Artists are set to gain two Waco spaces to sell their works in upcoming weeks with the opening of two galleries, one in West Waco, the other in downtown.

At 2012 N. Valley Mills Drive in Ridgewood Village, the Thomas Leath Gallery plans to open formally on Friday, while downtown at 712 Austin Ave., the space that recently hosted the Waco 52 Pop-Up Gallery will reopen Oct. 6 as 7twelve.

They’re independent, but united in their separate owners’ passion for art and a desire to provide space for artists to sell their creations.

For Thomas Leath, 50, the gallery that carries his name represents the personal dimension that brought it into being. The two dozen paintings that presently line the walls of the two-room space come from his personal collection of more than 65 artworks.

The Waco native, a social media consultant and a founding partner in GeekNation.com, moved from Dallas back to Waco in 2005, in part to provide closer support for his mother Alta.

The move started Leath thinking about a friend’s comment that he had enough art to start a gallery. After six years on the Art Center of Waco board, Leath decided the time was right to try his hand at selling art in Waco.

“I’m not afraid of a challenge, but this is something I’ve never done before,” he said.

Leath bought his first piece of art, a lithograph, when he was 18 and began collecting not as an investment but simply because he loved art. The son of longtime Central Texas Congressman Marvin Leath, Leath was 11 when his family moved to the art-rich environment of Washington, D.C., in 1979. Leath’s love for art was shaped by time spent in the Smithsonian museums, the National Gallery of Art and the Capitol with its sculptures and art.

Later, trips abroad often featured visits to famous art museums, such as the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain. While exposure to world-famous art whetted his appetite, a limited budget as an adult also steered his purchases.

“If you buy art strictly by price, you’ve got to buy it because you like it,” he explained, adding that underlines the intent for his gallery: affordable art for those whose tastes mirror his. “It’s a different concept: If I can appreciate it, others can, too.”

The paintings in his gallery reflect wide-ranging tastes, from contemporary abstracts to landscapes and portraits, though most share a love or appreciation for color. Artists represented include Houston’s Susie Rosmarin, California artists Howard Lamar and Christian Schumann, Jean-Claude Picot of France, Cuban Diego Torres and New Orleans’ Reginald Mitchell, and Leath is open to broadening that with Waco-area artists.

Leath’s gallery shows about 24 paintings in connected rooms with natural lighting. He plans to rotate works on display on a regular basis and mount shows every few months.

The gallery’s grand opening is planned for Friday. Exhibiting hours are 11 a.m.- 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays or by appointment. Leath can be reached at info@thomasleathgallery.com or through the gallery’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts.

7twelve

Art is a labor of love, too, for Rebekah and Jeremy Hagman, who are taking over 712 Austin Ave. and intend to repurpose it as a combination gallery and performing arts space, or as their 7twelve business card has it, “cultural market and gathering place.”

The Californian newlyweds, married May 28, moved to Waco in July for Jeremy’s job with the Waco Independent School District, where he teaches in a Basic RESET class at Mountainview Elementary School.

With arts and community involvement in their backgrounds — Jeremy, 39, studied musical theater at Long Beach City College while Rebekah, 33, has a vocal performance degree from Colorado Springs Conservatory — they found Waco a right-sized place of opportunity.

Rebekah’s background also includes nonprofit development and property management as well as a dream of opening an art gallery.

When she met with Creative Waco director Fiona Bond, 712 Austin Ave. owner T.J. Ermoian and Creative Waco arts entrepreneur Luann Jennings, she found her dream aligned with their hopes for a downtown arts space. “All of us just clicked,” Rebekah Hagman said.

Ermoian had allowed the use of 712 Austin Ave. to host the “Waco 52” art exhibit organized for a May showing at the state capitol in Austin, partly in hopes that others could find a way to continue it as an art gallery, studio space for working artists or performing space. From 2009 to 2013, the Croft Art Gallery operated at that location, which once had housed a downtown bakery.

Rebekah Hagman said details of a lease agreement are still being worked out, but plans are underway to reopen the space in several weeks as 7twelve, a venue that would combine art exhibits, performing arts, fundraiser rentals and second-floor artist workspaces. No hours have been set yet for 7twelve, but Rebekah said they would be similar to the hours for the “Waco 52” exhibit.

She invited those interested in sharing their ideas for the downtown space to contact her online at waco7twelve@gmail.com, through waco7twelve.com or its Facebook and Instagram accounts.

“We were looking for a community we could invest in and make an impact,” she said. “I feel like we got beyond blessed.”

Tribune-Herald entertainment editor