Electric Pyramid, artists and an embalming room

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Kait Neely in her studio space

by Eric Ginsburg

There are mixed feelings among the members of Electric Pyramid as to whether their building is haunted.

The first night that Laura Lashley worked alone in the two-story brick structure just north of downtown Winston-Salem, she heard footsteps, though she hasn’t heard any since. Other members of the artist space, including Kait Neely, have heard strange noises, too.

Before the 14 artists of the collective moved into the building on Patterson Avenue, it served as a funeral home. A staircase, which is missing the last step, still leads to the former basement embalming room, where paint curls off the wall and debris litters the floor like decaying pieces of wood.

DSC03192A disconcerting hole in the side of the stairs looks like someone tried to punch his way out; a ramp for carting coffins still leads out of the back and one of the Electric Pyramid members wrote “Redrum” on a dusty mirror resting on the floor in homage to the Stephen King novel The Shining. A melting pumpkin lays dying on the front step like a partially deflated basketball.

It’s not that Lashley or Neely are bothered by it — both said the potential haunting doesn’t scare them, especially after a former employee of the funeral home dropped by and told them he used to sleep in the embalming room on hot nights — but it speaks to the character of this new artist studio space.

Neely in the embalming room in the basement.
Neely in the embalming room in the basement.

Electric Pyramid began a few months ago when a group of artists realized they would need to leave their studios to make way for an expansion at Krankies that will likely include a kitchen. Lashley, who had been at the space known as Electric Moustache for about a decade, was among the group of six to find and found the new venture, bringing in more artists to fill up the many rooms. The freestanding building was named for its former moniker and the previous artistic cohort at Krankies.

Laura Lashley in her studio space.
Laura Lashley in her studio space.

Lashley was sad at first to be leaving her longtime workspace, but quickly gained appreciation for her new digs — Electric Moustache had no windows, and her new studio on the second floor at the front of the building has three.

The studios are still taking shape, but many of the rooms feel like they have been lived in for years. Fabric is folded and neatly stacked on shelves over Neely’s sewing machine — she’s a quilter and seamstress with 11 years of experience — and Lashley, like several other artists in the building, has a stocked bookcase in her room.

DSC03176There is a wide variance in the types of art being produced at Electric Pyramid, which is most visible in two large rooms where workstations are separated by a few feet. In a grand first-floor room, tape on the floor demarcates the space between creative zones. On either side of a strip of green, someone has written in green tape “Mary” and “Zac” to separate Mary Rogers’ and Zac Trainor’s spaces. From Ezra Noble’s screen-printing area in the back, you can see through a window in the wall across the big room to Kat Lamp’s corner, where several of the posters she has designed for the Avett Brothers hang.

Ian Dennis' soft sculptures.
Ian Dennis’ soft sculptures.

In the great room upstairs, Ian Dennis’ fluorescent “soft sculptures” that look like psychedelic stuffed animals adorn the wall, not far from Shawn Peters’ table littered with painting supplies and tools for working clay. Dennis and Peters, who share the room with a few other creative types, recently received $1,800 grants from the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County “to support shared studio space and the creation of new works,” out of 17 total recipients.

Chandra Noyes, Gaby Cardall, Jenni Mowery, Molly Simpson, Tony Fonda and Saylor Breckenridge fill out the roster at Electric Pyramid. They are never all there at the same time, often coming and going at irregular intervals. Lashley is the only one who can support herself with her art, paying slightly more for her own room, along with Neely and several other members.

When she isn’t working her day job at Krankies, Neely can usually be found here, where she feels more productive than she would if she tried to accomplish her sewing at home.

“This kind of gives me room to breathe outside of the rest of my life,” she said.

The pieces of the Electric Pyramid are still coming together, but the artists have a two-year lease and are settling in rapidly. There are already discussions of holding an open studio event during the First Friday gallery hop next month.

Standing behind the building in the parking lot shared with the remaining funeral home next door and looking at the coffin ramp into the basement, Neely and Lashley agreed that next year, Electric Pyramid would have to do something spooky for Halloween. After all, the building might be haunted.

Neely and Lashley in front of Electric Pyramid.
Neely and Lashley in front of Electric Pyramid.

Most of the Electric Pyramid artists will sell their wares at the Krankies Craft Fair on Dec. 13 and 13. Visit Kait Neely’s website at kaitcetera.com or Laura Lashley’s at lauralashley.com.