*** Published Sunday, Oct. 25 in the Bristol (Va.) Herald Courier. ***
Art resonates throughout the Mountain Empire like autumn leaves of apple red and golden yellow upon its trees.
Along roadsides, amid mountain hollows, on the horizon, in our neighborhoods and so on – just look around. Art abounds.
Dozens of artists reside here and about to capture such art via numerous means. Some paint. Some mold. Some craft photos. And others? Well, only the imagination can offer limitations upon creativity.
But where can folks buy or simply admire those creations? Art galleries. And of late, there's been an influx of art galleries to crack wide their doors to offer varieties of art.
Check it out.
S.B. Paul Art Gallery blossoms on Bristol, Tenn.'s side of State Street. Across the street and down the sidewalk in Bristol, Va., blooms the Blowfish Emporium. Stay on the Virginia side of State and walk a little ways to The Royal Studio & Gallery.
Drive to Abingdon to find The Gallery at the Martha Washington Hotel.
Those certainly are not the only galleries to open of late in the area, but they represent a trend. Art galleries are blooming like flowers in spring.
"I don't think you can have too many art galleries," said Polly Mallory, gallery director at The Gallery at the Martha Washington Hotel. "There's something for everyone."
Call it all an array of art.
Sept. 1, 2009 heralded the opening of the S.B. Paul Art Gallery at 606 State St. in Bristol, Tenn. Sept. 17 marked its grand opening.
"It's fine art with a religious influence," said S.B. Paul Art Gallery owner and artist Sheryl Theriault Paul.
She looks to the Bible, Philippians 4:8 for the gallery's mission statement: "...Whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."
Grand certainly describes the gallery. Warm and welcoming, a sitting area dominates the center of the gallery. Earth tone colors of browns and tans fill the space.
"It's safe and uplifting," Paul said of the gallery. "The atmosphere and ambiance speaks of who I am without my saying anything."
Paul's paintings, such as the captivating "Fishers of Men," line the large wall to the left. Paintings from local artists adorn the wall to the right.
Prices for art in the gallery range from $8 for charming Christmas ornaments to $3,000 for original paintings. Paul's framed prints sell for $8 to $400.
As for her original pieces?"Make me an offer," Paul said.
In addition to creating art, Paul leads art classes for all levels of interested artists. There's an adult class, in addition to classes for elementary, junior high and high school kids. Classes are two hours in duration and range in price from $12 to $20 per person.
Meanwhile, just walk in. On Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2-4 p.m., the gallery features two artists at work. Jim Wynegar paints on-site portraits for about $45. Then there's Earl Rose.
"Earl paints in the windows," Paul said. "That gets people in the building."
From there, Paul's gallery sells itself. Stroll from painting to painting and admire them up close, or sit back and relax and take them in from the sitting area.
"This is more than just an art gallery," Paul said. "I want it to be an experience."
Bethany Wilson graduated from Tennessee High School in 2002. She then attended King College, played basketball there, moved to Atlanta, married, returned to Bristol and again attended King and played hoops in 2007 and 2008.
Though she does not call herself an artist, her appreciation of art led to her opening the Blowfish Emporium in August.
"Some art galleries you can tell they are fine art galleries," Wilson said. "Mine, it's hard to sum up. It's truly eclectic."
Located at 529 State St. in Bristol, Va., featured art includes photography, original paintings, sculptures large and small, handmade jewelry, ceramics and incredible nail art pieces.
"I have some awesome artists," Wilson said.
Some of the art classifies as modern, while others bear a more traditional brand. Some defy simple categorization. Taken together, Wilson's gallery embodies the word emporium.
"I wanted an image in the wording," Wilson said. "My tastes are edgy contemporary. Plus, I like to decorate with fish."
Walk in and witness Wilson's large and well-stocked fish tank.
"No blowfish," she said. "I just have colorful, fresh water fish. With the name, you about have to have a fish tank."
Flip Wilson's business card for another facet to the Blowfish Emporium. Art classes led by instructor Patricia Jessee commence each Thursday evening from 6 to about 8:30 p.m. under the heading "The Grape Easel."
"I don't call it an art class; it's an experience," Wilson said. "The point of the class is fellowship, fun, creativity."
Classes cost $30 per person per week.
"You get a canvas, either 18-by-24 or 20-by-24 [inches]," Wilson said. "There's a paint bar set up. We have a different picture featured each week. If you want to replicate it, fine, but Patricia encourages you to make it your own piece. Response has been overwhelming."
Karen Royal and her boyfriend Justin Wiseman moved to Bristol, Va., from Knoxville, Tenn., in February. Downstairs from their home at 509 State St. in Bristol, Va., The Royal Studio & Gallery opened in June.
Per the name of her business, Royal is a photographer who specializes in weddings and portraits and such.
"We're getting booked up," she said. "I pretty much work 24/7."
Her business doubles as an art gallery. Prices for art range from $5 to $750.
"It's very much a retail art gallery," Royal said. "We offer photographic prints, paintings, ceramics, handmade soaps. The art gallery has a little bit of everything. We try to meet the customers' needs."
OK, each of the galleries sells paintings and such. However, there are two things that Royal sells that no other featured gallery does.
"We sell RC Cola and Moon Pies," Royal said. "It's pretty popular. It's only $2 [sold as a combo]."
But why open an art gallery in Bristol?
"I think Bristol is realizing that there is an artistic niche here," Royal said. "It's hand in hand with the music that's here. I can't pick up a guitar, but I can pick up a camera."
Polly Mallory opened The Gallery at the Martha Washington Hotel at 150 W. Main St. in Abingdon on Sept. 18 and featured its grand opening on Sept. 25.
Snugly located a few steps from the hotel's dining room, Mallory's gallery features fine art created by an array of accomplished local and regional artists.
"This gallery is a showcase for people to see the art and also to purchase the art," Mallory said. "Art is meant to be admired, to be observed and to enrich."
Just inside the entryway, a breathtaking photo of the Inn taken by Jeffrey Stone graces a wall to the right.
Step inside the intimate gallery. A group of Carole Blevins' large paintings line the wall. Prices on her pieces range from several hundred to several thousand dollars.
To the left and tucked into a corner emerges an awesome framed fabric creation by Quinn Hawkesworth. Titled "Clinch Mountain Sunday," it incorporates vivid color, looks amazingly like an oil painting and sells for $1,200.
"She's a hidden jewel that's now coming about," Mallory said.
On a pedestal just a step or two inside the gallery rests one of about a half-dozen breathtaking, vase-like, wood-turned creations by William Tillson. His work retails in the gallery from $425 to $1,100.
That and other works captivated Stella Jackson of Smithfield, N.C., as she perused the gallery on Wednesday.
"It's wonderful," Jackson said. "There's lots of variety. It is a lot of art, and there's something for everyone. It's a must-see gallery."
Take Tillson's piece on the pedestal. Crafted from black cherry wood, it epitomizes the term country elegance. It could shine as a centerpiece in a log cabin or upon a mantel in a mansion. It sells for $1,100.
And provides part of that which makes Mallory smile with each new day dawned.
"It's fun to get up and go to work every day," Mallory said.
So make way for art galleries.
"State Street can become an art destination," Wilson said.
An abundance of artists coupled with entrepreneurial visionaries and art lovers such as Paul, Wilson, Royal and Mallory has ignited a spark that's become a boom and a boon amid and for the region.
"Art enriches everyone's life," Mallory said. "It creates a smile."
IF YOU GO: ART GALLERIES
529 State St.
The Gallery at the Martha Washington Hotel & Spa
150 W. Main St.
(276) 628-3161 or (423) 742-2150