“Right space made it the right place,” says Miryam Rojas, describing her new venture, Mars Landing Galleries, located in Mars Hill. Opened July 10, the spacious 5,600-square-foot gallery currently represents 18 artists, with plans for adding more than 20 others.
The gallery’s building on Library Street is a familiar fixture in Mars Hill. Built in 1945, its first iteration was as a roller-skating rink. It later became a sewing factory and then another roller rink before morphing into an antique store. “It was already one large open space,” says Rojas. “So aside from putting up gallery walls, I created three private studios and a 400-square-foot space where Meadowsweet Creamery built out their kitchen. I also wanted the additional 2,800-square-foot Garden Level area to operate as an independent art space.”
Getting the spacious venue up to gallery level wasn’t without its challenges. After a refinishing of the original, main-level floors — up to then “the largest chunk of the budget” — the powder post beetles were discovered.
“I really had to bite the bullet on that one,” she remarks. But Rojas is no novice to renovation. As a girl, she was fascinated by her parents’ plans to renovate their 1924 Mediterranean Revival home in Westchester County, New York. “To me, blueprints were like seeing the X-ray of a house.”
A first-generation American born of Peruvian parents, Rojas says she initially wanted to become an interior designer, but tabled that idea when she landed an internship at VH1 Networks. Intrigued by the business, she then followed that experience with an internship as a production assistant for the next two summers.
As a student at George Washington University in Washington, DC, she garnered another internship, this one at the Neuberger Museum of Art at SUNY Purchase. Here she was given the opportunity to present a portion of an immigrant-themed exhibit. The only drawback, she says, “was the quiet, slow pace of a museum-career world wasn’t my speed at the time.” Even so, she landed an internship with another gallery her sophomore year. “[But] by the time I was ready to graduate, I craved the fast-paced work environment I’d tasted years earlier in the television/film industry.”
A spring-break trip to Miami eventually turned into a 16-year career as a freelance art director in South Florida, where she worked on both feature films and commercials. In her down time, she began investing in — and often renovating — private and commercial real estate.
During a road trip in 2012, she met up with a long-time Miami friend who had moved to Asheville. Impressed by the area, Rojas knew she wanted to move here and start a business.
Madison County, a mixture of ruggedly rural and small-town mountain charm, appealed to her, especially picturesque Mars Hill, home to Mars Hill University, a private liberal-arts school.
“I loved the idea of owning commercial property on Main Street. There was something so idyllic about the church steeple peeking up over the brick buildings when you approach downtown that reminds me of a small village in Europe.
“My attraction to older buildings with history and charm also played a part when I came across the building at 37 Library Street. All I could envision was an art center in the space.”
Aware of the abundance of creators and art lovers in the region, she knew the idea had great potential. Works by local, regional, and national artists now on display at Mars Landing Galleries include drawings, paintings, found-object collages, metal and wood pieces, wearable art, ceramics, cold-wax collages, and encaustic tiles. She also wants to add a textile artist or two.
Works by pastel and charcoal artist Skip Rohde — known for his Faces of Afghanistan series and other landmark works — are on display. He remarks, “Mars Landing is a good fit for me… First and foremost, I trust Miryam. She is a high-energy gallerist who is making things happen.” Rohde, who lives in Mars Hill, adds, “I’m glad I have an opportunity to help our town participate more in the Western North Carolina art scene.”
Another addition to the gallery is renowned virtual artist Alissa Christine (aka LUVR-worldwide). Rojas explains, “She ‘paints’ in virtual reality with music and creates works that viewers with a provided VR headset can walk inside of. It’s quite a trip.” Christine will also provide workshops at Mars Landing, not only in VR, but also in crypto art, an emerging digital-art form.
“I would like to create an artist-in-residence program and collaborate with artists in and around Madison County for a dual-immersion experience,” says Rojas. “I think the influence local and ‘outside’ artists can have on each other is immeasurable.”
Mars Landing Galleries, 37 Library St., Mars Hill. Hours are 11am-5pm Wednesday through Saturday. The gallery will participate in Mars Hill’s “First Friday” events, set for 5-8 pm on October 1. For more information, call 828-747-7267 or see marslandinggalleries.com.