The YPC’s Spotlight Series is back, and the Youngish Professionals are honored to welcome the very talented Aubrey (Thompke) Damron to the orange chair – to share more about herself and her work in bringing the historic Wagner’s Block ballroom to life. So, without further adieu, the spotlight is on!
YPC: Hey, Aubrey! Welcome to the orange chair and thank you for your time.
Aubrey: Thanks for the invite, YPC!
YPC: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? What do you do?
Aubrey: I am a self-employed freelance artist born and raised in Marshall, MI. I studied art and psychology at both NMU and Olivet College.
YPC: Has art always been part of your DNA?
Aubrey: It has had my heart for as long as I can remember, and it was always my dream to be an artist when I grew up. I decided to go full-time with my craft just over 7 years ago, and my parents have been incredibly supportive of me pursuing my dream throughout my life. I owe them so much for encouraging me and instilling in me a strong work ethic, and it feels great to have them as my biggest fans. I do maintain a part-time job serving and bartending at Mike’s Place in Marshall, while still running my own business for my art.
YPC: Busy lady, and a strong shout out to Mike’s Place! What type of art do you primarily focus on?
Aubrey: I do a lot of commission work with a specialty in portraiture and non-traditional landscapes. My original work is typically surreal in nature and often weird, but I love the weird. For much of last year, I have been focused on work at the EastEnd Ballroom while completing some commissions.
YPC: To say we are excited to see the final product and throw an event in the ballroom is an understatement. It is SUCH an incredible space and treasure. What is your history specifically with EESG?
Aubrey: Having been a local artist for many years now, my peers and community have recognized me for the work I do and often reach out to me for things I would be a good fit for. This led to my direct connection with Eastend. I have had work in one of the shows there and have been an assistant to Kat in the after-school art program at Harrington Elementary in Albion. My connection to the ballroom project stemmed from my working relationship and friendship with Jen Darling and Michael Peck, and them bestowing on me the chance to be a larger part of it. I appreciate them both so much for having faith in me.
YPC: How did you get involved with the ballroom project?
Aubrey: My name had been brought up to Michael Peck for a project he needed a few good artists for, and our initial introduction was all that was needed for us to know how well we would work together. The rest is history, so to speak. Amongst a few other projects I had been invited to work under him for, the ballroom has been the largest so far. I was fortunate enough to be a part of the team that made the wallpaper for the ballroom and also the team that hung the wallpaper. The work began on the foyer and, at the start, I was one of a few helping hands assisting Michael – as much of the work at that point he was doing himself. Then COVID hit and things changed dramatically. I remember the conversation he and I had about me taking over as lead on-site…my excitement for such an amazing opportunity was followed by an immediate flood of anxiousness that will never be forgotten. I knew it was my chance to leave my mark…and in my hometown no less. His encouragement that this was my time to shine still rings in my ears.
YPC: Too cool, and what an amazing mentor to have. What exactly is your role?
Aubrey: My role in the project is On-Site Lead Artist, working directly under the instruction of Michael Peck and collectively with Jen Darling and our other artists. I ensure the artistry and all of the operations run as smoothly as possible, to make Michael’s vision of the space come alive. I do the leg work for the materials and helping to plan out the order of operations. I have been fortunate enough to do some of the design work in creating such a magical space, and for an extended amount of time was the only artist working on site. I am also responsible for keeping our artists on task and that our output of work is of high quality.
YPC: Would you be willing to tell us a bit about the rest of the ballroom team?
Aubrey: Gladly. Currently our team consists of five active artists, with four on-site and Michael being remote. My present team consists of one, Meagan Wildt, a friend and talented regional artist who also works with Eastend assisting Kat Whaley in our after-school (A.S.A.P.) class teaching kids the joys of art. Around mid-January, I brought on two friends and fellow artists, Ray Swaney and Heather Meyer, both graduates of MHS and career artists themselves. Ray is self-employed, widely skilled, and talented in various forms of art. His versatility and problem-solving skills have been quite valuable to the project. Heather balances a busy family schedule, her own work, and her contribution of talent to our project executing fantastic detail and focus.
I have also been fortunate enough to work alongside my brother, Jason Thompke, owner and operator of PLC home solutions. He is a jack of all trades and has been an incredible aid in helping me access some of the harder-to-reach areas by building platforms and setting up and moving scaffolding for me. His son Ashton also has had a small hand in the painting and is eager to learn more.
Previously, we had a contribution of work by the skilled Ryan Cook in painting the faux marble. My husband, Joshua Damron, has also assisted me in much of the technical layouts and execution of work that involved a lot of measuring and mapping out, a welcome addition of help with something that isn’t my strong suit.
Laura Valentine, another career artist with fantastic talent in painting, and Bonnie Peck were on deck at the start of some of the faux marble painting and ceiling work on-site, and are the other two creators (including myself and Michael) of the beautifully handmade wallpaper that hangs in the ballroom. The wallpaper was hung by Darrel and Diana Hawthorne of Dandy Improvements and me. These two individuals I think could create anything you can think of with their hands and have extensive knowledge in restoration and wallpaper hanging. It was such a treat to work with them.
I can’t say this enough. I am SO fortunate to know so many talented individuals and to work well with them. It is a joy to be surrounded by inspirational imagery and people.
YPC: What have been the most challenging, fun, and rewarding things about the project?
Aubrey: The biggest challenge has been having Michael teaching me from afar. As we know, in our current state of things, much is being done virtually. Making this happen effectively to learn technical methods, some of them being things I have never attempted before, has been at times seemingly impossible. Giving him virtual tours and daily briefings to stay abreast of the project takes time and dedication with long hours of working. But I do best under pressure, so having all of these challenges for me is welcome. I know it will all be worth it.
YPC: What an incredible experience and opportunity. Anything else you would like to share?
Aubrey: I’m excited to say it looks like we may be opening the 3rd floor to the public as early as June! In many ways, working in this space with so much turmoil going on in the world has been a welcome respite. Art has always remained my saving grace. Dedicating myself to my craft and honing in on my skills is proving to be the most rewarding time of my life, and I am forever grateful to be leaving my mark on something that I hope our community will cherish for years to come. I have put much of my heart and soul into this space and even long after my name has been forgotten, I hope my art lives on to bring others joy.
YPC: Your legacy will definitely live on, Aubrey, and we can’t wait to share the joy of taking your, Michael, and your team’s art in over and over again with our greater community. That ballroom will be a treasure for generations!
Aubrey: Thank you for sharing that, YPC, and for this opportunity to chat. It’s been great.
YPC: That it has, and thank you too!
We’ll be back soon with another edition of our Spotlight Series, but until then..
Stay safe. Stay socially distanced. Check on loved ones and neighbors. Howl at the moon often. Find new ways to support your local businesses and nonprofits. Exercise and eat healthy. Try new hobbies. Share your positive energy with as many people as possible. #BeYoungish. #Choose Marshall.
Know of someone with a unique story to share? Please let us know! Our spotlight series line-up remains strong (you guys make it easy on us), but that doesn’t mean we’re not looking for new professionals to highlight in creative ways and to bring into the YPC. So, if anyone (yourself included) comes to mind, let, us, know: theyoungishprofessionals (at) gmail (dot) com