Walking into the new Elkin Artisan Market is like pausing to take a deep breath of fresh air.
The worries, annoying to-do lists and looming deadlines for those annoying to-do lists reeling through one’s mind are replaced with the beautiful mystery of art. The building is small, but its ability to still one’s mind and open one’s heart is huge.
Owner/artist Dan Butner greets visitors to the 108 Court Square gallery with a warm smile and soft voice. “I enjoy it when people walk in and they’re surprised,” he said. “It’s kind of a nice unexpected find.
“I also like it when people come in and ask questions, and they want to know more about the artists or sit and have a cup of coffee and talk about the art.”
Elkin Artisan Market, also known as the EAM gallery, sells coffee and cupcakes for visitors who want to sit and talk for a while.
Among the artists whose work Butner sells are Jacob Daniels of Boone and Tim Sheaffer of Charlotte. Pottery offerings include pieces by Melina LaVecchia of Boone, Mary Fischer of Houston, Texas, Heather Knight of Asheville and Tiffany Leach of Jacksonville, Florida.
Butner said he discovered Daniels’ paintings at an art gallery in West Jefferson and contacted him about selling his work. “Daniels finds old, black-and-white photographs from the Library of Congress and uses these as the subjects for his paintings,” he said, adding color where there was none.
Daniels’ use of light in his paintings seems to bring them to life. Butner said some guests at one event were convinced the light in the painting of two men shucking corn was reflecting off of the studio lights.
Sheaffer, on the other hand, “loves to paint water and things that are reflective so the paintings are more about light and how it reflects off of surfaces as opposed to the actual subject matter,” he said. “They’re a bit more ethereal than literal.”
Butner said he met Leach, who used to live in Charlotte, and sold her pottery at MONA (Museum of Neighborhood Artists), the gallery he owned there for four years. “Her pieces are kind of playful,” he said. “She likes animals and things that have life, and her color patterns are very natural.”
After four years of running MONA, Butner said he and his partner decided to relocate to a small town and open a gallery. Having grown up in Winston-Salem, he was very familiar with Elkin, having driven through it with his parents for years to visit his grandparents.
Butner and his partner ended up buying a house on the corner of Gwyn Street a year ago and began remodeling it with the intention of opening a gallery on the first floor. But when The Tapering Vapor that had been in the Court Street building closed next door, Butner said it seemed like the perfect location to rent for the gallery.
The grand opening for the Elkin Artisan Market was June 5 even though it had been open on Saturdays for about a month before. Gallery hours are Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Butner, who is 35, also paints at the gallery, and his painting of Kapp’s Mill in Surry County is on display. “I’ve just always been fascinated with grist mills,” he said.
The words, “The mill cannot grind with the water that is past,” are part of the painting. Butner, who sometimes includes text with his art, said “it’s really about living in the present and appreciating the day rather than focusing on the past.”
It was his mother who encouraged him to get back to painting himself rather than just focusing on selling the work of others. They spent a lot of time together when she was diagnosed with a recurrence of melanoma, and he and his grandmother and partner took care of her during her final days.
“When we were going to her doctor visits,” he said, “we would always go and have lunch afterward and talk about all the things that moms and sons talk about. I would talk about the gallery and my plans, and she being a mother, of course, wanted to emphasize that I needed to paint more myself and focus more on my own gifts and talents and have success on my own rather than focusing solely on helping others.
“You know, all mothers think their child is the most talented of them all.”
It was after he and his grandmother brought her home from Hospice care for her final days that Butner said he started painting again. “I sat with her and watched her, but I had to occupy myself,” he said, “so it was a kind of nice calming, comforting, meditative thing to do.
“It was the combination of her saying that I needed to paint and then being comforted by it that really made me rethink my plans and what I wanted to do,” Butner said. “It made me want to simplify my life and get back to my art as well.”
Butner’s mother spent her last days at home with her son painting by her side. She wasn’t able to talk very much at all, he said, “but occasionally, she would smile.”
She was only 50 when she passed away last July.
Her son’s work will be exhibited at the Foothills Art Gallery on Aug. 7, from 6 to 8 p.m. Elkin Artisan Market will be open from 7 to 9 that night along with Smalltown Gallery, which opened a few months ago at 227 W. Main St.
Kathy Chaffin may be reached at 336-258-4058.