Stepping through the front door of Hillcrest’s Gallery 26, you can’t help but feel like you’ve entered the cozy studio or study of an avid art collector. From ceiling to floor, art of all styles hang, waiting to be examined by patrons.
Owner, artist and collector Renee Williams looks at home with a hammer in hand as she preps the space for the next big show. Twenty years in the business and going strong, Williams feels it all started when she was growing up.
“My family was very supportive of the arts as they were all artists and musicians, too,” she says, “my grandmother was actually an art professor.”
Painting was always a fascination, and Williams decided to delve deeper at her time at Hendrix College, where she studied art. Upon entering the work force, she found herself working at a framing shop.
During the same period, she was creating art herself and taking part in a few house shows. She and friends would get together and view each others art amidst food and drinks. “Actually, what we did then was just a small version of our openings now at the gallery,” she says, smiling.
When Williams’ framing employer was ready to move on, she bought all the equipment and opened up a gallery. “At the time we had five artists,” she remembers, “and now we have over 70.”
What started out as a fun way to view art with friends has turned into a staple in Hillcrest and Rock City’s art scene, at large. “We try to be non-intimidating,” she says, “and we keep a variety of artwork ranging in all styles and prices.”
What’s more, customers can purchase anything in the store on layaway. “You put your name and a deposit down and then you pay on it for months, like the old days,” she says.
Even though her responsibilities at the gallery keep her busy, Williams still finds time to work on her own art. Her subject matter typically includes people, and she likes to deal with various themes – specifically humans and their environment. “It’s about looking at where you are, what your path in this world is,” she explains.
She’s noticed lately that her styles have shifted throughout the years: “I feel like I’ve come full-circle back to realism,” she says, “in my ‘20s and ‘30s I was more loose and abstract.”
Recently Williams hosted a show of her own work at the gallery, with 51 pieces taking up an entire wall. “It was great to step back and look at them all, and see that they tell a story,” she says.
Williams also makes jewelry, which she says comes together from “a mixture of vintage and new pieces.” She points to a bracelet on her wrist, sporting a beetle and a key, and delicately spanning between old and new, industrial and feminine.
The sheer amount of people that have supported not only her own artistic endeavors, but also the gallery truly amazes Williams. “It’s different from what I hear from people who are out of state, but we are so supportive of each other here. It’s non-competitive and I think that’s why it works.”
She’s also noticed that the scene is growing: “There’s been more and more galleries that pop up and I think the more, the merrier.”
Next up for the gallery is the 21st Annual Holiday Show and Event, which will kick off on Nov. 7, from 7 – 10 p.m. with live music. Don’t miss a chance to view art amongst the great people at Gallery 26.