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Art in the Star City of the South
By M. Alouette
© Barbara Norman-Lashley
Big Lick now has a much more romantic name attached to its rolling hills and small-town charm than it once did: the Star City of the South. Roanoke, Virginia's nickname comes from the large star illuminating Mill Mountain. Sitting 1,045 feet above the Appalachian city, it's the largest free-standing, human-made star on the globe. The star, which is visible for a whopping 60 miles, has crowned Mill Mountain since 1949. For the sight-hungry, Quail Bell Camera Eye snapped a picture of it in May. But this feature isn't about Roanoke's best-known star; it's about one of the groups responsible for making post-industrial Roanoke a rising arts star: The Market Gallery, an art space located in Downtown Roanoke.
Kim Sutliff and Anna Wentworth, gallery co-presidents, teamed up to answer a few questions the Quail Bell Crew had for Market Gallery:
QB: Give readers a brief sense of what The Market Gallery is. What experience can they expect to have visiting the gallery?
MG: The Market Gallery is a regional cooperative art gallery located in Roanoke's historic downtown marketplace. We began the gallery in 2003 and after 11 years, we have grown to around 30 artists. Twelve of the original charter members are still members of our gallery. The gallery itself is a source of inspiration. When you walk in the light-filled gallery, you are warmly greeted by an artist (not an employee), with music playing and fantastic fine art to peruse. Depending on the day of your visit, the artist might be painting, drawing or cutting up papers as they continue to work on their art while also working the gallery. The gallery is surrounded by some of Roanoke’s finest restaurants, museums and shops including The Taubman Museum of Art just one block away. Weekends especially are a fun time to be in the downtown area as it is filled with people for music concerts, fairs, theatre, and festivals, many times right outside our gallery doors.
© Anne Way Bernard
You run the gallery as a cooperative of regional artists. Logistically, how does that work? What do you like about the set up?
Back in the early 2000s, a group of Roanoke artists were not satisfied with the limited choices for displaying their artwork and decided to create their own gallery by coming together and combining their resources and talents. We wanted to be able to control everything about the gallery. This included who was invited to show in the gallery, how it was run, the hours it is open, how it is advertised, everything. With this set-up, we are invested in the gallery and its success. Each member pays a monthly fee and gives a percentage of their sales to the gallery. This money is used to pay the bills: rent, telephone, Internet, advertising, etc.
Additionally, and more importantly, all members take a vested interest in the gallery by working in the gallery two shifts per month, taking on committee responsibility, and sharing the responsibility of mundane tasks like cleaning the floors and windows to taking out the trash. As your mother probably told you, “Many hands make quick work." We also rotate responsibilities every few years to keep us more involved and knowledgeable about all the items needed to operate the gallery as a whole.
We each have an allotted amount of space to show our work and rotate every other month so we can change the look of the gallery and show in different spaces. We like this set up as it gives us total creative control over our surroundings and how we present and sell our art. We generally feature two to four artists each month and those artists get extra space to show their work.
Our gallery members become a small family and we really care and support each other through trials as well as celebrations. We also have supportive landlords that live above the gallery and want us to succeed.
© Chris Gryder
How would you characterize Roanoke artists and the work they make? What makes this work special?
The fantastic thing about Roanoke artists is that we are a hidden gem of artistic talent with great variety. We are constantly hearing comments from locals and visitors that express how surprised they are at the quality of work found in Roanoke. We also pride ourselves on offering a great variety. We have artists that are very traditional and those that are very abstract. We have a variety of materials used: oil, acrylic, pastel, watercolor, mixed media, ceramics and sculptors using recycled materials. We also have artists from different generations (members exist from their 20s to their 80s) and they have such different backgrounds. We have several members that are retired college professors, a retired attorney, a hairdresser, secretaries, librarians, fire-chief, a car designer, and a former truck driver but are all brought together as artists. Many of our artists support themselves solely on their artwork. Another interesting fact is that most of our artists have an art degree but many do not. Some are self-taught but are extremely talented. All artists have won local, regional and/or national awards.
© Kim Lashley Sutliff
Introduce us to a few of your favorite local artists. What do you like about their work?
Picking a few artists out of our large group is very difficult. They each have qualities to their art that I like. Their technique, their imagery, their precision, or their use of materials makes each interesting. Here are a few examples of our varied artist family and a little about these member artists:
Mary Bullington, a founding gallery member and a retired English professor, tells stories with her mixed media work and is self-taught. Her collages are full of color, energy and imagination. She grew up in Roanoke, moved away for school and work and then returned to pursue her love of art. Visiting her studio is a treat in that you will find bits of paper and scraps of paintings all over the floor. She is constantly cutting the paper, adding paint, gluing it, and then taking it off until she gets the image and color she wants. She references literature, childhood memories and mythology in her work. She says, “My job at this point is not to create a picture—it is simply to make the paper or canvas or other support more interesting than it was before I started.” As a member of the gallery, she serves as our Marketing Vice President.
Ann Glover, who grew up in Roanoke, was a founding member of the gallery. She has made her living from her artwork through her sales and as a painting teacher. She is very well known in Roanoke with her larger than life sculptures have been purchased by the City of Roanoke and shown in the Taubman Museum of Art. Her painterly realist works are concerned with light and color as primary subject matter. Her work has appeared in several annuals of the New York Society of Illustrators, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New Yorker magazines and is a past recipient of the Virginia Museum of Art Fellowship award. As a member of the gallery, she currently serves as our Exhibitions Vice President and serves on our Membership Committee.
Susan Bidwell is a founding member and started her interest in photography while she lived in the Australian Outback and learned her beginning skills through a camera club. When she returned to the United States, she took classes at her local community college to learn more about the art form. Susan won’t always tell you what items she has photographed and seems to enjoy our guesses. Susan says, “One of the fascinating aspects of photography is the sense of altered reality that awaits discovery by whoever will look closely enough. I am a still life photographer, always looking for that small world—hidden and yet not hidden, real and unreal, objective and nonobjective. Altered reality and seeing what I have not previously seen—I search for these phenomena." Susan serves the gallery as one of the secretaries of the gallery.
Chris Gryder is one of our newest members, joining in 2014. Chris was formerly trained as an architect but after a few years working in the field, he decided that wasn’t the career he wanted to live with. After living in the Arizona desert with his wife at Arcosanti, he fell in love with ceramics and went back to school at the Rhode Island School of Design. He is inspired by the life sciences, including the fossilized record and the amazing worlds opened up by electron microscopy. “I cultivate a vision where botanical and geological forms merge into an organic/geometric matrix. Ultimately, the work is my humble attempt to make manifest underlying structures of the physical universe.” His ceramic tiles create large installation works and have been featured in Ceramics Monthly Magazine and purchased by large institutions throughout the country. Chris serves the gallery on the Marketing committee and is working on updating our webpage.
Barbara Norman-Lashley and her daughter, Kim Lashley-Sutliff, are co-members together, sharing time in the gallery and have joined up in showing collaborative artwork. Barbara was one of the founding members but Kim joined the gallery in 2012 and works full time outside the art field. They both received art degrees and masters degrees from the same universities. Barbara primarily painted and did printmaking and Kim enjoyed ceramics, painting and sculpture. They both enjoy working in mixed media. Since being members together, they have started creating altered book sculptures using discarded books, paper and mixed media to make interesting new art out of old items that would have normally been thrown in the trash. They both like to vary their styles as they both easily get bored with the same thing over and over. Barbara serves the gallery as Special Events Vice President and Kim serves as one of the co-presidents this year, as well as serving on the Marketing Committee.
Steve Bernard is also one of our members that was a former member and then recently returned this year. His wife, Anne Way Bernard, is also a member. They are one of two married couples that are members of the gallery. They met and both studied art at VCU. Steve recently won the prestigious 2014 Virginia Museum of Art Visual Artist Fellowship Award for his new series in pastels. His work is non-objective while his wife’s work usually depicts landscapes, and portraiture (of people and animals). They live on a farm not far from Roanoke and have a studio there where Anne teaches painting. Steve and Anne both serve the gallery on the marketing committee.
© Mary Bullington
How would you describe the Roanoke arts scene? How is it changing?
The Roanoke art scene really didn’t exist too much 20 to 30 years ago. Downtown Roanoke was a sketchy place to be, especially at night. With many hard-working and forward-thinking citizens, Downtown Roanoke has flourished and has become the “it” place to be. Businesses such as our gallery have succeeded along with a great variety of restaurants and cultural activities. The Taubman Museum of Art which re-opened a few years ago is a first-class art museum and has shown the artwork of several of our members. Our gallery has also partnered with over a dozen other art venues to host “Art by Night” on the first Friday of each month, inviting patrons to see new art shows, meet featured artists, and socialize while going from gallery to gallery with maps supplied to lead the way. This is always a fun night to see the growth of artists each month and to learn something new about a type of art or artist's inspiration.
Art in Roanoke is always changing, shifting, and growing. Even the artists can be surprised when they find new talent in town, but we are a very supportive group of creative individuals and care about each other’s success.
© Steve Bernard
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