“The store itself has become a work of art,” says Donna Leven, co-founder of Carolina Mountain Artists Guild in downtown Hendersonville. The Guild opened its doors in 1998, in what had been an empty storefront, with seven members.
“We’re now up to 35 artists,” says Leven. “We started with used [department-store] cases and have developed into an impressive gallery with beautiful glass displays.” Artists show woodworking, stained glass, pine-needle baskets, hand-stitched quilts, jewelry, pottery, gourd art, and more.
“Our purpose when we started was to establish a permanent location where local artists could sell their work,” says Leven. And that remains the case today, with all of the Guild’s artists living and working in Western North Carolina. Prospective members are asked to submit an application and sample artwork to a selection jury.
“Responsibilities of members include pricing and displaying their items, as well as working in the gallery a few days each month,” reports Leven. “We also have opportunities for our artists to demonstrate making their craft, both inside and outside the shop.” She adds that many members also serve on the Guild’s various committees, such as the jury committee and display committee. “We are always looking for new members,” she adds.
One of the two original founders of the Guild who are still active members of the organization, Leven is a self-taught woodworker, painter, and basketmaker. For a few years, she had her own shop, called The Paintin’ Shed, next door to the Guild. She makes wood-canoe coffee tables, boat-themed bookshelves, and decoys. “Currently, I have been making baskets with solid-oak bases. A member of the Guild, who made this type of basket, moved to Georgia and wanted to pass his style on to another artist. He asked if I was interested, and I naturally said yes.” These popular, distinctive baskets are made with braided seagrass and colored reeds.
Elizabeth Lindsey, the other of the two original members, is known throughout the area as “The Lampshade Lady” for her handmade cut-and-pierced lampshades. In addition, she has, for years, painted on a wide variety of surfaces, including slate, wood, glass, and canvas. She says she especially enjoys teaching the art of decorative painting, introducing new students to the world of art.
The Guild’s growth had been slow and steady until the pandemic struck. “Every year we remain in business is so special,” says Leven, “but this past year was extremely difficult … some of our members were unable to work in the Guild due to COVID-19. The rest of us had to put in a lot of extra time keeping the doors open and making sure the Gallery’s members and customers were safe. But,” she says, “we made it.”
After recovery from major emergency eye surgery, artist member Barb Wilcox used the early days of the pandemic to finish an exquisite beaded Christmas village consisting of a train, buildings, people, observatory, and several other pieces. At holiday time, the public was invited to guess how many beads were used in the construction — all of them sewn one-by-one with needle and thread, says Wilcox. The response gained widespread attention throughout the community, and, incredibly, the winner was very close, guessing 75,000 beads (the actual count was 77,859) — and getting a gift basket of handcrafted items.
Leven attributes the Guild’s success to the originality and authenticity of its inventory. Accessibility also plays a major role: Pieces range from a few dollars to a few hundred, and many of them are small and ideal for gift giving. The feel is functional, picturesque — curated with a sense of rustic chic.
“These items can’t be found in other galleries,” says Leven.
Carolina Mountain Artists Guild, 444 North Main St., Hendersonville. Gallery hours are 10am–5 pm seven days a week. The Guild will be hosting special events during Hendersonville’s Garden Jubilee, scheduled for May 28-30. For updates and more information, check the group’s FB page (Carolina Mountain Artists Guild) or visit the website: carolinamountainartists.com.