Englewood has a secret.
“I believe we might be the best kept secret in Independence,” said longtime Independence resident and modern day Renaissance man Russ Lawrence, who came up with the idea of Englewood's popular Third Fridays four years ago.
“Downtown Kansas City had First Fridays, and I thought it was such a great idea. We didn't want to do Second Fridays, because it was too close to First Fridays. So we came up with Third Fridays, and it's become an important part of the Englewood Art District.”
Third Fridays – which take place on the third Friday of each month – allows Englewood artists, business owners and restaurants to show off their wares in a fashion that competes with the more established Kansas City once-a-month event.
Much like the great and powerful Oz, Lawrence in Englewood's man behind the curtain – but don't fear him, revere him. Embrace him. Feel his passion and let it flow over you like the waters that you hear churning from the magnificent waterfall located in a postcard perfect garden and wedding venue behind his Changing Seasons Cottage Gallery, at 11014 E. Winner Road.
He is an entrepreneur, a water color and acrylic artist, a jeweler and photographer.
He throws clay, transforms odds and ends and broken bits of glass into Steampunk art and jewelry that you have to see to believe and is a master gardener who had his own segment on Fox 4 for nine years.
But most of all, he is a dreamer.
“I like to make dreams come true,” said Lawrence, a man who simply bristles with energy as he walks through his Changing Seasons. “I am a dream maker. I love to make dreams come true. I love every aspect of my life, and planning a wedding brings out the romantic in me.”
The former foster care child, whose only friend as a youngster was his favorite toy – Green Dog – is now a much sought after wedding planner, who attracted national attention when he orchestrated the wedding for Boston Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz at Trump National Golf Course in California a few years back.
To make sure the wedding, which had a magnificent Pacific Ocean, view was perfect, Lawrence had the event's 700 roses driven from Independence to Los Angeles.
“I know that people read about my weddings – like the one we did for Clay Buchholz and think, 'I can't afford him.' Well, yes you can.”
Inside his office in Changing Seasons, he turns on a slide show that features some of the weddings he created in a magical garden that he says is Independence's lone botanical garden.
It features hundreds upon hundreds of flowers, dazzling art work, a koi pond, creative dressing spaces for the bride and groom and the waterfall that anchors this living and breathing art creation. It even has a host, Einstein, a colorful green bullfrog.
“He just showed up one day,” Lawrence said, “and called the garden home. And we are so happy to have him.”
Home is an important concept to Lawrence, who lives at the Changing Seasons Gallery.
“Basically, I am just a big kid at heart,” said Lawrence, who survived a foster care system that left him feeling alone and afraid.
“When I was a child, I had a pencil. That was it. That was my only way to express myself. I would crawl under my bed and draw on the wall – and I had no fear, because I knew no one would ever see it. Because I had no childhood, I feel like I am living my childhood dreams now.”
He wants to share those dreams with the community he has called home for more than 20 years.
“I was born in St. Louis, on Aug. 11 at 11 p.m. and I weighed 11 pounds,” he said, chuckling. “I was part of the foster care system for many years, and I remember how I never had a toy for Christmas. And I can't stand to think about kids without toys for Christmas today, so I started Janey's Toys.”
The program is named after his aunt, Janey Lawrence, who adopted Lawrence and quickly became one of the guiding lights in his life.
“We collected more than 5,000 toys for area foster children last year,” Lawrence said, with a touch of pride in his voice. “My mom would be so proud.”
She would also be proud of the simple fact that she is a part of every wedding Lawrence creates and orchestrates.
“This might be the one bouquet people look over at a wedding showcase, because it is not the most colorful,” Lawrence said, grabbing the muted bouquet from a shelf in his office. “It's entirely made of paper. Janey loved Harlequin romances, and these petals are part of the pages of her books. These are part of the love letter grandpa wrote to grandma during World War I and these are the dress patterns from the sundress that my mom wore on her wedding day.”
They are held together by a handle that features three spoons that belonged to Lawrence's grandmother.
He has also created a special necklace that features a piece of an ornate China plate that might have belonged to loved ones.
“That way,” he said, “they can always be close to your heart.”
Englewood is so close to Lawrence's heart, you can hear the rhythmic beating. The close-knit artistic community is yin to his yang.
“We wouldn't have Third Fridays or the Englewood Art District without Russ,” said Tom McPherson, a wood carver whose “futuristic/prehistoric” carvings can be found in Mechanical Monkey. “He's a special guy, whether he's helping someone with a charitable event or creating a wedding that will never be forgotten or a piece of art work that will never fade into the background. We are so lucky to have him as a part of our community.”
To contact Lawrence about a wedding or business event at Changing Seasons Cottage Gardens, call 816-252-3372, and there is never a charge to visit the garden.