Interview with Tanya & Stephen Savage from Space Gallery
by Mason Adams

Space is a relatively new addition to the Waynesville art world. Stephen and Tanya Savage, each in their 20s, show not only their art but that of about 20 others. The feel is mostly contemporary, a bit of a change from much of the folk art you find around Haywood County. Space also hosts an open-mic night on the first Thursday of every month. And starting in May, they are showcasing relatively unknown and emerging artists, starting with Eric Pryor, a Tuscola graduate who also drew the comic in "There's Nothing To Do Here!"

Space is on Depot Street in Frog Level, just around
the corner from Panacea.

Tanya you’re 28, Steve you’re really 27? How long have ya’ll been in the county?
TS: Two years and two months.

Where did you come from before that?
TS: From Raleigh.

What did you do there?
SS: I worked at an art store, building picture frames. And my wife was self-employed.
TS: I clean.

You were doing art stuff back then I imagine?
SS: Yeah, I was at an artist co-op for a while, got space there. I had a place called Ant Farm, working on art work. I really got into painting while I was there. I did collage stuff, and did drawing. I had a little figure drawing class in one of the galleries every so often I’d try to do.
TS: I had a studio in our house in Raleigh. I did some stained glass.

What led you to move to Haywood County?
TS: We lived in Boone for several years, then moved to Raleigh to be responsible and get jobs, like real jobs. And then I just always loved the mountains and wanted to move to Cullowhee, loved the city.
SS: We actually tried to buy a couple houses that fell through in Raleigh. And we just wanted to live in the mountains, just live in a different part of the mountains.

Why Waynesville?
SS: Tanya’s parents have a house up in Maggie Valley, a retirement place. We’ve been staying there until we can get things up and running. This should be our last winter living up there. I think we’re going to move into town.
TS: Plus Waynesville is near Asheville. We didn’t know anything outside Asheville.
SS: We didn’t know Waynesville.
TS: And we wanted to live in the general vicinity around Asheville, because it’s really cool and we had been there. And then when we came to Waynesville we really liked it.
SS: We never go to Asheville anymore.
TS: Very rarely.
SS: There’s a glass store in Asheville, that’s really the only reason we go.

So when you came to Waynesville, you set up North Main Street Studios.
SS: We tried to kind of base it like the co-op I was in in Raleigh, and we tried to rent out studio spaces. But we had trouble finding people that wanted to commit. Really, a lot of people around here like working at their houses, and they don’t want the space. And a lot of people thought it was something other than what it was. People are into booth-type things around here, renting a booth and just having your stuff there, and I think lots of people thought that’s what it was.
TS: We just had a hard time. I think part of it too was we just didn’t know anyone. We had only been lived here, what, 6 months when we started that. So we didn’t know anyone to have contacts to meet any artists, really. It was only by chance that people would want studio space.
SS: But it was great we did it, because the first person that came in about space was Chris Minnick, and now he sets up our music for our open-mic night, the first Thursday of every month. 8 p.m. ’til whenever.

From North Main Street Studios, how did you end up in Frog Level?
SS: Panacea opened up.
TS: We were like, ‘What are we doing way on the other side of town?’
SS: We were in the Bermuda Triangle of Waynesville, just nobody came by. You don’t have people walking by.
TS: And there’s nothing else over there, except a car garage. There’s no other reason for people to be down there except to get photocopies. Yeah, so we just loved this area when we first moved here but nothing was going on then. Plus it really ... finding this after we already had lots of artists we knew, having an already established base, it made it easier to move here. That made a difference.

Seems like a lot of art galleries in Western North Carolina feel like gift shops. You have a different feel. Is that intentional?
SS: Just because you live in the mountains doesn’t mean all you do is paint pictures of mountains. We’re really after getting lots of local stuff in here, people that usually haven’t had there stuff anywhere. We’re real approachable, I think, because we’re younger, and we’re not ... look at us, I mean.
TS: There can be some traditional stuff, but I think there needs to be a venue in Waynesville for easily non-traditional artwork. We provide a perfect venue, we’re open to any sort of art, we don’t have a theme in the store, just things we like.
SS: And all that stuff ... I love to paint pictures of mountains, but a lot of people and myself don’t like to do artwork just to appease tourists. It’s just kind of evolved, as far as the people we’ve met and who’s brought things in here, and it’s just kind of taken its own shape, really.

How many artists does Space represent right now?
TS: I’d say we have about 20, give or take a few. I think we’re right around 20.

And right now it’s just like a storefront, with stuff spread around, but you guys are starting to get towards more gallery-type shows, where you showcase a particular artist.
SS: Yes and we started doing that at the other place, and had an alright turnout for a show for a friend of mine from Raleigh who did oil paintings. We had a show for Alberto Cruz there. We had a show for all the people we had in there at one time, like 4 or 5 people in there. The most I think we rented out, was a 5-person show. So we started doing it there. That’s another thing, around here people might have receptions for little things and groups, gallery-wide participation-type events at night, but there’s not really a place to go see a show of one person’s stuff around here. So we really wanted to highlight some of the different artists. We’ve got it sectioned off into three sections, the front being like a retail part, in the middle we’ll have a showroom and the back is our studio.
TS: With us moving, trying to renovate the building, we figured until we had time on our hands ... now that the building is renovated and open, we can get focused on setting up our show schedule. Right now we don’t want to aim for tourists, but we are aware that there’s less of a population in Waynesville when they’re not here. To be fair to the artists it’ll be kind of a May through December sort of rotating schedule, so about every 4 to 6 weeks, sometimes more or less, depending on who is up and what the actual thing is. Our goal is to have it be year-round, where we have built up a local clientele where it’s worth it for us to send out postcards and have the artist take the time to put their stuff up in here in January, February and March, the early months where we can actually get a response for the artist.

You just want to build up a reputation first before you go year-round.
TS: Exactly. We do have a really amazing local ... our mailing has a huge amount of Waynesville, Canton, Asheville addresses which I think is really good. We’re not totally dependent on people that just come up for the summer and people that are just here on the weekend. It would be helpful to have those people come in to, but I like that we’re having a core group of local people.
SS: Definitely, we’d rather be that, and whatever tourists’ income or people stopping by we get, we’ll be able to function year-round as a lot of these places shut down, and we really don’t want to have to do that. We really want to focus towards local artists, local people, local art-lovers.
TS: I think it’s fun going into places and seeing 10 or 20 or however many pictures by one person, all of the same thing. Versus one painting. You get to see a broader picture of them.

Ideally what type of artists would you like to show here?
SS: All kinds. They could be sculpters, painters, really anything.

How about what type of people? Not the medium so much.
SS: Serious. That’s the wrong word ... but ...
TS: Someone that’s just all about their stuff. Not that they are necessarily making a living out of it, but they’re having a great time doing it. They’re doing it because they want to and not because, ‘Hey I painted this picture because I KNOW someone will buy it,’ but ‘I painted this picture because it expresses what I think and it expresses what I want it to.’
SS: So far we’ve got a couple friends we know of that we really like their artwork and we really want to do something for them, and then we had this clown [points at Eric Pryor, a local painter and artist for the comic in the first, upcoming issue of “There’s Nothing To Do Here!” — shamelessly self-promoting ed.] come off the street and show his stuff, and that’s cool. We’ve done it so far just by meeting the person, seeing what they’re doing, what they’re about.
TS: The person has a lot, to me, to do with it. Even the artwork in our store, I have a good, deeper relationship with the artists, not best friends, but someone who is a personable person. I like knowing who my artists are and I get really excited when they sell something. Obviously we make a little money off of it, but, for example, we have the three sisters and their mom are now in here, and I get so excited when I send them a check from the gallery. I just think that’s a super-fun part of it.
SS: Really, we’re really all about emerging artists, helping people get a start because it’s nice to have a show, and it’s nice for them to go somewhere else and say, ‘I had a show here.’
TS: It starts to build their portfolio or bio.

What’s your vision for 5 years from now? What would you like to see your gallery and this region have evolved into?
TS: I would just like to see, for Frog Level in general, for Frog Level to be a respected area of town, from the locals and tourists and be a hotspot. You come to Waynesville and if you hit Main Street, you’re going to hit Frog Level too. For it to be an expanded part of Waynesville, with its own character. I think for us I’d like to see that we have built our reputation among people that live around here that they know we have these shows going on, that we have the new artists coming in all the time, and people can view new shows each year by artists that we already have. Ideally, if you want me to dream on and on, I’d like to expand, and have a room, maybe have 2 shows going on at one time, but still along the same lines of what we’re doing. Just on a bigger scale.

OK. Two lightning round questions for you guys. If you could share a show, with any artist dead or alive, who would you share it with?
SS: At any time? Or just right now with anyone?
Anyone, dead or alive. It could be Picasso, or R. Crumb. Just anybody.
TS: It’s one of our artists here, would be a super-fun show to do with, would be Susan Greenelsh. She does the painted furniture and all the whimsical happy paintings. She and I could do a really cool ... cuz I’m all flowery and butterfly-y, and I think that would be fun.
SS: I don’t know if I’d want to meet them and talk to them. Then I might feel like, ‘I can’t have a show with these guys.’ The one that just pops into my head is Kevorkian. Jack Kevorkian. He’s a painter. Dr. Death. Have you seen his paintings? They’re all crazy.

The last lightning round question is, what’s your favorite place to hang out in Haywood County?
SS: Here. Right here.
TS: I’d have to say the same thing. We spend an absurd amount of time here.
OK, let’s say for when you’re not here.
SS: The library. The Waynesville library.
TS: I’m going to say out my house out in the woods. You can’t really get me out of the house.

Anything else you wanted to add that we didn’t touch on?
SS: Only that we had a lot of help from the guy ... I do stained glass work on the side, helping this guy Dan Wright, and he tremendously helped us.
TS: And just in general, like this impressed me about moving over to this area. Asking for help, a lot of the people from our open mic and artists piled in here and we got things done in one month. We had so much help. I was so impressed. It was the perfect, small-town, there-is-hope-that-there-are-good-people-in-the-world sort of thing.

Space gallery is located on Depot Street in Frog Level. It’s the storefront with the lit-up awning.