Featured photo: A foyer painted by Winston-Salem artist Laura Lashley. (courtesy photo)

The West Salem Art Hotel has a long history for something so new.

Located in a two-story brick building on the corner of Albert and Green streets, the hotel boasts exhibitions by local and national artists, with art on every wall. Muralist Gina Franco painted the Rose Room, covered in overwhelming dark pink, blood red, an almost violet blue and vibrant yellow roses interconnected with thin green vines. The pristine white couch has a matching red rose. The adjoining bathroom’s sink is covered in the same pattern as the rose room walls and the mirror is surrounded by a rose-covered wreath.

Artist Laura Lashley worked on the mural in the foyer, made up of gold, black and white swirls around black doors leading into different rooms. Zac Trainor’s mural is featured outside of the solarium. Next, Haydee Thompson hopes to collaborate with a local artist on what will be the laundry room.

At its previous incarnation, the Wherehouse Art Hotel, Thompson had created a similar artist haven. As the space was originally an artist collective, Thompson wanted to keep the DNA of the building she had come to associate with creativity and collaboration when she transitioned the space into a hotel. Starting in early 2016, she had housed everyone from photographers to painters in addition to their work.

“I come from a long line of bed-and-breakfast people, so when I went and asked to start my hotel, it didn’t pop into my head right away that it would be Wherehouse Art Hotel,” Thompson said. “That took three days maybe. But once that word came into play, it provided so much energy and opened the floodgates to collaboration.

“Each room was very different from the next, filled with murals and artwork and handmade items,” Thompson continued. “Everything had a tag on it with a description. I also built a website to sell the art there. The purpose was to help promote artists and sell art and kind of be a living art gallery. Artful lodging and lodging for art.”

The Rose Room painted by artist Gina Franco in the new West Salem Art Hotel. (courtesy photo)

The pandemic complicated matters. Thompson’s hotel had previously been booked up for months, and she had just hosted her largest art show to date with Greg Vore, a photographer who had been in National Geographic. The show was on March 11, 2020.

“Pretty much the next day, I started getting phone calls from people all over the country canceling their reservations,” said Thompson. “Ironically, the last guest I had was a nurse.”

That gave her the idea to research how to best convert the space into a place where nurses could stay. Her new plan kept Thompson afloat just enough to pay the rent, but come December, building owner John Bryan, a friend of Thompson’s, spoke with her about needing to change the space. She had until March of this year to move nearly two decades worth of art into a new building.

Just before her deadline, Thompson got a phone call from someone in West Salem. Brice Shearburn thought Thompson’s art would fit perfectly in the space, just a seven-minute drive from her old location.

“It was very kismet and perfect timing,” Thompson said. “I feel like I have a lot of autonomy here to create spaces with other artists. A lot of them were immediately on board and excited. Once we get her all finished, I’m hoping a year from now we’ll be running on all gears and the world will look like something where we can have more gatherings and workshop.”

Thompson is a visual artist herself, with a drama degree from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

“I’ve always made art,” she said. “A lot of photography. But I find myself creating things that the art hotel needs. Like lighting, I make chandeliers and lamps. I find myself creating something out of nothing a lot of times.” Thompson says she has been doing this since she started the first hotel.

Thompson will host her first open house at the West Salem Art Hotel for the community on Saturday. Thompson will host tours all day. Camino Bakery will bring pastries and coffee in the morning, Native Root will supply lunch and the evening will involve live music at West Salem Public.

After that, she’s looking to the future. She wants to host a drawing workshop soon, and possibly an event for the culinary arts.

The new space will have a found-art room, which the Wherehouse Art Hotel didn’t have. That, and Thompson wants to host more workshops, benefit events and even artist residencies. Collaborations will continue to be key.

“That will be the scene where artists put their stamp on the building and collaborate,” said Thompson. “It’s pretty similar [to the old hotel]. It’s sort of a ‘to be continued’ feel. We’re picking up where we left off with a completely different canvas.”

The West Salem Art Hotel will host their open house on September 18 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 910 Albert Street. Masks are required.

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