If It’s Not Recycled, Is It Even Art?

Shelley Schenker went from a cramped garret space to showcasing 3,000 square feet of fine art.
Portrait by Colby Rabon

The River Arts District has no trouble attracting visitors, as long-time resident artist Shelley Schenker knows. But a secluded second-floor studio in a historic building — “read that as rickety,” she says — presented some problems.

“I had a hard time attracting clients,” she admits. The need for better accessibility led her three years ago to open 3,000-square-foot Eco-Depot Marketplace on Depot Street — but not just for herself. She also sought likeminded artists to share her new space.

Eco-Depot now represents more than 60 local and regional makers. “They can all be here within a couple of hours’ driving time,” says Schenker. Well, with the exception of former Asheville artist Kim Rody. “[She] started with local roots, but moved out of the mountains and to the Caribbean. We are lucky enough to be the sole representative of her mountain-themed works, so I guess you could say at least one of my artists is international.”

Each of the makers rent space within the venue, and the selection criteria is short: (1) They must live and/or work in the area, (2) Their art needs to be related to the environment in materials, technique, or subject matter, and (3) It must be what Schenker deems professional quality. 

Eco-Depot Marketplace spans the hip south end of the River Arts District.
Photo by Colby Rabon

The price point, on the other hand, is quite vast. There are items (“worry stones,” for example) that sell for $1 each, all the way up to original pieces of classical fine art that can run up to $15,000.

Florals by Kim Rody, an artist of international reputation.
Photo by Colby Rabon

“The underlying eco-focus of my artists is definitely not found in any other gallery in town,” she notes. Even the display booths are made of recycled wooden pallets.

Most importantly, “Inspiration needs to be informed by love of nature,” says Schenker. She lists “subject matter like paintings or photos of mountains or animals; materials like stone and butterfly wings, recycled bike tires and magazines; and techniques such as beeswax encaustics.” It’s this slant that puts the “ecology” in Eco-Depot.

Schenker has become well known for the mosaics she creates using pages from magazines. The first one, 13 years ago, she made as a birthday present for her father. “A friend saw it and said, ‘You could really sell these.’ Once that lightbulb went off in my head, I couldn’t dim its glow.” (Like most creatives, she says she cringes when she looks at some of her earlier pieces, though her greatest challenge these days is balancing the business side of the venture with making time for personal projects. “These two sides of me,” she says, “are at constant odds.”

Amongst the Moss – Shelley Schenker
Photo by Colby Rabon

Schenker, who worked as a graphic designer for 30 years, begins each piece by sketching what resembles a giant color-by-number drawing. “I then search through tons of hanging folders I’ve amassed that are filled with color-sorted pages, to find the various textures and shades of color I need.”

Next, she hand-tears the paper to fit within the outlines of her sketch, gluing the bits down with acid-free adhesive. Any works that are destined to be framed under glass are left uncoated.

The industrial-chic space suits the subject matter.
Photo by Colby Rabon

Gallery members are encouraged to be active in the cooperative venue, spreading the word about Eco-Depot’s original focus. In turn, they can create their work on site and hold workshops or other promotional events on topics that excite them.

The gallery features jewelry and other wearables from several artists.
Photo by Colby Rabon

“I’ve watched artists tentatively approach their professional journey with a small booth and a hopeful attitude, only to be wowed along the way with how their work matures,” says Schenker.

Eco-Depot Marketplace (ecodepotmarketplace.com) is located at 408 Depot St. in the River Arts District. The gallery is open seven days a week from 11am-5pm (or “5 pm-ish,” as Schenker says, “because we’re run by artists”). Check out the gallery during the annual River Arts District Studio Stroll happening Saturday, Nov. 9 and Sunday, Nov. 10, 10am-5pm. www.riverartsdistrict.com

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