Artists join forces through co-op to gain visibilityWritten by Elizabeth Jensen
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Steve Lampl paints with acrylics and loves to golf. But last year when he had shoulder surgery, he had to put golfing on hold. That’s when he decided to organize The Mainstreet Artists Co-op Gallery.
A year later, the co-op has grown to a total of 20 artists and has moved to a larger location — a prime storefront on Waynesville’s Main Street left vacant when the Furniture Village closed last year.
“We are very pleased with the space,” Lampl said. “The traffic flow is great. We feel like we have to be on Main Street.”
On the first Saturday the gallery opened this season, more than 300 people walked through the art displays, said Char Avrunin, an original member of the co-op and oil painter.
The co-op has a three-member jury to select new artists, but the gallery is already full. The last artist who will be added this season is a fine quilt-maker.
Lampl said the jury selects artists on the basis of quality, salability, price points and how they will meld with the rest of the gallery.
Nancy Howell Blevins is new to the co-op this year. In order to be accepted, she submitted a portfolio, including pictures of her art and a statement about what she would bring to the group.
Blevins hand dyes silk scarves and paints with watercolor.
“There were no other silks or watercolors with styles like mine,” she said. “The committee was looking for something different.”
Blevin recently taught Avrunin how to paint on silk.
“The artists in this community are wonderful about sharing their techniques with each other,” Avrunin said.
Unlike other artists in the co-op, Avrunin works mainly on commissioned portraits. She uses her gallery space to showcase her skills to potential clients. Avrunin’s past subjects include golfer Arnold Palmer and racecar driver Leilani Munter.
Although she majored in art during college, Avrunin earned her master’s in educational communication and became a manager for Chrysler Satellite Network in Detroit.
She became mysteriously ill in 1995 and spent about a year in bed, she said. In 1998, doctors at John Hopkins Hospital diagnosed her with a rare neurological disease.
“I asked God what I should do next,” she said. “He said, ‘Paint my people.’”
Like Avrunin, George Dixon is also an original member of the co-op. He displays his color photography in the gallery. He primarily shoots nature but also some architecture.
“I’m trying to capture the natural beauty of Western Carolina before it’s developed away from us,” he said.
Before retiring, Dixon was a physics professor. Long before he became the photographer he is today, he understood the optics and technology that make cameras work.
Dixon got his first “good camera” when his oldest child was born, he said. He’s sold between 30 and 40 prints since he joined the co-op last year.
“It’s been a complete delight,” Dixon said. “None of us are getting rich at this, but it’s fun.”
Members of the co-op pay a fee that goes to cover rent and other expenses. When an artists’ work is sold in the gallery, all the money goes back to the artist.
“It’s been a positive experience for me, and I love to create,” Blevins said. “I appreciate having an outlet where I can present my scarves for sale so I can support my habit.”
Artists staff the gallery themselves, working a half day once a week or a full day every other week. Many of the co-op artists are at the gallery for Art after Dark on the first Friday every month.
“I think what we are doing is a positive thing for downtown Waynesville,” Blevins said. “It is good for me because I love my little town.”
For more information, call Steve Lampl at 828.452.4592, or stop by 93 N. Main Street 10 a.m. to 5 p.m, Mon.-Sat.
The original co-op members include Char Avrunin (oil, watercolor and silk), Gretchen Clasby (acrylic and watercolor), Jeanne Colburn (acrylic and watercolor), George Dixon (photography), Pam Haddock (watercolor), Sandy Lampl (acrylic and oil), Steve Lampl (acrylic), Margaret Roberts (acrylic and collage), Sharon Smith (acrylic and watercolor), Bill Smith (photography), David Stone (acrylic) and Carolyn Taylor (watercolor).
The new additions are Nancy Howell Blevins (hand-died silk), Rebecca Hellman (glass fusion), Anita Painter (graphite portraits), Terance Painter (pottery), Terry Thompson (jewelry) and Dan and Wendy Wright (stained glass and copper).