By Jacquelyn Kellar Lariat Reporter
The new Art Forum of Waco has opened its doors again after a fire ravaged its original building and thousands of dollars worth of art inside last September. Just four months after the setback, the renovated Forum opened its first art exhibition last Saturday, featuring the work of local artist Zach Duffey. The exhibition will be open to the public until Feb. 13.
The Forum’s previous building at 1826 Morrow Avenue was completely devastated by a fire that started early in the morning on Sep. 1, 2015. The cause of the fire remains unknown.
The building itself may have been destroyed, but owner Jesus Rivera Martinez’s passion for art remained unchanged. Within months, the modest building on Morrow Avenue was renovated to erase evidence of the fire and reopened to feature Waco artists.
Now, stepping through the doors of the Forum reveals a clean, bright atmosphere, from white-washed walls covered in colorful art to large windows that let in the sun. Copious amounts of hard work have gone into making this occasion possible. For Martinez, it’s been a labor of love. This opening represents a community for artists, a fresh start and a continued legacy.
“It’s very emotional. I’m excited for the community,” Martinez said.
Above all else, the purpose of the Forum, and the reason for its resilience, is its ability to give local artists like Duffey a place to create and exhibit.
“I want him to show the public his technique and his passion,” Martinez said. “We’re very happy for him.”
Duffey is a native of Mississippi who recently moved to Waco from South Padre Island. Much of his colorful work is made of repurposed urban materials with an oceanic touch like surfboards used as canvases.
Duffey was drawn to the arts from a young age. However, he didn’t immediately make the arts into a career upon reaching adulthood. He was formerly a member of the United States Air Force, but when he realized his interest in photography, his enthusiasm for art evolved to become his life’s work.
When he arrived in the Waco area, he discovered the Art Forum of Waco and its community purely by chance.
“I moved into a house right down the street and I just ran across this place,” said Duffey. “I just loaded my car up with paintings and brought them in.”
Martinez said he couldn’t be happier to have Duffey and his work at the Forum.
“I’m very excited for the new artist and for the people who are going to come and see this new exhibition,” Martinez said.
Martinez has a deep-seated passion for art that he traced back to his years as a young boy in Mexico. His artistic journey started when he was an 18-year-old who left home to study drama. He began his career by starring in telenovelas in San Luis Potosí. As an adult, he traveled to the United States, studying in art programs at the University of New Mexico and at the Glassell School of Art in Houston.
By the time Martinez reached Waco, he wanted to share his enthusiasm for art with others. He resolved to open his own studio and exhibition space and put away a dollar a day for almost 20 years to make his dream a reality.
The new Forum, in addition to being a showcase for local artists, is also a tribute to the late Rodolfo Razo, an accomplished artist known for his life-size fashion paintings and stately portraits. Martinez considers Razo his mentor, the one who motivated him to succeed in his artistic endeavors. The two remained close friends until Razo’s sudden passing in April 2014.
Razo shared the same appreciation of the arts as Martinez. His generosity and continued commitment to the Forum were met with great gratitude and respect. Martinez has constructed a statue of “La Virgen de Guadalupe” for the St. Louis Catholic Church as a memorial to his cherished companion, to whom he attributes the continued existence of the Art Forum of Waco.