In the basement, mixed-media artist and carpenter Andrew Fansler occupies most of the space with tools used to build an array of sculptures amid the smell of sawdust and wood stain mixed with basement earth and brick dust. A few dim lightbulbs speckle the ceiling, providing enough light to work by, but not so much to lose the charming sense of eeriness. Quilter Kaitlyn Neely has taken over an adjacent room in the basement — the very room once used to embalm the departed — with a 12-foot quilting machine. Fabrics lay on a long table off to the side, near an old sink once used to prepare the dead for their caskets, its function now purely decorative.
The narrow staircase that leads to the main floor creaks and moans, the very stairs that have been the cause of debate as to whether or not the building is actually haunted.
“It was a little unsettling at first,” Hopkins recalled. “Part of me always wished there would be something strange to happen in the building. Then one day I was here working by myself and I heard footsteps coming up the basement stairs. I went down and opened the door to look and these four chickens came bolting up the stairs. I freaked out and immediately called Laura [Lashley] and told her. She said, ‘It’s cool, they’re just shooting a movie down there.’ So, I sort of calmed down after that. Nothing’s really happened since.”
The main floor hosts five studios, a community kitchenette with a mini-fridge and microwave, storage rooms and the gallery at the main entrance, near artist and musician Ezra Noble’s studio. The front room has spurred on a new level of creativity for how to maximize space and a goal for bringing the artists closer as friends and colleagues.
“It sort of came about because we felt we weren’t putting the space to good use,” Hopkins said while standing in the new gallery room. “We knew we eventually wanted a place to be able to bring our friends to and host pop-up galleries, and this room was just being used for storage really. Now that it’s cleared out, we also use it for things that sort of bring all of us a little closer together. We have yoga here a few times per week for any of us who want to join. We’re constantly coming up with new ideas of how to bring us all closer.”
Hopkins’ studio is on the other side of the main floor. Through a room occupied by Christina Tyler, an artisan jewelry-maker, Hopkins studio is tucked away in the corner, next to vintage clothing designer Jess Matthews. A small desk stands under a long window on one end, a shelf full of old InStyle, Oprah and Garden & Gun magazines sits by the wall opposite. No room for an easel or large drafting table.
“I usually end up doing most of my work on the floor,” she said. “It allows me to move around a little easier.”
Hopkins keeps the studio pristine. On the wall near the door, one of her collage pieces hangs in the glow of pale light that drips through the large window. With only a few lines drawn in, the captivating image of a woman wearing a Native American headdress is made with clipping and scraps of paper. The canvas bursts with pastel colors and birds fly forth from the woman’s breast.
The rest of the studios reside on the top floor. Laura Lashley, a painter and muralist, rents a large corner studio at the front of the building. Empty canvases lean up against the walls, facing her long drafting table, waiting to be completed and sent to those who commissioned them. Lashley stands in front of her easel adding the final touches to a commissioned painting.
With pallet in hand, she draws the brush across the sea of blue, painting the gentle strokes that make up the petals of her popular floral designs. Dried paint covers the long table beside coffee cups that hold brushes and tools. The windows remain open and the warm spring airs fills the room, blowing the lacy drapes around in the breeze. The thought of what this building once was vanishes in the studio. Bookshelves line the wall, knick-knacks and potted plants fill a corner. Lashley’s murals can be seen around Winston-Salem in such locations as Small Batch, Bailey Park and Arts Based Elementary School.