BANNER ELK – Toni Carlton celebrates 40 years operating art spaces in the High Country as the Carlton Gallery prepares for the summer season.
Carlton Gallery has been under several names in various locations since its inception in 1982 as a fiber studio. 40 years later, Carlton Gallery features a diverse array of artwork in all mediums from more than 150 local, regional and national artists.
Carlton Gallery owner Toni Carlton began art in her youth working on a small loom gifted to her by her grandmother. Her first job in the art world was demonstrating weaving at Mystery Hill in Blowing Rock.
While majoring in art and industrial art and minoring in business at Appalachian State University, Carlton constructed a loom of her own which she used at her first business.
Over the next two decades, Carlton rented several different spaces to display her art and her loom. She collaborated with many other artists to create public-viewing studio spaces and galleries to display and sell art.
In 2008, an area in the current gallery space located at 10360 NC-105 in Banner Elk became available for rent. Carlton started with that section and rented out more and more space in the gallery as other artists moved out. Eventually, she was able to establish the entire building as the Carlton Gallery.
Today, the Carlton Gallery is a multi-floor art viewing and purchasing space that includes Carlton’s public-viewing studio space and hosts workshops in the summer and autumn months. Carlton shares that annual visitors, workshop participants and recurring artists build a sense of community at the gallery.
“So many people are here in the summer only and they really appreciate that there’s a gallery they can come visit and they become like our family … Some of them just come back over and over and take the same teacher because they just love working with that person,” said Carlton. “We have our receptions that are four times a year, it’s fun for artists to come in and visit and talk to people while people get to see their work.”
The art in the gallery is changed four times a year. Artists rotate but many have been working with Carlton for several years and even decades. Carlton displays her own art as well. Much of Carlton’s more recent work is mixed media with ink, paint, dyed paper and fibers though she has worked in a variety of styles and mediums over the years.
For a month in the early 1990s, Carlton studied “the psychology of art” in Europe, which she shares as the beginning stages of the emergence of expressive arts. She learned about meditation, journaling and creating through feelings which she said is a large part of her work today.
“I don’t necessarily go in with a knowledge of what I’m going to do, I let it develop,” said Carlton. “You’ll see there’s a lot of writing, calligraphy and lots of stories that get me to the finished piece and fibers are often added on top.”
Carlton shares that in her career as an artist, she has always wanted people to feel comfortable participating in art, whether that be viewing, purchasing or creating.
“Mostly, I want visitors to feel comfortable and know that I’m available to help show them anything … Some people say it’s kinda like a museum when you come in, but it’s very casual. I just want people to feel comfortable and to also have a feeling of peace,” said Carlton. “It brings so much joy to people to be able to just take a moment for themselves to come in and look at art.”
Over the course of 40 years, Carlton has been a part of creating a community of artists and art-enjoyers in Banner Elk. Whether they be summer tourists or a local creative, Carlton Gallery is a people-based art space.
“I like being more community oriented and connecting to people. I like feeling a personal connection with the people who come in if they’re open,” said Carlton. “It makes my day to see someone just smile because they’re seeing art or purchasing something they’re so excited about that they love, that’s the fun part of my business job.”
In the coming months, Carlton Gallery will host several receptions, exhibitions and workshops. The first exhibition of the season will be on display following an opening reception on May 28 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is entitled “Illuminate Your Spirit — With Fine Art.” Registration is open for a variety of workshops taking place throughout the summer and fall.