Shoe store converted to art galleryPublished 3:43pm Friday, November 1, 2013
By Angie Long
Downtown Greenville was a-buzz Tuesday night in a way rarely experienced in recent decades.
Throngs of guests came from near and far to celebrate the gala opening of the city’s newest business venture, High Horse Gallery.
For owner Mary McKinley, however, it’s more than just business as usual. The gallery is the realization of a dream, a labor of love.
And it all started when the long-time art lover got a good peek under the plaster covering the walls of the former Greenville Shoe Shop building downtown.
“Actually, we bought the old shoe shop building three years ago with no special plans in mind, other than renovating it and renting it out,” said McKinley, the former owner of First Realty of Greenville.
And then she discovered what was hiding beneath those plain plaster walls.
“I started seeing all this beautiful old brick that had been hidden away and it made me think that we had something special. That this would make a wonderful art gallery,” she explained.
“And I just went with it. I’ve always loved art; I have a passion for it. And I had stayed at home a few years. I was ready to try something different.”
“Something different” was no small undertaking for the businesswoman.
“All that plaster had to be removed with a jackhammer. The whole project was very labor-intensive,” she said. “When we pulled down the dropped ceilings, we found that wonderful original tin, which was in bad condition. But I knew we had to figure out a way to restore it — and we did!”
According to McKinley, the biggest hurdle in the renovation of the space was re-plumbing it and providing handicapped accessible bathroom facilities. The facility was also completely rewired to bring it up to date with current codes.
“If we had simply bought the building and moved right in, it would have been one thing. But once you start the renovations, you have to carry it all through. We didn’t do anything that didn’t truly need to be done, anyway,” she said.
A space that was formerly filled with high heels and boots, handbags and cobbler’s tools is now home to the creations of more than 35 artists and artisans, some living just a few blocks from the gallery, others an entire ocean away.
“We have a lot of our great local artists here, along with artists from across the southeast, from Ohio and Maryland and as far away as Romania and Germany,” McKinley said.
Those visiting the gallery will see everything from Photo-Realism to Abstract, Impressionist and Outsider art at High Horse. Not only are there a variety of paintings done in oil, watercolor, acrylic, encaustic and mixed media to be found, but pottery, hand-crafted jewelry, fine art photography, gourd art, sculpture, woodcraft and more can be found on display throughout the gallery.
“I wanted to offer a real diversity, so that the ordinary man or woman off the street could walk in here and find something they really liked and could relate to,” said McKinley.
And High Horse Gallery will be more than just a place to display and sell art. It will also offer local citizens a place to hone their own artistic talents. A large area in the back of the gallery has been equipped to serve as a teaching space.
“I’ve always wanted to have a place close to home to take different art classes without having to resort to something on the college level, and it’s been nigh unto impossible. Now I can offer people here that opportunity,” McKinley said.
“I have some of our wonderful local artists, including Stacey Edwards and Liz Reid, who have agreed to do classes for us. We’ve had a lot of interest already shown in taking classes, now we’ve just got to sit down and work out all the details. And I am very excited to have German artist Guido Frick conducting an oil painting workshop with us on November 7 and 8.”
High Horse Gallery is the realization of McKinley’s dream to bring an art gallery to the Camellia City and “to do something for me and for downtown Greenville.”
“I love our downtown. Don’t get me wrong; I want business to flourish everywhere in the Greenville area. But I know that when I travel, I don’t just visit what’s right off the interstate,” McKinley said. “If I see a sign pointing to ‘historical downtown’ I will drive those extra miles so I can see the heart of that community — the downtown area. That’s what gives each town, each city, its flavor, its individuality and charm.”
And McKinley also thinks Greenville and Butler County are blessed with an abundance of talent that needs to be showcased and nurtured.
“If you were to take all the gifted individuals we have — not just painters, but those gifted in music, dance, theater, in creating with wood, clay, fabric, and so on — and line them all up, it would be amazing to see the high concentration of creative and talented people we have, given our small population,” McKinley said.
High Horse Gallery, located at 126 W. Commerce St., will be open Monday-Saturday from 10-5 during November and December. Starting in January, the gallery will be open the same hours Monday-Friday and on weekends by appointment.
McKinley says she is looking forward to being open later certain days along with other downtown merchants during the holiday season.
“We have so much to offer here — great shops, the bakery, wonderful historic churches and homes, our Ritz Theatre — so much to be enjoyed by our local citizens and by visitors,” she said.
“With 85, Highways 31 and 10 and I-65, we have an abundance of thoroughfares and attractions to bring people downtown. We’ve just got to figure out a way to get them here.”
And to keep the buzz alive and growing.