By Katie Benfield
Having outlets for art, both for artists and for art patrons, is an important aspect of any community and the populations within those communities.
This became obvious to Brenda Lyerly, Mayor of Banner Elk.
According to LouAnn Morehouse, one of the founding members of the Banner Elk Artists Gallery, Mayor Lyerly approached her and mentioned that there should be an art gallery in the Old Historic Banner Elk School.
“It kind of started with the idea of the old school becoming a kind of community center. With the Book Exchange and the Ensemble Theatre over there already,” Morehouse said, “it seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring another artistic outlet to the community.”
Morehouse the connected with her friend and oil painter Jessie Schmitt to see what they could work out. Researching co-ops brought them to Hands Gallery in Boone, and with the help of that co-op gallery, Morehouse and Schmitt were able to form their own in Banner Elk.
“We put the call out to the community, asking who might be willing to be a founding member,” Morehouse said, “and these folks, artists and not, joined us and saw the great potential in it. It was a wonderful business opportunity, as well as a creative opportunity.”
Thus, the Banner Elk Artists Gallery was founded; it is a co-op artist gallery with eight members who produce and present their art in the venue that is located in the Old Historic Banner Elk School.
Along with these members, consignment artists are often invited to present their artwork in the gallery for the public.
“There are artists whose work deserved to be shown, and sometimes they don’t have representation, and they also don’t have the time and commitment necessary to become a member of the gallery,” Morehouse said. “So, the members jury in an artist within the community to display their work, and that’s a consignment artist.”
According to Morehouse, consignment artists get the benefit of having their art displayed without having to create it within that space and without having to be there to represent their art every day.
“Part of this gallery is the sweat equity that all of the members put in,” Morehouse said. “If you’re a member of a co-op, you’re basically a part owner of it, and with that comes the necessity of working within the business.”
The members of the Banner Elk Artists Gallery are as follows: Paul Andrews and Dick Larson who both work with wood, Skip Sickler and Todd Bush who both work with photography, Jessie Schmitt who is an oil painter, Tamara Seymour who is a graphic artist and CarBaner ol Larson, Lorie Bush and LouAnn Morehouse who are all supportive members rather than artistic members of the gallery.
The Banner Elk Artists Gallery opened in late July, and the members took the time to bring in consignment artists, as well as get to know the community, the town and other art patrons and artists within the community.
“We wanted to get a feel for the rhythm of the area,” Morehouse said, “and now we are wanting to have an official opening so that people within Banner Elk, Avery County and the High Country know that we are here.”
The official opening will be held this Saturday, from 4-6 p.m. at the gallery in the Historic Banner Elk School.
“We want to raise a glass of wine with friends and fellow artista, art patrons and the public who like to look at beautiful things,” Morehouse said. “This is the beginning of what I think will be many fun receptions.”
There will be refreshments – beverages, snacks, wine – offered at the event for all in attendance as everyone takes a stroll around the gallery to look at beautiful art, both by members and by consignment artists.
“It’s basically a party. It’s a reception,” Morehouse said. “We want to toast to the future of the gallery, our members and are consignment artists.”
Among the consignment artists, Morehouse said, there are painters, photographers, metalworkers, jewelers, potters and more.
“They really add a lot of colors and more beautiful objects to our gallery,” Morehouse said, “and we want people to see those things and keep all of these artwork pieces in mind when thinking about purchasing a gift for someone or even for their own homes.”
There is a lot of room and potential for growth for the Banner Elk Artists Gallery, as Morehouse stated they have room for more members as well as more consignment artists.
“People around here are just so skilled in the creative artists, and we are really fortunate that way,” Morehouse said. “The whole area around the historic school is starting to look wonderful and have a really nice energy around it.”
The reception for the gallery is to celebrate just that – the arts, artists and art patrons throughout the community, as well as the success (past, present and future) of the gallery.
“Galleries are really social places in general,” Morehouse said, “so it’s really a great opportunity to come out, enjoy each other, see what we’ve got to offer, have a bit with us and see what a great space we have. We are so happy to be a part of this.”
The gallery is open Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. and then it is open on Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.
“We want everyone to come out and learn about us and see that we are up and running and here,” Morehouse said, “to provide them all with the opportunity to see some local art from some local artists.”