Columbia’s local businesses provide a place for art to live

Both the nature-based art at Lakota and the just-plain-weird art at Sparky’s are meant to offer a space for community expression.

Downtown Columbia is filled with art. Whether it’s painted on the sewer covers on the streets, thriving in the North Village Arts District, filling up the Columbia Art League or just hanging out in local landmarks, art is absolutely everywhere.

Local shops and restaurants make Columbians aware of local artists. Paintings are displayed in some iconic places downtown, giving flair to the walls and making the town unique.

In Lakota Coffee and Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream, the types of art differ. Lakota hangs up paintings, drawings and photographs from artists around Columbia, while Sparky’s collects art from many people who would not call themselves artists at all.


Lakota, the beautifully warm coffee shop on Ninth Street, barely has any space on its walls. It is decorated with both permanent art hung by Lakota and temporary art from artists who come in looking for a place to hang it up, general manager Andrew DuCharme said.

“Right now, we have four different artists,” DuCharme said. “They emailed us or came in and asked if we do local art. We let them usually have three to four months, depending on the waiting list.”

Different artists each have their own section of wall, displaying a bit of their work in their own corner between the permanent paintings.

“The town has a lot of artists,” DuCharme said. “They flock to local places.”

One section actually showcases a local artist who passed away in 2012. James J. Froese’s family began cataloguing his wealth of work after his death.

“After Dad died, the family agreed to get his art out there,” his daughter Sarah Froese said. “A year after his passing, we had a show at the [Boone County Historical Society], and being Columbians, we liked to provide to the local community. Lakota was one of the places where we chose to have Dad’s artwork placed.”

James’ art differs wildly from piece to piece. It’s clear that he had a long history of making art and finding various forms to express himself and his messages.

“My father was a very eclectic man,” Sarah said. “The best way to explain his art is that he was a creative genius. He learned how to do it all and he worked on his art every day.”

His paintings and drawings go well in Lakota, with its heavy wooden tables and chairs that look made from trees, as well as its permanent paintings of desert scenes. James’ paintings are very evocative of Native American tribes and cultures and focus heavily on nature.

“My father had a lot of belief in Native American tribes, and he really believed in how the Native Americans utilized nature and that those things had meaning,” Sarah said. “He had a fierce belief that America had done the Native Americans wrong, so his work was often a nod to them saying that we did not treat you well.”

One, titled “Sioux on White Horse,” features bright yellows, blues and pinks with a distinct Southwestern feel. Another, titled “The Time Travelers,” is so different from the first that it looks like it was painted by a different artist.

Next time you’re in Lakota for a study session or a quick cup of coffee, look up at the walls around you. It’s worth it to appreciate a local artist’s hard work in your local coffee shop.


Sparky’s has more art than they can put on the walls. Paintings are leaned up against the wall in the hallway headed towards the back and every square inch of wall space is taken up with photos. If you’ve ever been in, you know that the art in there is weird, in a good way. A sign outside the store describes them as “beautiful failures.”

A portrait of Admiral Ackbar gazes out over the store. Two wrestlers stand in front of Bluth’s Original Frozen Banana stand. A guy and a bunny pose side by side. It makes you wonder where the hell it came from.

So where did it come from?

“I usually get it from eBay or antique malls, but increasingly it happens that people just give us stuff,” owner Scott Southwick said.

The paintings have only been around since 2010. Before then, Southwick only displayed the crochet animals that can be seen in the front windows and one of the freezers near the register.

“I’ve never bought any of the crochet animals,” Southwick said. “My friend Rich, an Emmy-award winning archival researcher, spent a lot of time in junk shops and would give them to me. People now just drop them off. It’s a collection that maintains itself.”

Now the two collections of oddball paintings and unique crochet animals reside side by side in the ice cream shop.

“There are three types of art in Sparky’s,” Southwick said. “There’s naive art, or beginner’s art; then there’s a small group of known folk artists who have a more recognizable style; and then there’s this kind of self-aware art, [from] artists [who are] knowingly using tropes of thrift store or naive art.”

One of the folk artists is Myrtice West, an Alabama native who paints strange scenes, often with Jesus and Biblical figures. Three of her paintings are inside Sparky’s, with one resting against a wall, one hanging behind the counter and one in the front window.

As for the “self-aware” art, it’s mostly just really unusual stuff. There’s a guy who adds robots to cheap paintings, Southwick said. One of his is hanging above the menu. The painting of Larry Bird and Skeletor by Jake Fyfe hangs above the menu and actually went viral with mentions all over the Internet.

“There are things hidden in here with artists who really know what they’re doing, and then there’s just chaos,” Southwick said.

Edited by Katie Rosso |

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