Siewert is the owner of the The Mahogany House art gallery and studios in the Frog Level district of Waynesville. She opened the business on Oct. 8 to provide a location for established and emerging artists to create, collaborate and cultivate the energy and culture of Western North Carolina and beyond. With more than 50 local artists under her umbrella, the structure is a living, breathing studio.
“We’re an incubator for amazing working art and amazing artists,” she said. “I did it because I love art, I love artists, and I wanted a place where we could bring all of that together.”
Following Siewert through the 4,000-square-foot space, one begins to feel the buzz she talks about so passionately. Zigzagging through the building, she points out every artist displayed, why their work is unique, and why they need to be supported by the community.
“Everything evolves. The community evolves, people evolve, your life evolves, where you can take it in one direction or another,” she said. “And I think art takes it in the right direction.”
Head for the hills
Born in California, Siewert was raised in Florida by her mother “who was part gypsy,” she said. She dabbled in art her entire life, a trait her father and grandfather also possessed. That gene and creativity bug resided inside her, waiting to be nurtured. By the 1970s, looking for a career, she found herself in nursing. For the next 27 years, she worked in healthcare, but the artistic side of her never died. On a chance trip to the River Arts District in Asheville, something inside Siewert roared to life.
“I visited the River Arts District, fell in love with encaustic, came up here for workshops, went back to Florida, had a midlife crisis, told my husband I had to get to the mountains, and then we moved here,” she chuckled.
An ancient art form using heated beeswax and damar resin and molding it into layered artworks, encaustic became the ideal creative medium for Siewert. She fell in love with the medium and knew that was what she wanted to do.
“I was a nurse for 27 years, but my heart was to be an artist,” she said. “When I came to Waynesville, it was the perfect crossroads in my life — I had to do it now or it was never going to happen.”
While a nurse in Florida, Siewert started a decorative arts business. For 12 years, it scratched her creative itch. She slowly weaned herself out of healthcare and put more energy into the business. In 2011, she took the leap and headed for Waynesville, dreams and ambition in hand. Taking a page from the onsite artist gallery/studios of the River Arts District, she knew Waynesville would be the ideal place to set up shop.
“It doesn’t have to be a lot to start, but it could grow with time. I feel very strongly that I would succeed at this. I’m one of those people that will do it even if it kills me,” she laughed. “I love what they have in the River Arts District, the working studios and galleries. So why can’t we bring a little piece of that to Haywood County and Waynesville?”
Open for business
Within the large building, the gallery/studio offers wall and display space for artists, as well as individual work/retail tables and classes for the general public. For $100 to $300 per month, artists inhabit their own space, with many amenities like electricity and marketing included. For $5 an hour or $25 per day, you can also have a temporary workspace. The idea with all of this is housing artists of all different backgrounds together with an emphasis on cross-pollination — the more creative energy in a room, the better.
“This is a synergy area, a symbiosis between different mediums and different artists, where we see each other and support one another,” she said. “You’re in your house, in your studio, but here, you’re out and meeting people, seeing those who buy your work, and that’s priceless. It’s magical here, very warm and wonderful.”
In one of the working studios at the back of the gallery, acclaimed woodworker Bob Luciene is busy on his latest project. Stopping for a moment, he looks up with a welcoming smile. Luciene feels having a working studio in Waynesville is a great addition to the community, where patrons and the curious alike can see and interact with the artisans they support.
“I think the public likes to come in and watch us do our trade. It helps sell the product, but you also meet a lot of nice people,” he said. “Art gives people something to talk about. You get to know people and the works are the history of a community.”
Luciene also likes the opportunities for collaboration with other artists at The Mahogany House.
“We’ve kind of gotten away from visiting with one another,” he said. “Here, you’re together, you talk, you work together, pass on ideas, and sometimes the trades cross over.”
Standing at her personal workspace, Siewert pauses for a moment and scans the enormous building, once empty but now filled with an intoxicating air of creativity amid a hearty sense of community.
“It’s important to feel part of something, to get energized and motivated, to be excited about tomorrow, to be excited about today, about something purposeful in your life,” she said. “You can sit there or stay actively involved, mentor people, be that spark that sets the fire, and that’s all I want to be — that spark that starts the fire.”