TJ Letscher had a vision of a studio where artists, craftsmen and hobbyists could show and display their outrageous works.
That vision turned into reality in December when Letscher opened Rebel Up Studio at 110 W. Fourth in Grand Island.
“I want woodworkers and glass etchers and jewelry makers or whatever it is you make,” he said. “I don’t care. Whether it is art or it is useful, somebody out there wants it. Somebody out there is going to say it is the coolest thing they have ever seen, and they have to have it, whether they know what it is or not.”
That is what Rebel Up Studio is all about. It is the reason Letscher started it.
“They have total creative freedom at this place,” he said. “Whatever you can dream up, we’ll help you. Something great is going to come out of this place someday. I just know it.”
Letscher is a creative person himself. He was a plumber in Grand Island for 25 years before opening up his studio. During those years he nurtured his passion for creating, repurposing and reimaging everyday items into works of art.
He knew there were others in the community and area who harbored that sense of the offbeat and original. He wanted to assemble that karma in one place. He wanted those kindred spirits to know there was a place that accepted their work, displayed and sold it.
“I wanted a place where the imagination can run wild,” Letscher said.
Rebel Up Studio is a consignment store for artists and hobbyists.
“You know it’s for people who make something cool in their garage,” Letscher said. “It is why we built this place. It got started for the things that I make.”
Letscher had just turned 55 and woke up one morning questioning the direction of his life. Once he decided to start his studio, Letscher said things went fast.
A little more than a year later, he opened Rebel Up Studio. Built from scratch, it took a lot of planning. There was also a lot of improvising. The studio itself became a work of art.
An example of Letscher’s artistic improvisational skills was a benefit he organized for a friend injured in motorcycle accident.
To raise money, he gathered several Dave Mann posters from Easyrider magazine. He then went to the Habitat For Humanity Restore and purchased a lot of old cabinets. He reworked them to make picture frames for his collection of Dave Mann biker posters. They are on display in his studio.
Letscher sometimes said it’s all about looking at things with a different perspective.
Taking something old and transforming it into something new and different is at the essence of Rebel Up Studio. He wanted his studio to be a place of imagination and wonder.
His location on Fourth Street also helped create the studio’s sense of wonder. Built in the early 1920s, the building has housed many businesses over the years. They are trying to get the building registered as a National Historic Landmark.
It took a lot of work to transform the building into a space of his imagination. But when a person now walks into Rebel Up Studio, it is a feast for the eye.
During the transformation process, he added little touches. For example, there’s a miniature railroad and graffiti murals painted on the brick walls by local artist Kylon Littlejohn. The railroad trestle is from cinder block reinforcement wire.
Letscher said he hopes to draw local craftsmen to his studio.
One of the those is Justin Robinson of Grand Island. He does custom leather work – boot repairs and other items – through his business, Bar Rockin R Customs.
“TJ has the same mindset that I do,” Robinson said. “I love to create.”
And Robinson found an atmosphere where he can do that at Rebel Up Studio.
Keli Becker is a digital designer and technical engineer who helps out at the studio. She created Rebel Studio’s webpage and manages the studio’s social media.
“When I first walked into the store, I saw how much potential it had,” Becker said.
And Letscher saw the potential Becker had. He allowed her the creative space to take the studio online.
He is open to hosting all types of artists at his studio.
“I would love to get an airbrusher here or a woodcarver out front making totem poles,” Letscher said. “Whatever they do, it doesn’t matter. Everybody gets a shot here. If you make a camshaft lamp, bring it in. We will try to sell it.”
Letscher’s dream is to have his studio dominated by local artisans. When the weather turns warmer, he would also like to have a permanent flea market in the back of the building. He hopes to feature local musicians at his studio, too.
Downstairs, in Letscher’s workroom, is a set of drums which serves as a way to relieve stress and be creative at the same time.