Studio breaks on through, lights fire

by Amy Kingsley

Before you reap the harvest, you’ve got to sow the seeds.

And, in the case of Atelier Studios, clear the junk pile that’s accumulated in your backyard. As recently as February, wrecked cars, broken glass, bottle caps and wooden doors littered the earth behind the Trade Street arts collective.

Then Marilyn Ingram and Deanna May decided to clean it up and turn it into a garden.

“We pulled glass out of the ground for two months,” Ingram says.

She sits on a bright bench opposite her handiwork, a dirt berm crowded with plant life: fava beans, collard greens, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts. Between thumb and forefinger she twirls a purple iris absently pulled from the soil.

The women didn’t know what to do with the doors – almost a dozen of them – they’d removed to plant their garden. So they brainstormed. They pulled in Deborah Willard, a third studio tenant, and collaborated.

By the first Friday in April, the doors had turned from nuisance to inspiration. Not only would they be painted and offered as door prizes, they would also become canvases for visual interpretations of Doors’ songs.

The doors sit in their window display. They’ve been there almost a month.

Inside the space, the women are rearranging. This Saturday is one of the few down days at Atelier. They’re gearing up for a series of events including the next day’s Arts on Sunday gallery hop.

Next weekend they’re hosting a fundraiser for the Forsyth County Humane Society. Merlin’s Concert will feature Ingram’s band and her black lab, the titular Merlin.

May and Ingram represent almost a dozen artists, musicians and performers between the two of them. Each occupies a different studio/office separated from the lounge by fabric curtains. Art forms represented by the two women’s companies include dancers, singers, painters and sculptors.

“Part of what we do is help new artists find places to exhibit their work,” May says.

Atelier isn’t that kind of place. The center of the space is wired for track lighting, but on a quiet Saturday, the lights are off. Most of the art hung on studio walls, behind the translucent curtains and plywood walls low enough to leave feet of space between themselves and the ceiling.

Willard keeps the front studio where she operates a fabric-painting business. May has the middle space, a rectangle filled with her paintings and work by the artists she represents.

May, who grew up in Indiana, moved to Winston-Salem after her marriage dissolved and a fire destroyed her home.

“It is terrible,” May says, “but I’m glad she’s here.”

Ingram is a twelfth-generation native descended from some of the earliest settlers of Old Salem. Her studio is the third and last of the large spaces lining one of Atelier’s walls.

Ingram moved into Atelier in December, two months before May took out a lease on her studio. May, who’d just come off touring with her band AURA3 and former Monkee Peter Tork, moved her base of operations to the space closest the garden.

From there she helms the band, handling the hard business of recording, releasing and performing music. The Three Graces, a dance troupe that specializes in belly dance, also rely on her managerial prowess.

Both acts make regular appearances at Atelier events like the First Friday galley hops and Art For Art’s Sake’s Sunday with the Arts. The studios stay busy with a schedule that includes the aforementioned animal benefit and AURA3’s upcoming CD release.

It’s a rare Saturday that finds the women poking around in their garden instead of preparing for another party. Instead Ingram and May note the plants’ progress and the diversity of life growing up among their shoots. May points to a baby bird.

“I think that one is a song sparrow,” she says. “We have mourning doves and robins. We’ve even seen some sea birds.”

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