RACINE, Wis. (AP) — Just inside the front door at 1700 N. Main St., the new Northwinds Gallery, stands a wildebeest that had a taxidermy session sometime in his past. At his feet lies a tiny whimsical scene with a lake, lighthouse and various small figures.

The wildebeest — who had no name going into the weekend but is to be the subject of a Starving Artist Fair naming contest earlier this month— is the first thing that greets visitors to the new, 3,000-square-foot gallery and artists cooperative. The gallery's creator is Tracy Stacy, owner of Absolute Construction, 6618 Six Mile Road in Caledonia.

Stacy started by purchasing, and then renovating, the two-story corner building that had previously been a travel agency, then a music store, but had been vacant for years.

Those renovations include a future coffee bar, which is in the process of being installed.

"I really wanted to do something to give back to the city, because we have a lot of talent in our company," Stacy said. "... We can take our talents and fix something up in Racine. Make something better."

The structure was a "sad, dying building," she continued. And it was also the place where her mother had her first job: a soda jerk at Homer Dary & Son Drugs.

Stacy had another reason for choosing that building. "My grandfather, who was also an artist, lived nearby," she said. He was a freelancer who, among other things, illustrated Little Golden Books for Western Printing.

"I believe that artists need a place to be, starving artists, instead of just fairs; maybe we can do something to help that community," Stacy said. "It's sort of homage to my grandfather who was a starving artist and my mother who worked here."

In the course of their projects, Absolute Construction's workers come across items and materials that can be reused, and Stacy has "upcycled" some of them into her renovation of 1700 N. Main St. For example, they salvaged and reused a bank counter, and all of the gallery's granite comes from other projects, The Journal Times reported.

"I just hate to see good things go in the dumpster when somebody could do something good with it," Stacy said. "And I see a lot of that in construction."

She has assembled 27 Racine-area artists — some of them related to each other — including 10 who are committed to tending and running the gallery. Stacy said she interviewed about 50 people in choosing the ones she wanted.

"I'm trying to find people who really upcycle things," she remarked.

Those artists include Gayle Weber of Mount Pleasant, who does mixed-media nature art; and Mike Slamka, who makes jewelry art from materials such as animal horn or bone, copper, wood burl and turquoise.

A good example of an "upcycling" artist at the gallery is Tanya Sayenko, who upholsters chair seats with blue jeans. Vicki Hipke makes art with beach glass that she gathers while cruising shorelines in a kayak.

Northwinds Gallery has the advantage of having its own parking lot and a yard where Stacy plans to hold occasional demonstrations, such as tree stump carving by the Chicks with Chainsaws. And she hopes to offer arts and crafts classes on the second floor, above the gallery.

Northwinds is open noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; and noon to 8 p.m. Thursday.

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Information from: The Journal Times, http://www.journaltimes.com

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