Greensboro art cooperative sells future antiques

by Jeff Laughlin

If you’d asked a patron what’s missing from Elements Gallery, they might not have immediately noticed. So many handcrafted novelties lined the walls and shelves, that even the customers that braved one of the coldest nights in First Friday’s history might not have been aware.

They had little to no blank space. Lorrie Price and a jury committee run the artist cooperative to keep the place full.

“We’re always looking for new members,” Price said while pointing out one of the numerous artists’ pieces.

The first of two rooms held what can only be described as brand new antiques: elegant earrings ranging from gaudy to tasteful dangled from displays while handcrafted and painted boxes opened to reveal secret thematic items.

One particular box, made by Artablockia, posed two unnaturally gifted boxers — one squat and strong versus one lean and tall — with a packet of Jaw Busters candy inside. That kind of cleverness permeated from nearly every display.

As an added bonus, Artablockia’s team played an instrumental part in the store’s First Friday presentation. Rhoda Glover sat nearby, ready to discuss her craft while Vance Archer played the fiddle for a sparse First Friday crowd.

“[Vance] is working right now, as a matter of fact,” Price proudly pointed out.

Several of the artists walked among the crowd, serving wine and snacks, because that’s how Elements stays both full and affordable. Being a cooperative allows the artists to sell their pieces rather than just hanging them at a premium price like so many other galleries.

“We can keep prices reasonable since there is so little commission,” Price said. She lingered over Martha Cline’s Nantucket-style baskets for a while before showing off a lamp Cline weaved with a sign saying, “Wouldn’t this be perfect for your beach house?” Therein lied the majesty of Elements. Everything in the store could be as needless as a second-home decoration or the centerpiece of an at-home collection.

For example, Jerry O’Donnell’s fiber art stood out wolf-like while being sheep’s clothing. A felter, he makes vibrant scarves that could just as easily hang over table for a splash of delicate color.

Barbara Conroy’s jewelry could be the accent to any cocktail dress or just a piece worn daily. Her distinguished gaudiness reminded me of the pieces my mother loved when I was younger. She’d constantly get complimented for her earth-toned, stone-like necklaces or earrings.

All this, and Elements still maintained their gallery status. Sure, utilitarian art ruled most shelves, but for every row of useable jewels, there were walls with paintings or pieces that demanded attention.

A larger painting, “Southwest Melody,” adorned the back room surrounded by smaller works. The painting stood out as one of the few actual show pieces — some thing that preserved Elements as more than just arts and crafts.

Price often mentioned that she stayed wary of the labels that often get thrown around about art shops.

“We work really hard to bring in different kinds of artists. One of the hardest things is telling a good artist no, but if we already have their craft represented, we want to continue to expand,” she said.

Price described her own pressed lace inlays before also adding, “There’s so much talent in this area. That’s why I wanted to start a gallery.”

Before leaving, I wander back to my favorite pieces, pottery made by Bryan and Brad Caviness. They are broken pots with painstakingly beautiful historical locations within them. Places like “Cordova, Spain” and “Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde, Colorado” rise from within holes and cracks — as if the viewer has discovered ancient cities by accidentally breaking into vases.

The Caviness’ work summarizes how Elements works. Price wants the south end of downtown to be known as the “Antiques and Art” district. Nestled between new restaurants and old furniture makers, Elements Gallery takes an important step toward exactly that, so long as they keep working to fill their empty spaces. !


Elements Gallery: 526 S. Elm St, Greensboro