Fehlner family donates $100,000 to Roti Roti Art Center

Published 6:00 am Monday, May 8, 2023

BUCHANAN — As a chemist, Thomas Fehlner knows what materials to mix to get the best results. When it comes to art, he also understands what it takes to create a special painting as well as a special place where like-minded people can gather. 

Fehlner, the Emeritus Grace-Rupley Professor of Chemistry at the University of Notre Dame, first came to what is now the Roti Roti Art Center in downtown Buchanan nearly two decades ago in the mid 2000s. 

He and his late wife, Nancy, had moved to the Buchanan area in 1990. His wife read about a watercolor class being offered by a local artist in 2005 and they both took the class. While she ended up more interested in ceramics. he became interested in learning how to draw and paint and began a new career in art after retiring from Notre Dame. 

Fehlner noted that his wife was a longtime volunteer and art center board member. “The decision to donate to the art center was mainly driven by the desire to honor my wife Nancy who died last October,” he said. 

He said he was more active in other organizations such as the Buchanan Preservation Society. He did however support the art center whenever he could, including becoming a mainstay of the center’s weekly drawing classes and allowing his artwork to be displayed. 

Sunday, Fehlner presented a $100,000 donation to the Michigan Gateway Community Foundation to endow the Fehlner Family Gallery at the art center. The Fehlner is the second large donation the art center has received, the Roti Roti family donated funds to endow the entire center last year. 

It was the connection with Roti Roti matriarch Shirley Roti Roti that Fehlner talked about during his remarks. He noted that she met him when he attended the center’s drawing class which she was also a regular at and she invited him to her Thursday “salons” held at the studio in her Buchanan home.  

“She saw something in me and invited me to her Thursday salon meetings at her art studio,” he said. “We’d talked and she’d set me up with a problem to do. I learned 90 percent of what I know about art from her along with the doing and communicating of art from those sessions.” 

“It is where I learned so much about the practices of the art world,” he added. “So I think it is very appropriate, symbolically, that there should be a Fehlner Family gallery in the RotiRoti Buchanan Art Center going forward into the future.” 

Fehlner also praised the efforts of the Michigan Gateway Community Foundation in supporting local organizations. “So, we are also glad that the funds associated with the naming of this gallery will also strengthen the core funding of this Foundation,” he said. 

Art Center Interim Executive Director Mary Lister is one of the center’s founders and credited Fehlner for his help over the years She told those assembled at Sunday’s gallery dedication that Fehlner has done everything from attending and teaching art classes to helping them write grants for capital improvements at the center. 

People interested in seeing some of Fehlner’s artwork on display can see several of his pieces at the art center until Saturday. His work is on display in the Showplace and Hess Library Galleries until then. After that, people can see two of his pieces in a juried art show at the Box Factory in St. Joseph in a show opening May 19. 

Fehlner moved back to the South Bend area last June and has a small art studio at a facility on Mishawaka Avenue in South Bend. He remains active in the Northern Indiana Artists and Niles Art Association. 

Sunday’s gallery dedication was hosted by Lister and by Buchanan Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Brandon DeJaynes. Fehlner’s daughter, Anne Fehlner Gunion of Vail, Colorado, was in attendance and his son, Thom, and his family were able to watch it via Zoom from Australia. Other relatives also attended via Zoom. 

The Roti Roti Art Center of Buchanan is located at 117 W. Front Street, Buchanan, Michigan. Hours are noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The center’s contact information is rotirotiartcenter@gmail.com, www.rotirotiartcenter.com or 269-697-4005.