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Wednesday, 14 June 2006 00:00

Becoming art smart: The 11th Annual Studio Gallery Open House and Walking Tour in Waynesville gives people a chance to create and learn more about art

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By Michael Beadle

Waynesville art gallery owners don’t just want to sell art. They want people to ask lots of questions about art, see how it is actually made and how all ages can create art.

It’s all about the experience of discovering art.

Waynesville gallery owners say they have a vested interest in teaching people about the process of making art. By seeing someone create a painting or assemble a piece of jewelry, you get to see how much time and effort it takes. You begin to value the craftsmanship and develop a personal connection with the artist. It’s an eye-opening experience for those who normally just get to see the final product and glance at a price tag.

That’s why this Saturday, June 17, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., gallery owners and artists in downtown Waynesville and the historic Frog Level District will host the 11th Annual Studio Gallery Open House and Walking Tour.

Artists open up their back studios and set up demonstrations so the public can come meet and greet local and regional artists who will be available to answer questions about their work. The Walking Tour differs from the downtown gallery stroll Art After Dark, held the first Friday of every month, by focusing in on the galleries themselves, the owners and the work they create. Visitors also may enjoy refreshments, raffle prizes, special sales, and live music throughout the day.

Over the past decade, the downtown district has grown to become a busy art haven for buyers and artists alike. More than a dozen galleries are within a half-mile stroll, and the Waynesville Gallery Association, together with the Downtown Waynesville Association and the Haywood County Arts Council, help organize all sorts of public events to help promote art in the town.

“It’s a way to educate people about craft and the handmade object,” says Suzanne Gernandt, fabric artist and co-owner of Textures Gallery.

In the three years since she and her husband John set up their gallery in downtown Waynesville, Suzanne has noticed how people look around an art gallery, how some pieces become instant conversations — “Wow! Look at that, Dad. That’s cool.”

Textures sets up furniture along side decorative bowls or sculptures to show how art will look in their home. Once people are drawn into an art piece, they begin asking questions. How was this made? What is this made out of and who made it? Suzanne welcomes these questions and the curiosity of the customer.

“An educated consumer is a better buyer,” she says.

Down the street at Twigs & Leaves, a visitor enters the serene world of flute music, trickling fountains, and nature scenes ranging from landscape paintings and river stone jewelry to playful designs of handcrafted animal figures.

“This is a very elegant shop,” a visitor in the gallery remarks, eyeing the jewelry cases.

Since the gallery opened in October of 1998, it has steadily expanded to include exhibit space downstairs and in a back room that was once a studio for co-owner and clay artist Kaaren Stoner. Stoner relocated her studio in March to focus more on creating her signature pieces that often involve leaves.

“I use leaves for everything,” she says.

Once she gets settled in to her new studio and catches up on a run of special orders, she’s planning on making a new line of fountains and more teapots.

Stoner says she welcomes the Open House and Walking Tour because it gives people a greater appreciation for art once they get to see how art is made. She’s noticed a growing number of visitors who are more educated about the art they see in the gallery.

At Burr Studio potter MaryEtta Burr will be demonstrating her wheel throwing techniques. Burr learned her medium while an art major at Ohio State. Although she had to study a little bit of everything, she found pottery to be the right fit for her talents.

Over the years, Burr’s work has evolved from the purely functional to the more artistic.

“I do more things now that my husband illustrates,” Burr said.

Burr’s husband, Dane, is a sculptor. His sun face has become the gallery’s hallmark. The couple occasionally collaborates on works, either by commission or by artistic inspiration. Their studios are housed in the gallery, with a total of four kilns to fire their clay pieces.

Having a working studio in a Main Street gallery isn’t as common as it once was in Waynesville, Burr said. Artists have either relocated or moved on to other things. Hence, those galleries that are able to offer visitors a look into an artist’s world are something special.

“People are real interested in just taking a peek back there,” Burr said of her studio.

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