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Manhattan’s Art Basement, Featuring the Doodling Doctor

Updated: Jul 1, 2020

Building community with art— that is the mission of Justin Briggs, Manhattan townie and founder of the local Art Basement. For the past six months, Briggs has been doing his part to support the art scene in Manhattan. Through opening the doors of his home and lending his basement as a gallery space, Briggs has given artists a chance to exhibit their work.

Briggs said that he is trying to build the art community in Manhattan, as well as create a space that is an accessible alternative from traditional galleries which can be difficult to get into and require the artists to pay a commission. His Art Basement is a place where the talented artists of this town can gain recognition.

Briggs’s goal is to host one art instillation a month. The first show hosted by the Art Basement took place last September. The last show, which took place on Feb. 22 of this year, was the sixth successful gallery at the Art Basement and featured the work of Steve Short, a local pulmonary physician, community member and self-taught sketch artist.

At the show, a cheerful crowd sipped wine, ate snacks and happily perused the extensive collection of 5x7 sketches, while tunes of classic oldies floated their way down the stairs and gave the space an upbeat vibe. The art hung from the ceiling, pinned to pieces of twine that covered the walls, decorating the room. The successful art show was the first of its kind for this artist, who laughed as he scanned the abundance of art and said he was all over the event because he "needs to get rid of this stuff".

Short grew up in Goodland, Kansas, but has called Manhattan home with his wife and family for the past 26 years. Somewhere in the last 20 or 30 years, he took up a pen, started sketching and began illustrating the world around him, creating hundreds of pieces over the years that have delighted those who are lucky to cherish them.

Short’s early artistic inspiration came from the work of his patients. He said that he has had a few patients who are architects and who have shown him their work, the quality of which always intrigued him. Because of this, Short said that he began sketching every time he traveled— particularly architecture and people.

“You can tell where we’ve lived and where we’ve been by the art,” Short said, speaking of his travels with his wife, Whitney Short.

Lately, Short said that when he travels, he draws people more often and that he always gives the sketch to the person who was his inspiration for the work.

“It’s always kind of an ice breaker for conversation and for people to open up,” Short said.

Before giving the piece away, however, Short is sure to take a photo of it. He collects these pictures and makes books for his medical office. He said that every six months or so, he puts together a new book of his favorite pieces of work and that his patients enjoy seeing what’s new and that makes it fun for him.

It wasn’t long before Short was hooked on this hobby, and now every night he can be found doodling. When surveying the impressive work of this artist at the Art Basement show, it came as a surprise to hear that each sketch only takes him ten minutes. With all the time and practice dedicated to his craft over the years, the artist has become a skilled craftsman and has acquired a diverse gallery. His display at the Art Basement included sketches of a wide variety of subjects, such as timeless animated characters, landscapes and landmarks from beautiful places all around the globe, portraits of Native Americans, varieties of flowers and animals, nostalgic scenes of Kansas and more.

Short said that some of his works are inspired by things in his life that he admires: his heart for the southwest, the irises that grow in his yard and his children and grandchildren— whom he sketches almost every week. He is especially fond of old grain elevators that dot the Kansas horizon and he said that he has sketched tons of them. According to Short, he likes the character of an old grain elevator, which he calls white castles, and said that there is a “real gut feeling” of familiarity with them, as they remind him of his hometown. He labels each sketch of them and said that he has most of the elevators in western Kansas covered.

To Short, art is healing and healthy.

“I think it expands your mind,” Short said. “It gives you a broader perspective of life and I think you are more well-rounded with art.”

He said that working as a pulmonary doctor can be fairly intensive and that sketching when he comes home from work is a release. Art is its own kind of medicine.

Perhaps what this artist is best known for is his work on the weekends.

“On Sundays, I always do a Sunday sketch of someone at church,” Short said. “I give it to them and they’re thankful, and that’s kind of what I’ve been known by, my Sunday sketches.”

Whether at church or a gallery, it is clear that his work sparks joy in those around him. At the Art Basement show, all around the room people laughed, holding piles of sketches they had to take off the market, while still scanning the collection, looking for more pieces that called out to them.

“I think this was an awesome idea,” Karen Brokenicky, a Manhattan community member and good friend of the Short family, said about the event. “I’m happy to see so many people come to it. He’s just too well kept of a secret, I think.”

All of the Art Basement shows are free to the public and the art is for sale. Briggs said that these events can give someone something to look forward to on the calendar. To Briggs, the work is rewarding because it makes him feel like he is contributing to the community that he lives in.

“It’s about giving a space to the artists and the community and bringing good energy to the house that I live in,” Briggs said.

The Art Basement can feature a wide variety of creative works. So far, it has showcased acrylic and oil paintings, mixed media pieces, creative furniture, watercolor works and sketches.

Briggs said that he is happy to work with the artist and to help them display their art in the basement in unique ways. He is hoping to reach more artists and to continue to promote art, culture and community, starting from the basement his home at 1108 Pierre Street.

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