By Beth Volpert Johansen
Once upon a time there were two sisters, siblings among seven who grew up in Atlanta. The older one “taught” the younger one everything she learned in school each day and they grew up very close. As the years passed, they each found that music and art were a magic carpet ride to a place of imagination. They spent hours making furniture and decorating their dollhouse, listening to good music, learning to play instruments, and visiting all the art possibilities Atlanta had to offer. Eventually, they moved away to college, one lived in Europe for a time where she shared her discoveries with the other. They had families, jobs, and lives of their own. When they found themselves, at nearly the same time, in a place with “a little time on our hands”, they didn’t let it go to waste. It wasn’t their way. Carolyn Wright and Sylvia Culberson decided to decorate an art gallery of their own with the best and loveliest Gwinnett had to offer. The sisters opened The LONA Gallery. That was five years ago and the adventure endures.
Beautifully appointed and established in the historic Lawrenceville Square, LONA (Lawrenceville Original & Novel Art) Gallery is, in itself, a magic carpet ride to a relaxing sensational experience. More than a gallery, the scents, sounds and visions displayed take visitors out of the daily routine and into the lives of carefully selected and highly talented artists based in the Gwinnett County area. “There is so much local talent, we have not had to venture very far outside of Gwinnett to find our artists,” says Carolyn. “It is wonderful to see a vibrant art community in and around Lawrenceville with theatre, ballet, music and, of course, art.”
Relying on their backgrounds in decorating, both Carolyn and Sylvia enjoy creating an atmosphere in which anyone can come in and enjoy the exhibits. “We certainly encourage browsing,” says Sylvia. “Whether someone is a seasoned collector or just stepping into their first art gallery, we want them to have a wonderful experience.” Sylvia is especially fond of the first time visitor. Watching their reaction to The LONA Gallery fills her with satisfaction for a job well done. “Sometimes, after they leave, they can’t get a certain piece off of their minds,” says Sylvia. “When they come back and just gotta have it, well, that is one of the most gratifying aspects of what we do.” Providing a community for appreciating art allows the sisters to watch the pieces transform the observer. “We talk to people and share some of their own stories,” says Sylvia. “We have a real warm and welcoming experience here - we feel we must be doing something right.”
The eclectic mix of art is by design. “When we started five years ago we were somewhat new to the community,” says Carolyn. “We didn’t want to focus on one type of art-we wanted a broad experience from traditional to contemporary- we definitely offer a taste of the wonderful artistic talent we have in the area.”
Choosing the location was intuitive for the sisters who found their own particular tastes in decor easily blended on the walls of one of Lawrenceville’s historic retail buildings. “We had both done sales and dreamed of having a brick and mortar store,” says Carolyn. “We came and had lunch in Lawrenceville with Sylvia’s daughter, Mallory-the next thing I knew, Sylvia had paperwork for a business license and we started looking at buildings.” Originally, the pair thought the process would take more than a year, but everything seemed to fall right into place. “This has been a labor of love,” says Carolyn. “Now, we are able to be involved with the local schools and are a main sponsor of the annual Fair on the Square held in September.” Community involvement is not just a part of doing business for the sisters, it is a way of thanking the neighborhood that supports them. “We want to be engaged with our community.”
Adding to the collections and celebrating with local artists and the community are filling their 2016 calendar. “We will have a January 9th reception for world renown sculptor Basil Watson,” says Carolyn. “The event is open to the public for them to meet the artist.” Along with artist receptions, The LONA Gallery is available to host birthday parties, showers, weddings and other special events.
Like the dollhouse they decorated together as kids, sisters Sylvia and Carolyn have decorated their brick and mortar dream. Each piece in the gallery is cherished and viewed anew each time a visitor comes through the doors. “There is something almost spiritual about this place,” says Sylvia. “We are surrounded by beautiful things by some very deep thinking and talented artists-we look forward to each visitor so we can watch their reactions-it is the best part.”
For more information visit: www.TheLONAGallery.comor call (678) 349-2223