Bricks crumble down the sidewalls, revealing the building’s aging skeleton. It looks somewhat abandoned from the outside, the sort of place you might drive past a hundred times but never give a second thought. It sits on the corner of Patterson and Seventh streets in Winston-Salem in the historic Goler Heights section of downtown, away from the busier scene of bars and shops and usual din of the city. Sunlight angles down from the west, holding the bricks and windows in a glow of copper light. The doors are kept locked and, from the sidewalk on Patterson out front, the place seems perhaps as quiet as the bodies that were once embalmed within — this used to be a funeral home. The dead no longer reside there; now new life fills its rooms.
The building that is now Electric Pyramid Studios sat empty for a few years after the Clark S. Brown & Sons Funeral Home moved to its current location next door. A group of artists who made up the now defunct Electric Mustache Studios at Krankies downtown found themselves in need of new work space after the decision was made to close the studios at the popular coffee house for its restaurant expansion. After a long search and moments of feeling dispossessed, in September 2014 artist Rachel Endsley found the place that would become their new home.
In the few years since, Electric Pyramid has grown from the original group to its current capacity of 13 artists who rent studio space. It’s a mosaic of art and personalities, ranging from visual and mixed-media arts to fashion design and jewelry-making. And while the renters have made all renovations themselves and spruced the place up, there is still the looming specter of ghosts and a level of implied eeriness, one that seems to add to this eclectic collective.
“One of the first nights I was here working alone, I heard footsteps on the stairs,” painter Laura Lashley recalled. “It was weird. A few other people said they’ve heard similar things, but I haven’t heard anything since that first night.”
Through the main door, a giant, broken mirror hangs on the wall at the far end of the great room-cum-gallery-cum-yoga space. This is the studio’s latest renovation, intended to provide a place for its artists to show their work to the public and to assemble for meetings and hangouts. In the center of the mirror, thick jags of glass meet and reveal an old advertisement for Tuxedo Club pomade. Artist Jennie Earle Hopkins felt that the mirror was too much a part of the history of the place to simply be thrown away, and across the shattered glass she has repainted the old advertisement’s emblem around the sharp edges, turning what was once a broken mirror earmarked for the trashbin into a piece of art that everyone will see as they enter.
The original debris the previous occupants left behind has been cleared out and replaced with artwork that is everywhere, from small works in progress leaning in hallways and community storage corners to completed, commissioned works waiting to be sent out. The Pyramid stands three stories tall, with individual studios spaced out among the floors, packed densely enough to fulfill a sense of community yet leaving ample space for necessary moments of creative isolation.