Today, there’s no doubt the building that houses Artists Incorporated is an art gallery. Art hangs or rests in as many places on the paneled walls as the workers there can fit pieces, showcasing the talents of more than 50 artists. But it wasn’t always this way.
In the late ’90s, a group of nine people with a dream of opening an art gallery first found the old dairy barn built around 1928 . At the time, the space, not far off Rocky Ridge Road, was storing maintenance equipment for other buildings. The landlord also owned horses, meaning there was horse feed being stored in the place as well.
“One of [the girls scouting it out] called me and [told me] to meet them over at this address,” Mary Jean Henke recalls. “I walked in the door and thought ‘You’re joking, right?’”
“The two that looked at the building first had a vision that I didn’t have,” she says. “Because all I could think is, ‘Are you kidding me? Who’s going to clean this up?’.”
Mary Jean, now the vice president of the gallery’s Board of Directors, got her answer: they were going to clean it up. The group starting the gallery hired people to do electrical work and other things they couldn’t do, but if they could do it themselves, they did it. “We hung the sheet rock in here. Dr. Lowell Vann, who was the head of the art department at Samford, came up with the hanging panels, and he and I actually hung them.”
It wasn’t all hard labor, though. Mary Jean and another original member and current president, Pat Dicas, had a special trick up their sleeves—they had planned to paint their version of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
“We would leave in 4 in the afternoon, when everyone was working, and we’d sneak over to her studio and wonder where we were going because we were leaving early,” Mary Jean recalls. “We would have already made up something like, ‘We’ve got to go look at something,’ and we’d sneak over there and we’d paint until late hours of the night until we finished that. And then we’d come over here when they weren’t here on a Sunday, and she and her husband and I came over here and hung it.” When the rest of them came in Monday morning, they were amazed at the work the two had put in, and had finally realized why they had been leaving early so often.
Eventually, the transformation was complete, and the gallery opened its doors on Nov. 22, 1999, with a simple goal: make art more accessible to everyone. “The gallery is staffed by artists who provide expertise regarding the diverse inventory, assuring an enjoyable experience for both the inexperienced and the seasoned collector.” Eighteen years into their venture, they take this diversity seriously. Currently, 56 local and regional artists feature work in a wide array of mediums, including: oils, acrylics, encaustic wax paintings, glass, wood art (both sculptural and functional), metalwork, stone pieces, and handcrafted jewelry.
And the board is picky about who they let join the gallery and show their work. “We screen artists and they go through a pretty tough little screening,” Mary Jean explains. It’s all to the benefit of the artists as well as the patrons. “If somebody applies that’s doing work that looks like someone’s work we already have, we’re not going to take them because that would be unfair to both of those artists.” Screening also ensures that the gallery is stocked with high-quality, original work.
Today there’s no sign of dairy cows in the Artists Incorporated building, unless they are the subject of a painting, but the exterior is still distinct. Their website identifies their location as the “Little Red Barn on Morgan Drive”—the space where an art gallery dream lives on.
Artists interested in joining the gallery can stop by and pick up an application or visit artistsincorporated.com for an online application.
See the Gallery Yourself
3365 Morgan Drive
First Friday Receptions
First Friday of the Month
Tuesday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Friday 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Saturday 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m.