Franklinton exhibit pays tribute to Saturday morning cartoons and sugary cereal

Jesse Tigges, Columbus Alive

Technology is a glittering lure. But there is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product … a deeper bond with the product: nostalgia. It's delicate, but potent.-Don Draper

I used to run, jump, tackle, anything I could to wake my 10-year-older sister every Saturday morning to alert her that "Pee-wee's Playhouse" was coming on. At best she was nonplussed. At worst she hated me. But it was the lone Saturday morning show she liked and would watch with her cloying seven-year-old little brother. Not Scooby, "The Smurfs" or Lion-O and the Thunder Kids. Only Pee-wee.

While you may have different memories, Saturday morning cartoons were probably a similarly seminal childhood experience. Ralph Walters, a painter who takes up residence at 400 West Rich and is consistently curating some of Columbus' most exciting art shows at the moment, knows this all too well. He also knows the Saturday morning cartoons of our childhood are no more, unfortunately.

In late 2014, for the first time in 50 years, there were no cartoons on network TV on a Saturday morning. While that's an unfortunate side effect of the FCC, technology like streaming, cable and DVDs, it also served as inspiration for a new art show from Walters and his friends.

"[Saturday morning cartoons] were a big part of my childhood," Walters said during an interview at his 400 West Rich studio. "It was one of the only things I looked forward to. It influenced the art I got into and the art I do. So for me, it was something that would be a fun way to respect Saturday morning and what it meant to me and everyone."

Walters, along with more than 20 other artists, will pay respect to Saturday morning with the group show "It's Saturday Morning Somewhere," which is hosted by The Vanderelli Room in Franklinton.

The opening reception is Saturday night, but the atmosphere of Saturday morning will be in full effect, as artists and visitors are encouraged to don their best footie pajamas, and the nosh will include a cereal bar, mimosas and other breakfast items.

The collection of pieces will cover a swath of Saturday morning cartoons - from those early days all the way up to that fateful one in late September- as artists capture the idols of their youth through a lens of maturity and gratis reminiscence. "It's Saturday Morning Somewhere" doesn't just encapsulate the cartoons a generation grew up with - the sugary cereal gorged on during those wee morning hours has a place too. What these artists loved as a child has become a muse in adulthood.

"I think that's what really struck a chord with people, and it didn't even occur to me," Walters said. "I threw it out there and people started going nuts. I realized, of course they are. They're artists; they're giant children! So, what is the fondest moment in a giant child's life, if they're of a certain age anyway?"

Ideas abound for the exhibit. Artists created everything from '80s-styled movie poster pieces featuring the alter ego of Prince Adam and his cohorts/villains to Victorian-stylized portraits of Smurfette. There's a four-piece set inspired by "George of the Jungle" and even a phonograph retrofitted as homage to Kaboom cereal. Other approaches were as divergent as Brent Elam's tatted take on Cap'N Crunch (pictured) to the uplifting painting by Lisa McLymont, a spot-on execution of the Frosted Flakes cereal box cover with the slight, yet powerful, catchphrase modification, "You're Gr-r-reat!"

Cyrus Fire's anecdote - "I'm pretty sure Skeletor is where I got my hoodie fetish from" - in a video on the "It's Saturday Morning Somewhere" Facebook page perfectly captures the retention of this subject matter for the artists involved. Fire collaborated with Walters, Rob Jones, Carlos Roa and Chris Fields on a surprise piece to be unveiled Saturday evening.

While Walters said he and the artists involved are utterly jubilant - the lilt of giddiness in his voice while speaking about this show and its art was unmistakable - about revisiting their childhood memories for this exhibit, there's a bigger goal. Due to its universal accessibility, "It's Saturday Morning Somewhere" has the potential to attract those who may not regularly attend art shows.

"The way you get people involved in the arts scene who wouldn't normally get into art, or don't know what is good art, is you have to show them it [can be more than] going to a museum," Walters said. "For me, painting this is fun. Seeing what other artists are doing is really fun. The audience should not only be able to enjoy the artwork the way the artists are enjoying it, but enjoy the idea and event [of it]. More people are going to be involved, and introducing them to things they might not have been drawn to otherwise. Besides it's fun. Not everything has to be staid or very proper."

Photos by Meghan Ralston

The Vanderelli Room

7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 17

218 McDowell St., Franklinton