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Tracks And Treats

Pottery gallery finds home on Camden Road

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The newest art gallery in town, Myers Art: Clay on Camden, is the latest wrinkle in the fabric of the gentrifying experience going on in Charlotte's SouthEnd. The area around South Bouelvard, which began its renaissance several years ago when developer Tony Pressley took on the blocks around the (now defunct) Spaghetti Warehouse and Atherton Mill, is now undergoing another process of incarnation.

Further north along Camden Road as it parallels the trolley tracks, the block defined by Tryon Street to the north and Park Avenue to the south is preparing for its first ever "block party" (aka "The Art & Soul of South-End") on Saturday, April 27. Under the leadership of Gaines Brown, local artist, entrepreneur and businessman, this street fair is a celebration of the changing face of this small, characterful slice of Charlotte. Already home to the Charlotte Art League, working artists studios, The Charlotte Post newspaper, and funky, zany Phat Burrito, as well as several other businesses, this block is undergoing further changes with the construction of the city's first light rail line and adjacent new housing and commercial development.

Smack dab in the middle of all this, Myers Art: Clay on Camden has already opened its doors for a "soft opening," with a grander affair planned for April 13. This new exhibition space integrates itself nicely into the existing fabric of the street. The lovely interior, comprised of a couple thousand transformed square feet originally converted for a photographer's work space, darkroom and office, now houses an evocative exhibit area and Queen's Beans, a charming coffee house managed by Johnice Stanislawski. Here is a neighborhood gathering place in the making if ever I saw one.

A pair of potters, John and Jan Myers of Hickory Grove, SC decided to take the gallery plunge due largely to the achievements of ClayMatters, an organization that both have belonged to for a number of years. This craft consortium enjoys a membership of 100, with close to half being "full-time," or professional potters.

ClayMatters has had such success with regular May and October "Barn Sales" that the Myers believe a year-round space is timely, perhaps even necessary, to display and sell the work of so many potters. This event is so popular that Jan Myers says "Charlotte is ready for this sort of thing year round." She continues, "Charlotte needs a place for local potters or clay artists to show, and sell their wares."

Let's hope it's a win-win scenario for both gallery and neighborhood.

The work of a dozen potters is already on display in Myers Art: Clay on Camden, in a variety of turned vessels, plates and platters, and some hand-built works. The gallery expects to attract more potters -- it has already received responses from an additional 10 or so clay artists. But it might be wise to limit the exhibition venue; the space is already highly animated by lively lighting and the adjacent coffee house. Controlling and editing the number of works on display is often the key to creating a refined gallery ambience. Too much work can crowd the space, making it feel less a gallery and more a store.

To defer adding more work would reduce the potential problem of visual clutter. Now, it's a place where, while browsing, you can have a hot cuppa joe, and look at high-end ceramics as well as beautiful everyday objects. By putting out fewer pieces, customers are invited to linger in the large, pleasant space and contemplate the work, instead of merely grazing the price lists.

The pristine white shelves, neat pedestals and hi-tech lighting make a pleasant contrast to the rough exterior of the mature building. Inside, red brick walls contrast with lighter painted surfaces to create the setting for goblets and pitchers by John Myers -- a blue-gray pitcher with lighter green rim is outstanding -- as are striking white glazed functional pieces with bold markings by Lambeth Marshall.

Decorative fish platters by the Myers look good mounted on the along the south brick wall. The earthy materials, the pristine new lighting and the well crafted objects, come together to create a display that is a pleasing blend of function and whimsy. Check out the unique pear-shaped oil lamps and green pod vases in the Camden Road window.

The majority of the work is high-fired stoneware and is functional. That means it's lead-free, and safe for use as cookware. Also on show is some fine porcelain, some decorative raku, and hand-painted jewelry adorned with hummingbirds and cardinals. The Myers want to emphasize the unique character of individual potters in their gallery, which is another reason to limit participation in exhibitions, so that themes and identities may more easily emerge.

In future the gallery will also show some high-end, large scale works of art available for formal display. It's not a working studio, like the Art League across the street, or in the adjacent building where artists' studios sit atop a design office and a soon-to-be architectural model building workshop. But you can see plenty of good work, and the inviting windows provide a breath of life to the street. The gallery will participate in its first Gallery Crawl this Friday, April 5, and will be open for the aforementioned Art & Soul of SouthEnd block party/street fair on Saturday, April 27.

Just as the future of NoDa is currently being debated in relation to forthcoming development in that area, this block of SouthEnd is poised to offer yet another alternative venue. It's a small beginning but a welcome one. Ride the trolley down the tracks and see for yourself. For more info, contact myersart@bellsouth.net or 803-925-2274. *

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