“Opening a gallery was not on my radar,” admits lamp designer Leah Baker, who founded Artisans on Main in January 2017. “In the end, it was all about the timing and my readiness to take it on. The idea really evolved out of necessity to find a new studio space in Weaverville.” Baker — who crafts lamps with stone, wood, and metal bases, topped by signature botanical-infused shades — had seen an ideal property for rent on Main Street.
Just a week prior, she’d met woodworker Richard Scarborough, and shared her thoughts with him about opening a studio/gallery. “I also expressed the need for a partner to make it happen — otherwise the task would have been overwhelming,” she says. Scarborough recognized the potential and told Baker, “‘Yes, let’s do this.’”
Says Baker, “That kind of generosity and trust is a rare thing in this world.” Scarborough adds, “We clicked, and we made it happen.”
He continues to play a supportive role in the evolution of Artisans on Main, building displays and consoles as needed and selling his turned-wood bowls and slab furniture at the gallery. Baker says she’s also appreciative of the encouragement she received from potter Rob Mangum, whose popular studio and gallery is next door to Artisans on Main.
In its 2,000 square feet, Artisans on Main represents the work of more than 40 artists, nearly all of them local, plus a few from Tennessee. The gallery is home to four working studios — for three other artists in addition to Baker: Linda Guertler (candles), Jen Aly (jewelry), and Jim Metlicka (pottery). “Having these artists working here gives our patrons the opportunity to connect with the makers, and that is a good thing for everyone,” says Baker.
Guertler, of Bee Light Candle Café, has been making her pieces there since the gallery opened; she figures the essential-oil aromas that waft through the air when she’s pouring candles “enhance the customers’ shopping experience.” Guertler observes that “Leah is in constant motion, always tweaking to find the right space for each artist’s work. You’ll find her up on the tallest ladder, pointing the lights to shine in just the right way to enhance a display.”
Baker was raised in a small town in Eastern North Carolina, growing
into her independence. “I always loved to build things with my wooden blocks, to make things out of paper, to draw. I was a curious, hands-on ‘tomgirl’ sort — no Barbie dolls. And I had a pony I’d ride out into the woods by myself.”
In college, she studied fine art with the idea of becoming an illustrator, but found her way into graphic design for the first part of her working life. Shortly after moving to California, she studied therapeutic bodywork in Berkeley and transitioned into her second career for the next 25 years, continuing her studies in physiology and “how profoundly massage can affect deep layers of the body and mind.”
Baker’s process for selecting new gallery exhibitors includes straightforward criteria — she likes to sell craft with a wide price point, with items for most budgets — but also a trickier combination of qualities. Besides being handmade with a certain “wow factor,” the work, she says, “has to fit well in the store — and also add to the collection we already have.”
Indeed, her signature lamps take some living up to. Baker’s inspiration comes from a desire to honor the dense, beautiful forests of Western North Carolina, distill that essence, and illuminate it inside the home. While living in California, during the career transition, Baker worked with a designer for a couple of years and learned the process of paper making, constructing lamps using twigs, metal, and stone. After moving to the Weaverville area a dozen years ago, she began experimenting once again with botanical inclusions and handmade paper lampshades.
Baker slips Gingko leaves, fern fronds, and other botanicals between two to four layers of wood-pulp paper to achieve a textural effect. The shades of process evolved from serious experimentation, trial and error. “It was exciting to finally succeed with this technique.
I have never seen it done this way anyplace else.”
Artisans on Main, 14 North Main St., Weaverville, 828-658-9617. On Facebook: “Artisans on Main.” Gallery hours are 10am–5pm Monday through Saturday, closed on Sunday. Leah Baker’s lamps are also sold at Mountain Nest (133 Cherry St., Black Mountain, mtnnest.com), Woolworth Walk (25 Haywood St., Asheville, woolworthwalk.com), Eco Depot Marketplace (408 Depot St. in Asheville’s River Arts District, ecodepotmarketplace.com), and through the artist’s website, luminosalighting.com.