Gris and Lynnette Grimly

Gris and Lynnette Grimly recently opened the BAT Academy (Building Artistict Thinking) on Main Street in West Point. It is an art studio geared toward children but also welcomes people of all ages to come in and be creative using their choice of media. Guests paint a mural on the wall at BAT Academy on Main Street in West Point.

WEST POINT — A West Point couple is encouraging creativity in their community by opening a new art studio.

Lynnette and Gris Grimly recently opened the BAT Academy (Building Artistic Thinking) at 113 S. Main St. in West Point, an art studio geared toward children that also welcomes people of all ages to come in and be creative using their choice of media.

“I believe we all feel a desire to be creative,” Lynnette said. “In creative art, there is no right or wrong. People of all ages can explore their own creative technique.”

“All kids draw,” Gris added. “Everyone is born with the ability to create art.”

Lynnette and Gris have a lot of experience creating art themselves. Gris — a pen name for West Point native Steve Soenksen — is an accomplished artist and writer.

“I began drawing at 3 years old,” Gris said. “I could draw all day. My mom saw potential at an early age and recognized natural abilities. She encouraged and displayed my drawings. I started in woodland areas. I drew animals, beavers, outdoor things.”

Then Gris had an experience when he was 5 years old that left him hospitalized with traumatic burns on 80% of his back.

“I was a little kid looking deeper into an experience of death,” he said. “As a way of coping, I was drawing, but with death on my mind, my drawings were dark.”

But drawing also served as a healthy way to cope with and to express his fears. It also laid the way for some of his work as an adult. He credited his high school teachers, Cheryl Kreikemeier and Kathy Mahannah, for urging him forward with his art.

“They took on a parental role, recognized and encouraged me in every possible way,” he said.

After graduating from West Point High School in 1994, Gris sought a degree from Concordia University in Seward. While in college, he showed his portfolio at a fine arts convention in Los Angeles. Upon graduation from Concordia, Gris said, “I packed up my car and drove to California.”

He started working as a barista and took small jobs at Universal, slowly climbing the ladder. He worked as an illustrator for his own work, for Universal, Monster Museum and Disney. He has written and illustrated more than 40 books.

He and Lynnette met in 2009, while working on the same performance art production in Los Angeles.

After getting married, they took a road trip to Nebraska. The slower pace of driving from California allowed them to absorb nature and develop a deeper appreciation for rural simplicity.

“I became home sick for country,” Gris said.

As a married couple with children, the couple decided to find a rural home in their California work base, but their search led them home to Nebraska, where he continues his professional career from his family farm home and through the co-ownership of BAT Academy with Lynnette.

“BAT Academy is the brain child of Lynnette,” Gris said.

Lynnette — who was raised in California and whose first West Point encounter was at the Cuming County Fair — said she was enthralled at the time with the innumerable activities for children and felt Main Street needed a bright, happy place for youths.

With experience in parent-cooperative home schooling, Lynnette had the idea to create a place for kids in downtown West Point that would provide a place for social engagement and creativity.

The academy offers a variety of media, and guests are encouraged to try different things as self-directed makers of art for mixed ages. A gift shop features specialty children’s books, middle grade books and art supplies. The couple also plan to bring different facilitators to the academy to lead workshops.

The academy is open from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Currently, masks are worn and social distancing at the art tables is observed.

“Eventually space will be provided for a gallery to display local talent as we develop and grow,” Lynnette said.

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