Pam McKay & The Art Cellar Gallery (May 2017)
Banner Elk native Pam McKay started The Art Cellar Gallery & Framemakers to focus on the culture of the Appalachian Mountains.
It has become a fixture of the High Country: Banner Elk’s The Art Cellar Gallery, founded in 1993 by Pam McKay and occupying a 1,200-sq.-ft. literal cellar, subsequently expanding to encompass more than 4,000-sq.-ft. over three levels. Now the gallery is preparing to mark its 25th season with a schedule of exhibitions, artist talks, book signings, and other special events, and to hear McKay tell it, hitting such a milestone is more than just a celebration—it’s confirmation of a legacy.
“I started the art gallery after working in the arts and craft industry in various capacities,” recalls McKay. “My parents were both self-starters and self-employed, so the idea of being in business for myself was a natural progression. I have spent my life in the arts, enjoying the arts, creating art, and loving art. My goal was to share the rich wealth of talent in the region with our market and collectors.” A native of Banner Elk, McKay had attended Appalachian State University in Boone, studying art marketing. Upon graduating in 1988, she relocated first to a Navajo Indian Reservation to learn weaving, then to Raleigh to learn about gallery operations. The tug of the mountains persisted, however, and 1993 saw a move back to the High Country, at which time The Art Cellar Gallery became a reality; Husband Michael, in hotel management at the time, joined Pam in the gallery business the following year.
“We continue to push the envelope by presenting the most amazing, sometimes quite edgy, artwork and talent available. There really are young artists coming up locally, and our job is to meet them and nurture their careers.”
McKay details their long-term goal, noting, “It’s always been a focus for us to share the culture of the Appalachian Mountains. We started with a lot of artists who were born and grew up in the mountains. Whether they are self-taught or trained artists, is doesn’t matter. We present art from this area.”
She says that it’s been hugely gratifying to be part of the regional arts culture for a quarter century. (“We have grown the gallery space to incorporate all three levels of our building and to offer the finest and most popular artists’ work in the region.”) She also acknowledges that the oftentimes seasonal nature of commerce in the mountains can have its challenges, fluctuating between the busy, non-stop pace of summer and fall—peak tourism times—and the slow, quiet cadence that the winter months dictate. Pam says their greatest hurdle to overcome is “the pressure of continuing to represent our artists fully. They make a living from our sales, from the patrons. That’s a tremendous responsibility.”
The gallery specializes in fine art, sculpture, and other three-dimensional works in glass, clay, wood, and stone. It also has an in-house frame shop, run by the McKays’ nephew, Rob Hancock, that has framed over 20,000 works. Gallery director Sarah Myers brings her own art expertise to the business and is the official curator, coordinating the documentation of the artwork. Ultimately, the McKays have been able to capitalize on their and their staff’s knowledge of the rich mountain heritage to spot emerging artists, encourage their talent, expose them to collectors, and in many instances, experience the satisfaction of seeing those artists become well-established.
“We plan to present new artists and amp up our events for the season,” says Pam, looking ahead. “We continue to push the envelope by presenting the most amazing, sometimes quite edgy, artwork and talent available. There really are young artists coming up locally, and our job is to meet them and nurture their careers.”
Pam pauses for a moment, then adds, “At the same time, we must preserve and present the heritage of the mountains.”
Details on the Gallery and upcoming events: www.ArtCellarOnline.com
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