MONA! Adds Local Color
I ran into MONA! during the holiday season at Bonnie Brae while tending to my wounded dog. It was like seeing a spark of sunshine on a rainy day. Oddly, the day we scheduled the interview at her new shop it was dark and overcast, but as if her brightly colored space wasn't enough, the sun broke through to create a glorious sunset outside to highlight the light within her gallery.
Previously, I had seen a few of her painted accessories at Simply Irresistible Gallery, and took a moment to browse her website www.monapaints.com to get to know her a little better. What I discovered was a woman who had used dental hygiene to support the world of raising a family (as soccer mom, PTA, and car pool driver, etc.) and when the "nest" emptied in 1997 decided to follow her unique artistic vision. Since then she has filled her life with painting, running a custom furniture store in Wisconsin, and traveling the country bringing her artistic wares to art shows.
Following her directions to Hendersonville I discovered, nestled behind the Fresh Market, three colorful houses (red swirls, green striped, and periwinkle) that have been her "big project" for the past six months. Wondering which door to choose, I felt like Alice in Wonderland when I noticed the colorful sign that said "MONA! Go this way" up on the railing of the periwinkle house. Some entrances have footprints, but here there were painted shoes walking their way across the roof of the porch.
Upon entering I was greeted with a smile and a whole wall of her fabulous shoes. I began exploring with MONA! as my guide.
What artists' work do you have in here?
There are handmade recycled bags from Ghana. The sale of these bags benefit a non-profit organization Kybele started by anesthesiologist in Winston-Salem. Kybele is dedicated to improving childbirth conditions world wide through medical education partnerships. I use one of these, a backpack made of recycled plastic water bags, for grocery shopping instead of the bags at the store.
These are shawls that can be worn several ways by an artist in Wisconsin that I met doing art shows. I like her work and decided to put art in my store of artists I like. I figured that anyone who appreciates my work would be interested in the work of artists I enjoy.
I have Hand Jive clothes from artists in Fort Wayne, Indiana . They normally don't sell to shops. Mostly you find their clothing at art shows. However, since I'm friends with them they let me carry their clothes. They are fun clothes, not particularly dressy, for women who don't want to wear what everybody else is wearing. They are one of a kind, a collage of textures and hand stamped fabrics.
Of course you have your own work in here right?
I have scarves, sweaters, jackets, and other "items" rather than a whole line of clothing. I don't have "outfits." A lot of the clothing is made from re-purposed clothing. But the shoes and purses are all new and hand painted. Gustav Klimt has influenced my newest shoe designs.
So what has been your current focus?
I've been a "sweat shop" worker for years. I didn't do anything except work. But, building this little community has been my biggest art project. It's not a pair of shoes. They're houses which are vast, more expensive and time consuming. Soon I will have the other two buildings for rent to retailers. I'm hoping for a café or sandwich shop, and another gallery or pottery or a florist?
I read that you had a shop in Wisconsin .
Yes, the Crooked Sidewalk in Cedarburg in early 90's. It was my studio and gallery for custom painted furniture. That was really fun. Say you wanted to give a gift to your best friend. You'd bring me a chair and 15 things about your friend (they love purple, cats, music, etc) and I'd paint those things all over the chair. It was a shop in a historic mill so the location was already a destination. I just rented a spot in the building. That was my first experience setting up a business. I experienced going to shows for inventory, bookkeeping, credit card machines. But, for this project I bought three buildings have done an overhaul on all three.
I'm a "house junkie." Since 1975 when I bought my first house, I've been hooked. Some people collect shoes or cars, I love houses, it's a sickness. Since I divorced in 1996 I've bought nine houses.
Have you MONA!-fied all of them?
The first one was only on the inside, but yes I do the exact opposite of what they tell you to do with keeping things beige and plain. A little bit of paint is inexpensive and you can totally change something with it.
One house in Wisconsin was an old Victorian that I painted all different colors and the fence was collection of different people. It's still there. It's a landmark. I've been afraid when I go back it will be gone, but it's still there. I had a beach house on Carolina Beach that was painted these same colors and it's been sold a few times since I lived there, but it's still painted the same.
When I found them last July, these buildings were falling apart and full of discarded mattresses, dead animals, and other such unwelcoming surprises. I couldn't resist the price though and the buildings had "good bones." Now, the shop is done except for putting inventory downstairs and figuring out how to hang paintings on concrete walls. Downstairs will be developed into a furniture gallery. I'll have items like that chair which pays homage to Matisse. I also have a Picasso chair. I'll have different styles of furniture and will invite other artists like Kathleen Carson and Bill Crowell to show their work. It should be ready in a month or so. I plan on having yard art outside too and doing landscaping once the weather is nice.
How did a traveler like you end up here owning a shop?
I have three kids, and I decided when they were grown I was going to move somewhere warm. I spent my frequent flyer miles checking out smaller towns outside of a city that were affordable with a temperate climate. I moved to Wilmington. I'm from the mid-west, and suddenly I lived on an island with water all around. Previously to me the beach meant at least a plane ticket and babysitter. There, I got up every morning and rode my bike on the beach to get a cup of coffee. Wilmington was a bit disappointing though. It wasn't the arts community it professed to be. I drove through this way on the way home from a show and thought it was pretty. So, the next time I went to the mid-west I took an extra day and started looking at Brevard, Lake Lure , Hendersonville, and ended up in Mill Spring. I didn't look in Asheville or Black Mountain because I thought the higher elevation would be too cold for me. I moved to Mill Spring in October of 2005 and then bought these three houses for the business in Hendersonville July 2007. I had looked at Rutherfordton and Forest City, but I thought this was a better demographic for what I do. I've been driving all over the country to make a living, so a half hour drive is nothing.
So unlike those who move here because of friends and family, you found this place on your own?
When I moved to NC five years ago I knew nobody but my realtor. It didn't occur to me that I wouldn't have time to make friends, so I was friends with the other artists I'd met at shows and saw along the road.
Do you find owning a shop easier than traveling with your work?
I pay way more in show fees than I do to rent a store. You have to apply six months ahead, there's a jury, and you try to plan your route and hope you get into all the shows along the route. This won't bring as much income as the traveling did, but I already have between 3-4,000 customers that keep buying from me through my mailing list and website. I will spend more money and effort on marketing myself to wholesale and internet while running the shop. I really think of myself more as a business person or entrepreneur than an artist. I have to put a lot of thought into marketing my work. The hardest part about being an artist is how to get your work sold and make money at what you do.
For me a lot of the fun of art is selling it. As a kid I'd make jewelry out of wire and wear them to school and kids would comment on them. The next day I'd have a ring binder in Social Studies will sales sheets. That's part of the adventure. Will anyone buy it? What would the profit margin be? It's so much fun to sell directly to a consumer rather than a shop owner. Running the shop is like my version of a live performance. It makes me feel good when people are excited about what I make. It's a great destination and I just have to do some creative marketing to fill the space with wonderful things.
MONA! "Eclectic Artwear for you…and your home" at 306 Davis Street in Hendersonville is open now Tues-Sat 11am-5pm. The Grand Opening will be in May when the final touches are complete and all the shops have been rented. For more information call 828-693-1611, or visit MONA! online at www.monapaints.com.