Mary Hickey and Theresa Williams outside their Solaris Art & Events Gallery in Versailles.
By Judy Clabes
Theresa Williams found herself jobless in 2009 when the factory where she worked for 11 years closed.
She was also 50 years old and saw no new job opportunity in sight.
But, finding herself with this lemon, she decided to do what many other enterprising folks are doing in the current job climate – she made lemonade by creating her own business.
Theresa Williams looks on as Mary Hickey's grandson, Finn, shows off his work at one of Solaris Gallery's art classes.
She opened Solaris Art & Events Gallery in downtown Versailles last year to pursue her “dream” as well as to capitalize on her talent and interests as an artist.
“I always told people I was a professional artist who just had a job on the side,” she says with a smile. “I was always doing paintings for people.”
Now, that “job on the side” has given way to the professional artist for sure.
Williams grew up in Loretto, on a farm close to Marker’s Mark distillery. She went to a Catholic school there, got interested in art at an early age, then studied fine art at UK. She moved to Lexington “to be around horses” and married young, recently having celebrated a 30th anniversary.
“I had this thought – now is the time to start an art gallery or just forget it,” she said.
Shortly after that thought, she had another: “Have I lost my mind?”
She hasn’t fully answered that question, but open the gallery she did, a little over a year ago.
“It’s a dream come true,” she said, “but it’s not been easy – lots of ups and downs and lots of learning, but I love it.”
Williams had some “virtual” art gallery experience under her belt. Since 2010 she had an online Facebook gallery and had organized four or five art shows and events in Versailles. Patrons of the events would ask about her gallery and she got only silence in response to her Facebook answer.
When the opportunity – nudged by joblessness — of a vacant shop on Main Street in Versailles came up, she “literally jumped in – rather blindly – but with a leap of faith.”
The gallery now features the work of 16-20 artists in permanent collections and continues to add services such as tours, changing exhibits, receptions, classes and special events.
Exhibits change every two months and there’s an artist’s reception every other month.
She has recently been joined in her venture by experienced Interior Design Consultant Mary Hickey who can provide assistance to art patrons on what art would look best in their home or office.
Mary Hickey displays one of the many art pieces available from Solaris Gallery
“We have art available for art patrons in all types of mediums such as oil, acrylic, watercolor, stained glass and bronze,” Williams said. “It’s all original art or prints of contemporary art with a few vintage signed prints. We have well known artists here and emerging artists. The Picassos of tomorrow are here!”
Though most of the exhibiting artists are local, the gallery welcomes artists from all over the world. One particular worldly artist made an appearance that caused quite a stir. Earlier this year, Tom Constanten, keyboard player for the Grateful Dead, showed up for Opening Night of the Woodstock Nation with Don Aters, to show support for his friend. The Woodstock Nation exhibit had been shown at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville in 2003 but made its way to small town Kentucky – and attracted a rock star to boot.
The first exhibit at the permanent location of Solaris Gallery was “Everybody’s Gone Surfin USA,” with featured artists Perry Lee (photography), Emily Pitts (folk artist), Roger Ballard (photography), David Toczko (photography), Joan Wilhoit (paintings) and equine artist Jill Halcomb Smith. It was vacation-themed for an exhibit that coincided with the Woodford County’s Farmers Market Twilight Festival.
A year later, it’s almost Twilight Festival time again – and a special exhibit will tie into the event.
“Horses, Horses, Horses,” with featured equine artists Ela Ladwig and Sherry Harris will run through the end of August and may be seen during normal business hours, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Ela Ladwig has been painting for many years and loves horses. Sherry Harris loves to paint Arabian horses using watercolor and travels to exhibit every year at the Eypgtian Arabian Event at the Kentucky Horse Park.
The artist reception for “Horses, Horses, Horses” will be Friday, July 27, 6 to 8 p.m. It’s free and open to the public.
The reception coincides with the annual Twilight Festival, one of Versailles’ signature events. Organized by the Woodford County Farmer’s Market it draws 4000 attendees, taking advantage of vendors of all kinds, crafts, music, and fresh food by the Farmers Market. It is family friendly with activities aplenty for children.
Other regular events at Solaris include:
• Philosophy Club on Saturday nights from 6-8 p.m. Everyone is invited to ponder the universe and ask questions with no answers.
• Tours to the Cincinnati Art Museum. The next date is August 26th at 9:30 am. For $60.00 a person, there’s a ride to Cincinnati in a limo, a docent waiting at the museum, and a meal at either the Rookwood Restaurant or the Cafe at the Cincinnati Art Museum.
• Meetings of Book Clubs, Poetry Clubs, Art Classes; others welcome.
• Basic oil painting class (no appointment needed) on Tuesdays for children 5 and up. $10.00 per class. Call ahead just in case there is an event that cancels the sessions.
Solaris Gallery is located at 110 N. Main St. in Versailles, across the street from the library.