One of the Koehler bakery buildings is getting a new lease on life in the 700 block of Main Street in North Little Rock's Argenta neighborhood. Artist Barry Thomas chose one of the three spaces in the Koehler building for his art gallery and studio, which opened to the public on Dec. 16. 

Thomas is an Impressionist artist known for his paintings filled with light, energy and vivid color. The Little Rock native had his start playing for the famed Lou Holtz at the University of Arkansas with the Razorbacks. With the encouragement of Coach Holtz, Thomas decided to study at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, where he received his fine arts degree. 

Thomas' work since then has taken him all over the world, but his love for his home state and the people who populate it always brings him back to Arkansas. Thomas regularly travels to France to teach outdoor Impressionist painting classes beginning in Paris and traveling to southern France. He has also taught at La Romita School of Art in Italy. 

When it comes to the U.S., Thomas moved to Salida, Colorado, to be in a more central location to several of his art galleries out west. During his time in Salina, he joined local ranchers on cattle drives and drew inspiration from the authenticity of everyday life. Thomas calls his work "a snapshot of Americana nostalgicism."

When Thomas discovered that the old Koehler building was available, he decided to head back home to Arkansas and fulfull his dream of opening a studio in Argenta. Thomas waited for the perfect location, and the Koehler building was just that. According to Thomas, the studio features great old bones and a beautiful skylight for natural light. 

"Your heart never leaves your hometown," Thomas says. "If you paint something you love, I think it really comes out in your work." 

Because the building used to be a place for people to start their mornings with coffee and warm baked goods, Thomas wants to bring that same sentiment to his studio, opening its doors to the public as an outlet for creativity. 

Thomas will use the studio to teach privately and in groups and a variety of parties. He will also collaborate with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, hosting different musicians to play as Thomas paints, which will be open to the public to stop by for a glass of wine and inspiration. 

"I want the studio to be a place where all artists can come and the public to be around creativity to inspire that right brain, cerebral experience," Thomas says. 

The Barry Thomas Art Gallery & Studio is now open to the public, located at 711 Main Street in North Little Rock.