvigorated the neighborhood with the methodical repurposing or restoration of old buildings into live/work spaces and the occasional build of a new home. Dye first moved into the small house next door to RE Gallery; when she moved out, she encouraged Kelly Kroener and Eli Walker to move in, where they live, work and run a domestic gallery space, Homeland Security. Before long, Martinek had renovated a series of quonset huts, which are now filled with artists both living and working, including Josh Von Ammon, Frank Darko, Jeff Baker, Michael Morris, Arthur Peña, Sheryl Anaya and Sean David Morgan. Incidentally, when Dye hosted a pop-up exhibition with Makebish, out of New York City, in one of the quonset hut spaces during the Dallas Art Fair, I found my current residence. Down the street, The MAC plans to open its new facility in the next few years.
"It's become a very tight-knit community," says Dye. "It's a great neighborhood and hopefully it will continue to evolve for the artists."
Dye tends to downplay just how much effect her presence in the neighborhood has been responsible for those changes, but the positive impact RE Gallery has had not just on The Cedars, but on the art community in greater Dallas, is significant. Many of her shows introduced Dallas to emerging artists, like Kroener or Walker or Samantha McCurdy or Lily Hanson, while also reminding visitors how much they like the work of established artists, like Peter Ligon or Michael Wynne. Her taste skewed unconventional, often venturing into the realm of folk art. The current exhibition, Skeletons in the Closet by Butch Anthony, is downright funny. Anthony is an Alabama artist whose work is gaining popularity in London, where it is collected by the likes of Jude Law. Her shows have always lacked the pretension prevalent in many of the galleries in town, which is probably why visitors would often find themselves down the street at Lee Harvey's lingering over cold beer and a burger late into the night.
"Dallas has been good to me," says Dye, who the day we chatted was intent on focusing on the good things about her time here. "But running a gallery by yourself is exhausting and it was starting to feel sort of redundant, like I was doing the same thing over and over again."
She made the decision to return home after a long visit this summer. It occurred to her that she'd been living all over the country for decades and she was ready to adopt a new pace for her life. She looks forward to spending time with her parents, and figuring out what comes next.
"You know what sounds nice? Planting flowers and selling them at the farmers market," she says, only partly in jest. "Dye's Daisies sounds good."
No matter what she does next, she's looking forward to the rejuvenation and then maybe the reinvention.
The final chance to stop by RE Gallery, 1717 Gould St., will be from 6-10 p.m. Sunday. Butch Anthony's Skeletons in the Closet remains on display, and she's co-hosting a holiday party with MOD Construction.