Kaye Gorecki and Donna Rhodes were eating at the Rathskeller in downtown Franklin one night when they heard that a building next door was for sale. As artists, they toyed with the idea of checking out the building and fixing it up to be an art studio. Just a dream...
But the more they thought about it, the more it seemed possible. The space they were looking for turned out to be on the other side of the restaurant, a century-old building formerly used as a pool hall and storage area.
It didnâ€™t look like much. The ceiling had caved in, and parts of the brick walls were crumbling. Roofing tar gooped onto a messy floor spotted with battery acid stains. Once when a pawn shop operated upstairs, a guy accidentally misfired a shotgun through the floor and into a set of stacked Radio Flyer wagons down below.
But all that could be fixed, and over the course of three months, Gorecki, Rhodes and a team of believers turned the mess into a haven for artists: the Art Quarter Gallery and Studios, located on Stewart Street, an alley walk down from Franklinâ€™s Main Street.
With the ceiling plastered, walls painted, track lights and ceiling fans installed, and booth areas set up for seven artists to come work, Art Quarter Gallery and Studios opened in June to serve two main functions â€” as a gallery to buy art (everything from pottery to paintings to wood bowls and jewelry) and as a working studio, where people can come see local artists paint, draw, weave and create their new works.
In all, seven local artists rent studio spaces, and at least 11 artists sell their work in the front gallery.
Thereâ€™s a wide range of talents on display. Gorecki is a mixed media artist who does everything from collage to painting and drawing, while Rhodes is a fiber artist who spins, weaves, and makes dolls and pins. Other artists in the studios include mother/daughter painters Madeline Epp and Robin Swaby-Miltner, oil/pastel painter Susan Jaegar-Cornell, celebrated landscape artist Jack Stern (who splits his time between Colorado and North Carolina), and Helen Newton, who creates fiber art, drawings, calligraphy, paintings, and three-dimensional art (including the playful gourd design â€śChanticleer the Chandelierâ€ť).
Artists who rent space pay for a yearâ€™s lease. They come in to work at various times in the day â€” sometimes early mornings, sometimes afternoons, some on weekends. Swaby-Miltner also teaches youth classes in the back of the studio, so the space has become a multi-purpose home for artists of all ages.
â€śYouâ€™re kind of an extended family this way,â€ť says Rhodes, who co-owns Art Quarter with Gorecki. The two also work at the Bascom-Louise Gallery in Highlands.
Rhodes said she and Gorecki patterned the new Art Quarter Gallery and Studios after a similar project called McRae Studios in Winter Park, Fla., where a converted warehouse offered rented space for artists to make and sell their work. The idea is not only to give artists a place to work but also a place to support and encourage a local community of artists.
â€śWhen youâ€™re with other people,â€ť Rhodes says, â€śit seems to increase your productivity.â€ť
The Art Quarter is open seven days a week, and on the first Friday of each month, the gallery teams up with the Rathskeller next door to promote a different country or American region. Art Quarter artists paint a wine glass in the style of a particular country â€” say, Italy, for example â€” and the Rathskeller will offer a free glass of wine in that glass. Customers can buy an Art Quarter glass for $15.95 and part of the proceeds go to a local charity.
The â€śFirst Fridaysâ€ť concept has caught on downtown and Rhodes has noticed other Franklin businesses joining in to stay open extra hours or spruce up business fronts or awnings. Art Quarter has helped raise money for Manna Food Bank, REACH, the Macon County Arts Council and Cops for Kids (a Christmas program that gives toys to children).
â€śThe community has been so generous to us, so welcoming, so kind,â€ť said Rhodes, so it only seems natural to promote other organizations. â€śWe do our best to include everybody in all that we do.â€ť
To find out more about Art Quarter Gallery and Studios and the artists featured there, call 828.524.8785 or go to the Web site www.artquartergallery.com. Operating hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.