Every day for the past several years, Chris Foley has driven by the Brevard Lumber Yard.
He’s seen the former Brevard Lumber Co. wind down and go out of business and the historic site on Railroad Avenue sit vacant.
“I’ve kind of lusted over the structures and the open courtyards, thinking what a wonderful space this could be for any kind of creative effort,” said Foley, who lives with his wife, Christine, on Probart Street.
Last summer, Leder Properties of Brevard bought the 2.5-acre former lumber yard, and new activity, including a fall sculpture show, piqued Foley’s interest.
“It opened my eyes to the possibilities,” he said. “I saw that people were receptive in the community. There was a great turnout, and they actually sold some pieces.”
Foley, who owns The Haen Gallery on Biltmore Avenue in Asheville, decided to lease three large spaces in Brevard Lumber Yard, as the site is now known.
In February, he will open The Haen Gallery at Lumberyard Arts in two of the ground-floor spaces that face King Street. Haen is Foley’s mother’s maiden name.
The third space is on the second floor. Foley is not sure what he will use that for, but artist studios or teaching areas are among the options.
Foley, who is a trained artist and sculptor, said the gallery will have a “heavy emphasis” on sculpture because of the size of the space and the access to a loading dock.
“A lot of my clients have shown they would be open to maybe purchasing some large outdoor pieces of sculpture,” he said.
Foley’s new gallery is not “quite as polished” as his Asheville location.
“This is more a diamond in the rough, and that is what we want,” he said. “We want to keep the patina. This is a historic structure, and we don’t want to destroy that … We don’t want to transform it but enhance it.
“It’s an interesting space and has a tremendous amount of history. I’m sure the house that I live in, which is 99 years old, was built from lumber from the mill. Everyone knows about the lumber yard. We don’t want to take that away. We just want to repurpose it.”
Local artist Sam Owen will curate the sculpture in the gallery, which will have artists’ work on show on a permanent basis
“We are a real gallery that promotes artists and their work,” Foley said. “We are the liaison between the artist and the public. It’s a business and an institution, I think. It’s a chance to do good and do well. That’s the beauty of it. That’s what I love about it.
“Clients will come in and buy a high-end piece of work for their home, but at any time the community can come in and view beautiful art work and experience the same thing as a millionaire can. And that’s the ability to stand before a wonderful painting and have your breath taken away.”
The 61-year-old Foley has a fine arts degree from Georgetown University. He and his wife moved to Brevard roughly nine years ago.
The couple used to live in the Washington, D.C ., area where he had a print studio. Foley also did book work, mostly involving limited-edition prints for artists and photographers, including work with the Smithsonian, Library of Congress and Museum of Natural History.
He got in the business when the equipment was “exotic” and few people were doing it.
“It was very interesting, but as the technology evolved, it become very inexpensive and accessible to so many people,” he said.
It wasn’t as “fascinating” as it used to be.
Foley started to gain an “appreciation of original art works.”
He created limited editions and published them and did marketing at major arts shows around the country.
“I got a good sense of what people are looking for in terms of art work and also how to talk about art,” he said.
When asked what were the keys to selling art, he laughed.
“Basically you don’t sell it,” he said. “You have to have art work in your gallery that you really love. At that point you are just sharing your enthusiasm for it with other people and talking about why you like it so much and reinforcing their appreciation for it, too. And then, hopefully, a sale will come out of that.”
Foley and Christine came to Western North Carolina mainly because of a daughter who lives outside of Asheville.
The couple first bought a house in West Asheville. In the meantime, Christine got a nursing degree and worked at Transylvania Regional Hospital’s intensive care unit. She’s now teaching nursing in Asheville.
“We got a great appreciation for living in the mountains and for the people. They had that independent spirit,” Foley said. “People seem a little smarter in the mountains.”
The couple decided not to live in West Asheville.
“We wanted to be closer to forests and open areas, streams, rivers and waterfalls,” Foley said. “We took a look at Brevard and that was pretty much it. It was our kind of place.”
Foley said he’s had a “great experience” at the Asheville gallery, which was not hurt by the economic downturn. His philosophy at the gallery is “to have excellent work based in the natural world, but with some counter points.”
Leap of Faith
Foley recognizes there is a challenge to operating a gallery in a small city like Brevard
“This is a leap of faith in many ways,” he said. “I really believe in Brevard. I think it’s a very special place. We’ve got some wonderful people here and a good audience. But this is a big gallery, a big undertaking, and this is a small town. What we are hoping is that people will come here from other places — that people on their way from Highlands and Cashiers, Lake Toxaway and South Carolina and Asheville will come to see the shows and the gallery.”
Josh Leder, with Leder Properties, wants to turn Brevard Lumber Yard into a mixed-use cultural/community hub.
Foley’s gallery is the first step toward that goal.
Leder said Foley believes in Brevard having an “arts district.”
Tammy Hopkins, the executive director of the Transylvania Community Arts Council, said she is “always excited” when new “art offerings” come to the county.
“The more artists and art businesses we have and the more art events we offer, the more we become an arts destination,” she said. “Tourists who come to a community for the arts tend to spend more money and stay longer in a community. That’s an economic impact we can use.”
Foley said the Brevard Lumber Yard has a “tremendous amount of potential.”
“It could be an art village, a destination, where people drive 100 miles to come here,” he said. “I may not see the full flowering, but at least I’ll help to get it started.”
A reception will be held at the gallery from 5:30 until 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 16.