Artisan Woodworking and Design Gallery, 810 Tyson Street, Knoxville, June 2023
A new business, Artisan Woodworking and Design Gallery, has opened at 810 Tyson Street, just down the street from Remedy Coffee. I visited recently and came away surprised at the range of art for sale in the space. I returned to talk with owner Elizabeth Grant to learn more about her and the business.
Elizabeth was born on Long Island and lived there most of her life, leaving at age 55 to move to Knoxville, only her second city. “I loved Long Island. It was a wonderful place to grow up, all farmlands. The suburban three-bedroom rancher where she grew up emulated the homes in nearby Levittown. Those three bedrooms became home to two parents and seven children, eventually prompting their father to add more bedrooms in the attic. They were “the talk of the neighborhood” because he also added a half-bath, giving them a luxurious 1 1/2 baths for just nine people.
Her father worked a mail route on the north shore and often the people along his route would give him things from the family. She sometimes went with him on the route and would be invited into homes for “cookies and lemonade.” The experience helped shape her life as she caught a glimpse into beautiful homes she could not have imagined and introduced her to interior design and architecture, which became a life-long passion. She walked around her neighborhood with her sketch pad and drew the homes there, making changes to them as she saw fit.
Her mother worked as a keypunch operator from midnight to 8:00 am and came home to seven children. “She never complained and always said she would do it all over again, if she could.” She would sleep for a few hours in the morning, but sometimes kept Elizabeth home so they could watch musicals on television. “She had a fantasy that she wanted to be a dancer.” After dinner she would sleep a few hours before going to work.
Her father was difficult, and her parents parted ways when she was about ten-years-old. She said it reduced the stress and made their life better, particularly when her mother remarried “a wonderful man.” He was in advertising in New York City but left to open a restaurant on Long Island. “He was such a friendly man and he loved food and drink and good times.” He opened Tavern on the Plaza, and her mother and Elizabeth went to work there.
Ralph, the stepfather, had an artsy side and he saw that in Elizabeth. He made sure she had all the art supplies she needed and arranged for her to have time at home when all the others were out. “He also wanted to keep me out of trouble.” She made Christmas decorations one year from the felt and sequins he bought her and let her decorate the restaurant. Customers liked what they saw and she began taking orders, entering business for the first time. She did it for several years and said Ralph was a very influential person in her life.
She got married right out of high school and had two daughters, including one who experienced severe brain trauma at birth. She worked some for other designers and did custom design work. She took design classes and was eventually invited to do a designer showcase, quite an honor in the city as hundreds of designers competed for each spot. It led to more design jobs and an invitation from the New York Times to join an “Ask the Designer” day. She opened an interior design studio and showroom on Long Island, but ultimately closed it after seven years to care for twenty-one-year-old daughter has she aged out of the public schools.
She continued to do free-lance design jobs and she and her husband divorced, but she still appreciates his encouragement of her attending school and opening the business. They remained friends. After their divorce a client introduced her to the client’s uncle. Michael, a former New York City policeman, an artist, musician, and author who had published multiple books would become her husband in 2012.
Michael had moved back to New York City after a divorce and after living in Florida for sixteen years. He told Elizabeth he wanted to leave New York. Hurricane Sandy and the subsequent winter were difficult and steeled his resolve. They searched the country for where they wanted to live and “Knoxville kept coming up.” They visited for the first time in May 2013 and bought a home in north Knox County during their visit.
Their friends in New York City thought they were crazy, but they had fallen for Knoxville. “I love this town. We both do.” They visited downtown multiple times and she saw some signs of diversity and knew she could make this home. They made the move and never looked back.
She arrived with plans to start a business like the one she’d had on Long Island. Whereas she had grown a reputation there, she had to start from scratch in Knoxville and learn the differences in the design community here. She had surgery that set her back a bit. She got involved with the Knoxville Symphony League, the Opera Guild, and the local Interior Design Society. Michael is on the board of the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra. She loves the Broadway series at the Tennessee Theatre.
She did a couple of showhouses that got her name into circulation in the design community. She had some momentum going into 2020, then the pandemic hit. She continued to freelance and got a job with a company as head of design and while there worked with some custom woodworkers. She left the job to finally realize her plans of owning her own business in Knoxville.
She wanted the studio to be in the downtown area. Once she spotted the current location, she knew it was the right fit, with plenty of space for a wood shop, as well as a gallery. She took possession last September and, after delays, opened softly in April. She’s replaced windows, moved stairs, and completed other renovations. There is more work to be completed, including signage and landscaping in the front of the building. The workshop is completely within view of the gallery. She’s probably offering the equipment for use to local woodworkers.
Dick Coffey, owner of Dixie Kitchen and of this building, has been very patient, she said, while the startup has experienced some hiccups. She said he’s been a great supporter and believes in what she’s doing. Some of the original crew is working in the shop, as well as another wood worker she met through Nathan Sparks with City View. The crew will be part time until the business finds its footing.
Custom woodworking and design elements are offered as well as design services. Additionally, items throughout the gallery are available for sale and for incorporation in the design services. As time passes, you’ll see more of the woodworking fill the gallery. A local art collector is moving some of his art through the gallery, including the amazing French posters you see pictured here (and there are more coming). There will also be more local artists in the gallery. Currently you’ll find a wide range of mediums, including art by local and regional artists: wood & mixed media sculptures, glass, mosaics, pottery, photography, oils, acrylic, watercolor paintings, fiber eco-art, and more.
She hopes people feel welcome in the space and enjoy visiting. The studio is open Tuesday – Thursday from Noon to 5:00 pm and is available by appointment Monday, Friday, and Saturday. She also hosts Open House on First Fridays, so tonight is your chance to check it out. The gallery is open tonight from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm and Susan Watson Arbital, glass and mosaic artist, will be there demonstrating the process of rock cutting.