“Everyone in my family has or had something to do with art. It looks like a long lineage of art was passed down the genetic line to me,” smiled Chris Burkhardt, lifetime Hoboken local and owner of BAMA Galleries on Bloomfield Street.
Chris is a poet, musician, painter, artist, and retired gymnast disguised in everyday business-casual attire and brown rectangular frames. His road to the gallery took unexpected turns.
Chris, who speaks affectionately of Hoboken, discussed what he described as a “relatively normal childhood,” in the Bloomfield Street area of the city with bright eyes and a wide smile, while sipping on his routine cappuccino.
“I loved Hoboken then and I still love it now. But when I was growing up it was a totally different mind set, a lot of kids, and a lot of playing out in the street,” he said. Chris feels the warm neighborhood mentality has slightly died out. “The neighborhood is still rich with kids, no pun intended, but the feel of the neighborhood is different.”
BAMA is located in a storefront connected to a living space that has been passed down through generations. Chris hopes to keep that community spirit alive. He describes the space as an “art hearth”, composed of not only art for sale and on display but also yoga, dance, beginner painting, musicology, language, and drawing from life classes.
Chris attended Calabro primary and elementary schools and described both as “progressive schools.” “I think it was the first school to have kids who sat at tables,” he recalls, adding the school’s teachers taught all subjects.
“I credit Hoboken and the education I received here to the collaboration BAMA has become,” Chris said. “Art in Hoboken, and my gallery in Hoboken, are just a small part of a global thing. It’s truly about education, and that’s why I use my space as an art space as well as an educational space”
While it was very hard for Chris to let go of his roots in Hoboken, at 16 he moved to the Poconos to train with a gymnastics team. Due to his love for gymnastics, Chris spent life away from Hoboken until age 27.
“That’s when I really noticed the changes around Hoboken. It kind of seemed to shift to a community where people spent 10 years here, max. Maybe a little longer if they were raising a kid here. But the families like mine who were here for generations seemed to be disappearing,” he said.
Chris was a member of both the University of Michigan and Butler University’s gymnastics teams. During his prime, Chris was within the Top 20 ranked gymnasts in the University spectrum.
While Chris exerted a glowing radiance when speaking about his time as a gymnast, his tone and glowing look shifted as he explained he was forced to give up gymnastics due to a serious car accident.
“My goal was to participate in the 1998 Goodwill Games,” he said. “But luckily, that’s when I discovered poetry and painting again. I like to describe my life as a bunch of Catch 22’s. I was on the cusp of becoming an artist, but I was interrupted by gymnastics. I was on the cusp of becoming a gymnast, but I was interrupted yet again,” he said.
Although Chris’ life was interrupted by a serious accident, he found salvation in art.
“Discovering poetry, art, and music again was truly life-saving,” he said. “I was in a real cloud before I was re-introduced to art. It granted me the balance, harmony, and perfection I needed to find.”
Although talented in many disciplines, Chris says he is definitely not the typical artist.
“I’m multifaceted,” he said. “I read about constitutional law and the Revolutionary War as a hobby because I can’t read anything else without trying to pick it apart or see it differently,” he said.
In between painting and drawing, maintaining his gallery, playing the saxophone, trumpet, guitar and futzing around on the piano, Chris writes a poem a day on an index card. With a flash of a small 3×5 card with one word scribbled on it, Chris smiled at me and said, “Here’s today’s.”
For more information about the gallery, visit: www.bamagalleries.com.