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Monday, 02 June 2014 00:00

WNC artists find new home at Mahogany House

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tg mahoganyBouncing around her gallery like a rubber ball, the energy of Teri Siewert is contagious.

“The ambiance here is something you can’t buy or make, it’s either there or it’s not, and it’s definitely here,” she said. 

Siewert is the owner of the The Mahogany House art gallery and studios in the Frog Level district of Waynesville. She opened the business last October as a way 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 over 50 local artists under her umbrella, the structure is home 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 each and 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.”

Born in California, Siewert was raised in Florida by her mother “who was part gypsy,” she said. Dabbling in art her entire life, Siewert’s father and grandfather were artists. 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 health care, but the artistic side of her never wavered. On a chance trip 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 of heating up 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 arist,” 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.”

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?”

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. The idea with all of this is housing artists of all different backgrounds together with an emphasis of 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, it’s very warm and wonderful.”

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.”