Sugarcreek Photography Gallery galvanizes Bellbrook’s art scene



On a tranquil thoroughfare, Sugarcreek Photography Gallery — a collective of 13 resident photographers and monthly guest artists — is galvanizing the art scene of Bellbrook.

Scenic vistas, feeding polar bears and myriad other photographs line the gallery’s slatwall paneling, allowing onlookers to get a perspective from the viewfinders of thrill seekers and natural beauty chasers — many of them well-traveled and with 50 years of shooting experience.

The cast of residents is too long to list here, but their merits are as deserved as their accolades are plentiful. From Tripod Camera Club presidents to work displayed on U.S. postage stamps, there’s no denying the caliber of talent of those involved with the gallery.

A strict rule of thirds is employed within every frame on the walls — their leading lines could put T-squares out of commission. The photos are hung with great precision and remarkable symmetry. Initially, the aesthetics of the gallery appear more like an insurance office than an art house, but somehow that unsullied atmosphere is justified.



Established in 2022, Sugarcreek Photography Gallery morphed a four-way friendship into a business partnership between Judd Plattenburg, Bill (and Marty) Welch, Bill Woody and Jeff Smith. Smith is the purported leader who humbly denies the title, although the others insist otherwise. The members have had careers doing something else — military service, teaching, paralegal or health care — that now enables them to focus solely on photography.

What’s curious, though, is how the careers mentioned above are fixated on attention to detail and order , translating to the precision in which the gallery is presented: immaculate yet inviting.

But being amongst the 300-plus masterful photographs hung, transporting browsers from the bodegas of Cuba to skylines across the U.S., one might wonder: Why here?

“I wouldn’t call Bellbrook a strong art scene right now,” Smith said. “We’d like to see it become one.”

Smith’s sentiment seems to be the crux of Sugarcreek Photography Gallery’s business model. Because it’s an invite-only establishment, the hand-picked curating of “A-material” ensures only the finest get the limelight; and showcasing the finest solidifies the gallery’s standing in a small town like Bellbrook.

“Dayton is a post-industrial town,” said Dan Landis, a landscape and architectural photographer. “We used to have (National Cash Register). We used to have Frigidaire and Chrysler. I think there was a vacuum created when all that left, and people are attempting to fill it.”



Art moves in when the industry moves out. Take a stroll in downtown Dayton and pass by numerous arts venues in place of what was once retail space. While downtown is generally considered a hub for Dayton arts , particularly around the Oregon District , a photography gallery in a sleepier locale like Bellbrook could potentially establish an art scene that perhaps wasn’t there before. Many of the photographers also have lifelong ties to Bellbrook, which further explains the unorthodox location.

Competition is negligible in Bellbrook — aside from a few dedicated walls in cafes and churches, often populated by the gallery in discussion — yet folks from across the country have said that it’s “the best photography gallery they’ve ever been in,” according to nature photographer Bill Welch, who, along with his wife, goes under the pseudonym A Natural Selection.

“We seek out people who have something unique,” Welch said. “Something that’ll still make the place look vibrant.”

The vibrance of Ching Chung’s whimsical digital sketches, for example, currently adorn the guest wall. Although Chung’s work isn’t a photographic medium, her bright, unnatural colors contrast the worldly photos found throughout the gallery — introducing abstractness to stark realities.

“(Sugarcreek Photography Gallery’s) enthusiasm for my artwork and their willingness to embrace diverse artistic mediums made me feel incredibly valued as a member of the creative community,” said Chung in an email.



At the end of April, Debbie Cosenza’s “Elegant Encaustics” will substitute for Chung’s work, and those substitutions will repeat monthly with new guest artists.

On top of the fine art curation, the gallery hosts art talks on two Saturdays a month: one with a guest artist, and the other with a resident. These talks give the artists a chance to share their techniques and approaches while allowing the audience to connect with them as well.

From Susan Willin’s digital composites to Bob Hawkins’ photos edging on Baroque-period paintings, there’s no shortage of talent passing through Bellbrook. And while art is a subjective medium, this gallery is objectively a well-manicured display of masters in the prime of their craft.

No matter the subject, or how many images of birds or northern lights there are, every photo is unique. Each image is captured from a photographer’s one-of-a-kind perspective.

And even though Sugarcreek Photography Gallery feels like every other conventional art gallery that came before it, it’s not about what the walls are made of — it’s what’s hung on them; it’s the stories they tell, told by the photographers who choose to tell them.

Sugarcreek Photography Gallery is at 15B West Franklin St., Bellbrook. More information can be found at

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