When “Meeting Cute” Turns Into a Ceramics Dynasty

Silvia Ferrari-Palmer and Andy Palmer with their furry associate, Brina.
Portrait by Colby Rabon

“Two or more things working in partnership” is how the dictionary defines being “in tandem.” When you get to know them, you soon realize that Silvia Ferrari-Palmer and Andy Palmer embody that definition — just add passion.

Co-owners of In Tandem Gallery in Bakersville, Andy and Silvia got off to a fairytale beginning in February 2013, meeting through an online dating service. Silvia, a native of Milan, Italy, was living in Rome — Rome, New York, that is. (She’d moved to the Upstate in 1993 to work in web development and graphic design.) She had her two dogs, she says, but “not many prospects for dates.” However, Andy contacted her as soon as she signed up on the dating website, “and we immediately clicked.” 

In Tandem Gallery in Bakersville is a major ceramics destination.
Photo by Colby Rabon

In fact, they were engaged the next month, and married seven months after that. “I’m so glad I didn’t have to date anybody else, since this was so perfect,” she says. “And it’s been truly fantastic ever since.”

At the time, Andy was transitioning from teaching toward a full-time career in making ceramics, and Silvia was painting animal portraits and helping out at a horse stable. Out of the blue, they got a call asking if they’d be interested in managing an art gallery in Bakersville, NC, in Mitchell County (not far from Penland School of Craft). “A student at one of the workshops I’d given [in New York] recommended us to her son-in-law, who had just bought the gallery,” Andy explains. “He was looking for someone to run it. Silvia and I decided it would be a great way to start a new life together.”

The gallery carries functional pottery with wide appeal… and sculptural ceramics for visionary tastes, including the cautionary I’ll Wear One Next Time, by Thaddeus Erdahl
Photo by Colby Rabon

The couple drove to Bakersville to check it out, fell in love again — the tiny, scenic town sits at the base of Roan Mountain — and started their new job the following week. Unfortunately, the gallery owner soon changed course, moved the gallery, eventually lost interest in it, and closed it two years later.

Doll heads by Margaret Keelan
Photo by Colby Rabon

When that happened, Silvia decided they needed to own and manage their own business. So in April of 2016, she started In Tandem Gallery. Due to a non-compete clause in his contract, Andy couldn’t help administer the new gallery for the next year.

And so “Silvia took this all on herself,” says Andy, “and built something wonderful from it.”

Photo by Colby Rabon

Silvia comments, “I love working with Andy. Our skills are very different, yet they balance perfectly. I never expected owning your own gallery could require so many different skillsets. Half of my day is dedicated to improving our online presence … the rest is working the desk, packaging, cleaning, contacting customers/jewelers/ceramicists, doing taxes, and billing.”

Photo by Colby Rabon

Located in the old Farmers & Traders Bank building, which they purchased in 2017, In Tandem Gallery’s 1,270 square feet of display space is filled with works by more than 120 potters and approximately two-dozen jewelry artists.

“When we first bought the building,” says Andy, “we mainly just painted and did some minor repairs.” The following year, though, they opened up the back wall to create additional display space, using old painted metal roofing for the ceiling and locally milled pine boards for the flooring. “Most of our displays are created from secondhand furniture and antiques, so the blending of the new addition with the old bank was pretty seamless,” he adds.

Photo by Colby Rabon

Recently, In Tandem Gallery has begun including estate collections. A customer who was downsizing, wanting to pare down a large ceramics collection, “asked us if we’d be willing to find new homes for [the pieces],” says Andy. “Since then, various collectors have asked us to do the same, [with] beautiful pieces that just need to be passed on so they can be loved by someone else. It’s really been fun to deal with older ceramics and find people who would love new-to-them pieces of art.” 

The gallery’s name also reflects the close working relationship Silvia and Andy have nurtured with participating artists. “We consider most of them friends,” says Silvia. “We routinely have them stay at our home when they come for the openings … we try to make things as easy on them as possible.”

Photo by Colby Rabon

Though they’ll return to in-person shows this month, In Tandem Gallery has weathered the pandemic due in large part to its strong online presence, with website sales increasing from 20 to 80 percent of total sales. “The patrons that do come to the gallery do so specifically to see the place and all the work. So it’s become a destination for them,” says Andy.

In Tandem Gallery, 20 North Mitchell Ave., Bakersville. The venue opens for the season on Thursday, April 8. Hours are 11am-5pm Tuesday through Saturday, and Sunday by appointment. Marked by Fire, an exhibit featuring works by Louis Reilly and Bede Clarke, will open online Thursday, April 1, in person on April 8, and run through Saturday, May 1. Andy will exhibit his own ceramic art in an exhibit beginning Thursday, April 15, and running through Saturday, May 15. 828-688-6428. 828-434-0146. For more information, see intandemgallery.com.

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