Lily Mulberry lost a two-year battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma on April 16. Now, the local art community is coming together to celebrate the life and work of the "Mayor of Main Street."
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If you’ve walked down Main Street in Over-the-Rhine over the past nine years you’ve probably ventured past the 1305 Gallery, a cozy, brightly colored and unassuming art space tucked between other towne-home style storefronts.
Colorful artwork hangs on the wall with interesting crafts prominently placed around the gallery during the Yuletide season and if you venture down for an art show on Final Friday, the scent of homemade treats lingers throughout the boutique space.
If you were one of the select few invited to stick around after the doors were locked, the curtains dropped and out came an abundance of sounds, namely dance music and revelry reverberating through the stone facade of the Victorian-style building.
Those various sights, sounds, and sensory experiences represented the personality of its owner and curator, Lily Mulberry, a beloved, longtime resident of OTR.
Tragically, the local art community lost Mulberry on April 16 to a two-year battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She was only 31 years old.
"Lily was an amazing person – one of the best, smartest, most sarcastic, amazing people I've ever known. And Cincinnati is going to miss her," said Kirk Mayhew, one of Mulberry's best friends. The two knew one another for more than 10 years.
Mulberry's family held a small memorial service for her Wednesday attended by her husband, Richard Applin, her mother Jackie, her sisters and close friends. A larger "Celebrate Lily" memorial service took place Saturday at Mulberry's alma mater, Covington Latin, from 4:30 to 7 p.m.
“She was a very wonderful person and had just this light about her,” said Danny Korman, owner of Park + Vine. “She was very sweet.”
Korman said he formally met Mulberry in June 2007, shortly after he opened the original location of his store on Vine Street. But he learned of the former University of Cincinnati art student years before that while living nearly 300 miles away.
“I remember reading about her and her gallery while I was still living in Chicago, and I just thought to myself, what an inspiration,” said Korman, who moved his store across the street from 1305 four years ago. “She was inspiring me before I even met her.
“In some ways, I guess, she was part of motivation for me to want to come back.”
Part of why Mulberry was such an inspiration was the way she went about fighting for what she wanted, including opening her "pride and joy" in April 2005 as a fresh-out-of-college 22-year-old.
Katie Dreyer, an internist under Mulberry, said that history is part of the reason her friend and boss loved the space.
"(The site) started as a local grocery store and still has a phone in the gallery that is connected to the second floor so the former grocer could call up to the stock boys to bring down extra supplies when they ran out," said Dreyer, one of several dozen people using a photo of a lily as their main image on Facebook to celebrate the life of their friend.
While signs of resurgence loomed at the time of 1305's opening, the OTR community into which she was setting up shop was still recovering from the riots of 2001. Even the once thriving arts culture in the city’s urban core was struggling at the time.
“When she started 1305 gallery I thought it was great, but having seen art galleries come and go I figured it would be a brief endeavor for her. I was wrong,” said Emil Robinson, a prominent figure painter in Cincinnati who met Mulberry in 2001-02 while both were enrolled in the famed DAAP program.
“Lily became an absolutely intrinsic part of the downtown arts scene. She was the real deal, a true believer in art and the power of the artist's voice.”
Rachel Roberts, Mulberry's friend and yoga teacher for four years, also gave her friend credit for deciding to purchase a home on Main Street long before it became "cool" and perceived as safe enough to live there.
"One of the things I find to be remarkable (about Mulberry) is, she bought her apartment nine years ago. Nobody was buying on Main Street then. She opened her gallery... when most of Main was still forgotten."
Those sentiments echoed in comments from Bill Sloane, a 14-year resident of the OTR area and longtime friend of Mulberry and her husband.
“I think the first time we talked was in the daytime after a Final Friday opening, and I just asked what her hopes were for the gallery,” he recalled. “At first I thought she was only going to display only her own work, but of course she excelled at finding artists and curating the shows.”
There's no problem finding artistic talent in the region. The city has two of the top art schools in the country in DAAP and the Art Academy of Cincinnati, and serves as a home base for many talented young artists who've returned to the city during its creative renaissance.
But Mulberry was very selective with the works she displayed and the reasons behind her choosing them. She sifted through artists to find great but not well-known artists in an effort to progress their careers
and the local art scene in the process.
“She really did a good job of letting people submit work to her and then selecting work that was unique," Sloane said. “Many of those artists have really seen their career grow in part because of Lily and that relationship continued."
Sloane said part of the reason Mulberry was so successful at both procuring talented artists to be in her monthly shows, about 100 in the nine-year history of 1305, dealt with the way she built relationships in and out of the gallery.
"She had a great way of reaching out to people, becoming friends with them and then helping advance the careers of those artists."
Dreyer attributed her ability to be loved by almost anyone to her authenticity and genuine interest in people.
"I think she was authentic. She did not care what you thought about this artist, or that artist, what high school you went to, who your parents are, or what you’ve contributed to society," she said. "She just cared that you were a good intentioned person, with a good heart, helping hands, and a sense of humor."
Robinson said her balance between her commitment to her craft and business while still maintaining a playful quality made her special.
"One of the first times my wife met Lily she was dressed as Andy Warhol, and her commitment to the role was so thorough and convincing that we left in awe," he recalled.
That playful passion also endeared her to many parts of the downtown and Over-the-Rhine communities.
"Lily was a uniter in OTR. I can't think of a subset of the OTR community that didn't know Lily," recalled Roberts who read the eulogy at Mulberry's funeral. "When I was speaking with Lily's mom preparing to write her Eulogy, Jackie read me a few writings of Lily's she had found. The one that really stuck in my heart was, 'I will plant those I love as flowers in the garden of my heart.'"
In many ways, Mulberry did that by by befriending everyone she met.
"She would say hello to everyone from the StreetVibes salesmen she knew by name, to neighborhood teens, to the young professional sect," the owner of the The Yoga Bar said. "If you met someone who lived downtown you knew you'd have Lily in common."
That sense of commonality and unity has been evident since the news of Mulberry's passing.
Korman, Roberts, friends and various other influential faces in the OTR social and creative scenes have come together to host a variety of activities on the date of the service to raise money to cover Mulberry’s medical expenses.
That included a special Final Friday opening that happened at 1305 from 6 to 9 p.m.
Fittingly, friends and loved ones hosted an opening reception for "Thank You Lily: Part I," an exhibition featuring Mulberry’s work alongside pieces from her person collection, including but not limited to artists who’ve shown at the gallery.
“Any money that isn’t used to pay off Lily and Richard’s medical expenses will go toward paying back the grant they received,” said Roberts, whose studio hosted a fundraising yoga session in Mulberry's honor. "They want to make sure the funds are there to benefit someone else who needs them.”
After Saturday's service in Covington, friends and family planned to go to MOTR Pub on Main Street for a fundraising celebration of Mulberry's life
A second show, "Thank You Lily: Part II," opens Saturday, May 17 and will exclusively showcase Mulberry's artwork, with some works available for purchase.
Beyond the upcoming Final Friday events, the future of 1305 is still up in the air.
"Her hope for the presence of a dedicated, stand-alone art gallery on Main Street continues in others as well. Still, it is hard to imagine a gallery being a greater part of someone's day-to-day life or complete life story than 1305 was with Lily," Sloane said.
Whether the building stays open or closes, the legacy of Mulberry's 1305 will linger on in those lucky enough to have known her, according to Roberts.
"I closed her eulogy by saying that all of us who loved her now commit to planting the flower that was Lily in the garden of our own hearts and that we will water it with fond memories and the lessons she taught us."