Work of Art A former Sons of Italy lodge becomes a gallery and home

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In all ways, Julie Yensho’s home is the ultimate portfolio, a culminating project of the work she has done up until this point. That includes two decades as a pastry chef, time spent as a set painter on “House of Cards” and life on a farm in Ohio.

Now Yensho runs Y: ART Gallery and Fine Gifts in Highlandtown. It’s a double-wide formstone façade of a rowhouse, a nod to all things Charm City with its functional past and its creative future. The back of the building, where pizzas were sold for 25 cents when it was a Sons of Italy lodge, is also Yensho’s home. It’s a cozy and art-filled space that is both urban-chic and charming. And bonus just steps away from her workplace.

“It’s my compound,” Yensho jokes. “My cool compound.”

True to the nature of creativity, many of the materials in the current space have been repurposed or recycled—
the doors and windows that look out onto the backyard garden and patio came from The Loading Dock. The blocks in the garden wall came from a wall that once stood at the building’s front. Yensho traded wooden garage doors that date back to the early 20th century for more building materials. And a dollhouse she made (“It was too big”) was exchanged for two truckloads of dirt from a landscaper with young daughters.

A decorative painter and sculptor, she admits she never thought about opening a gallery until she found this space. More than eight years ago, Yensho and her husband Tom, a custom woodworker, were walking their dogs in the neighborhood when they happened upon the lodge. Worse for the wear, it had been damaged in the 2011 earthquake that shook the Mid-Atlantic, and a tarp-covered a spot where a wall was missing.

The Yenshos made an offer on the building that day with the intent of turning it into studio and workshop space, which they did. But each year, they held a holiday market drawing in more and more local artists and crafters. Tom made chili and Julie made gingerbread, and they sold both.

The events were community building and got Yensho thinking: Maybe it was time to make the building into a gallery, but a space with a shop, too. She grew up in Dickeyville with “all these artists, eccentrics and creatives.” She wanted a space where crafters felt included, too.

Y: ART’s shop, she decided, should be like Calico Cat in Woodlawn, a much-loved gift shop and gallery. Before it closed, it was the place where everyone went to buy “the coolest, best gifts to give to your amazing people,” Yensho says. Sadly, Tom passed away before the gallery opened; Yensho moved into the home-behind-the-gallery two years later.

But Y: ART has become the space she hoped it would and a gallery well known for its twice-annual multi-artist shows. Last summer’s “SUPERHEROES” show, which featured work from 85 area artists, drew a packed house for the opening reception on a hot summer night when it would have been so much easier to stay at home. But people didn’t want to miss it. (This year’s summer show theme is “camp,” she says).

“I didn’t have any high expectations, but I don’t do anything small,” Yensho says of running the gallery. “If I’m going to do it, I do it. I’ve made mistakes but I’ve learned from them. And I love being part of this community.”

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