The women remind me of my mother and her sisters.
"I'm Anne," Anne Campbell says in her impersonation of a southerner. "This is my sister Carmen, and this is my other sister, Carmen." All three laugh heartily.
Carmen Brooks, Anne Campbell and Carmen Castilla, along with Sheri Hicks, recently added another facet to their relationship, going from friends to business partners. The women opened ARTichoke, a unique art gallery, at 1012 East Fortification St.
ARTichoke is the collaboration of a graphic-design artist (Campbell), soap and bath products formulator (Brooks), candle artisan (Castilla) and jewelry maker (Hicks). The women met at the Greater Belhaven Market, where they were all vendors with booths next to each other.
"We wanted to have a venue where we could sell our work during the off-season of Belhaven Market," Campbell says.
As the concept grew, the women set out to find a locale to house their vision. It was important to them to stay in Belhaven.
"We noticed this building," Castilla, a former judge, says. "Our landlord, Brad (Reeves), a local attorney, had just bought this, and nothing was in it, yet."
"He's been good to us," Campbell interjects. "He let us help decide how it would be renovated. I'd always wanted to do something in this color," she says, referring to the gallery's artichoke-green exterior. "It's memorable."
Brooks, a Natchez attorney in her other life, says they went through hundreds of possible names. ARTichoke was one of the first ones mentioned. The women say they wanted a name that stood out—that made passersby wonder what could be going on inside. In the end, they came full circle, and went with ARTichoke.
The eclectic combination of items in the gallery—like wire sculptures, photography, huge metal stars from Amish barns and home-made facial scrub—are just enough to keep things interesting without making your head spin. They're open to more works, though. "We want other artists to have a place to hang their work. We want to be a venue for emerging artists," Campbell says.
Art at ARTichoke varies from the traditional oil on canvas to functional art, and the women invite others to come and share their gifts and talents with them and the gallery—especially artists whose forte is outside the typical visual-arts box. "Anyone with a point-of-view" is welcome, Campbell says. Even men.
The ARTichoke women prove that what starts as a pastime can end as a business. Brooks, a self-described "serial hobbyist," says that when she got started making soaps and other skin-care products, she didn't imagine it would lead her here. The same is true for Castilla, who admits that when she started making candles, she ruined most of her pots, and her kitchen was always a shambles before she moved into her own studio. And Campbell, the artist-turned-technical-writer-turned-wire-sculptor-and-furniture-maker in the group, says that she'd become burned out with art until her 40s. Now her passion has been reignited.
The women say they feel confident in investing in the city, and want to be a benefit to a community whose residents have offered them so much support. Aside from the gallery, one way they expect to give back is by adding creative classes to their artistic agendas.
As the sister-friends continue laughing and enjoying each other's company, one thing is for sure: You'll get not only art, but stories to go with the pieces—if you want them—and some aromatherapy.
ARTichoke is at 1012 East Fortification St., or call 601-949-4000. The store's hours are Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-6 p.m., and Sat., 2 p.m.