Candy to art — The 1415 Gallery was a lifelong learning to love of art

A little-known American Impressionist painter by the name of John Elwood Bundy (1853-1933) was responsible in part for first kindling a love of art in Richmond native Laura A. Issen, now a Snow Lake resident. This passion that Issen has nurtured, and kept close to her heart as she was growing up, opened the way to her own art gallery.

“Bundy was a recognized Indiana painter of landscapes, who taught art at Earlham College in Richmond which was a Quaker community,” said Issen, adding that her family also collected art by other local artists, including John Albert Seaford, another well-known Richmond artist.

“I was working as a public health nurse in Richmond when I was hired by my first pharmaceutical company, Merck, Sharp and Dohme. When I was sent to Chicago for training, I would go to art galleries and museums on weekends, where my love for art intensified.”

After training, Issen, who is an R.N. and a singer, settled in Fort Wayne where she discovered The Little Gallery on Wells Street. The hospitable owner, Jean Hildt, would spend time teaching Issen about different styles of painting, art history and artists.

“I purchased my first ‘important’ painting from Jean after receiving a bonus from work one year,” recalled Issen who has been a pharmaceutical rep for 34 years. “It was done in the early 1900s and reminded me of my place back home called ‘Blue Clay Falls.’ It cost $2,400 which was a lot of money for me in that time period! I was still using a couch the Salvation Army even rejected because they said it was too worn. Today that painting hangs in my home office.”

“Later, I discovered The Castle Gallery, and the joy that Jody Hemphill Smith and Mark Paul Smith bring to the community with their gorgeous home and art is such a treasure. Fort Wayne is fortunate to have such an elegant place. Over the years as I have gone to their events, my love for art has grown as well as my appreciation for what Jody has brought.”

In February 2016, Issen purchased the 2-story white brick-and-siding building on E. State which formerly housed Abby Brown’s Candy Shoppe. The original intent of the sale was for Issen’s older son, Gabe Eckert, to begin an e-liquid manufacturing facility in that location with his cousin Adam and a friend Josh who developed the business plan and formed their own LLC.

When that venture didn’t work out, Issen was approached by a winery rep who wanted to expand to Fort Wayne.

“He began to work on the downstairs area to create the wine bar,” said Issen, who essentially gutted both the upstairs and downstairs in her renovation efforts, and set about creating a whole new ambiance.

“But he changed his mind in the middle of the project, so once again I was faced with ‘what now?’ I also worked on remodeling the upstairs for an apartment, which provided a place for me to stay while in Fort Wayne. “One night, I met an individual at a party who spoke of his experience as an Airbnb host, so I decided to try this. It has been a great experience and I have met some great people traveling through here.”

Since the opening of the gallery, Carl Dean Lash, one of the local artists, will reside full time in Issen’s furnished upstairs 2-bedroom apartment, with the 3rd room becoming his studio where he can paint. The mediums he uses include inks, pastels, watercolor, oil and acrylics, and he will move to his new residence in September. Issen kept the former candy store’s red-and-white striped motif to accent the exterior of the facility, and the new name above the building is simply The 1415 Gallery.

“I am adding artists as I see works that interest me,” explained Issen, “and I am also adding metal sculpture soon as well as pottery and additional art forms. At this time I am open Friday evenings and by appointment. We will be having a ‘special event’ one Friday a month where music and a cash bar will be included.”

“My goal with the gallery is to provide artists with a platform in which to show their work and earn money while following their passion,” Issen said.