One old dairy barn, three floors and 45 artists make for an extraordinary shopping experience in Bella Vista.
Wishing Spring Gallery is housed in an old wood and stone barn, easily seen from the bustling highway that cuts through the town. Here you can shop three floors of handmade fine arts and crafts made by 45 local and regional artists.
“The gallery looks like an old barn but looks can be deceiving,” says gallery director Pearl Williamson. Modern works of art as well as crafts can be found inside.
The former dairy barn building was donated to the arts organization running the gallery by Cooper Communities, the company that developed the area into a resort community. “They gave it with the stipulation that it had to remain an art gallery for a least 10 years,” Williamson explains. The gallery opened in 1984, surpassing that 10-year milestone many years ago.
[we have] “a lot of unique gift items that you won’t find anywhere else. I think it’s a really fun place to shop.”
Williamson says the success of the gallery comes from the artists themselves. “They are passionate about their work and they want to display it and get other people involved in art,” she says. “Everyone enjoys art and that’s what’s kept the doors open.”
And there’s no doubt the gallery has art for everyone. The first floor is a sleek, modern design mostly housing paintings and jewelry. From oils to watercolors, the works are contemporary to traditional. You’ll find a variety of subjects ranging from landscapes and animals to new age suns and portraits of golfers.
“Everything here is handmade,” Williamson explains. “It’s not something that you would buy at a store and bring in to sell.”
The next levels of the building are filled with pottery, soft fabrics and more. Soft fabrics include quilts to embellished scarves.
Williamson says a unique item of intricate laser cutouts on shovels, saws, buckets and old tool boxes is popular with patrons. Another is creatively designed driftwood. “We have just about anything you could possibly think of here,” Williamson says. “Macrame, photography, cards, woodworking, birdhouses and more.”
“A lot of people think it's just art here, but we have a lot of craft items,” Williamson adds. “A lot of unique gift items that you won’t find anywhere else. I think it’s a really fun place to shop.”
The gallery chooses an Artist of the Month and features their work downstairs, the only handicap accessible floor. Williamson says some people may know the artists since they are local, and have fun supporting them and their work.
Wanda Roe of Pea Ridge is 97 and has been with the gallery ever since it opened. “She still works at the gallery a couple of days a months. She’s a painter. Very talented. She taught classes for years,” Williamson says. “The lady that was the first director of the gallery is still here as well.”
However, the gallery is constantly changing with new artists as well. “We have a jury about three times a year,” Williamson explains. Current artists jury or select the works of new members to be included in the gallery. “We only have so much space,” Williamson says.
The artists don’t have to be from Bella Vista but do have to be close enough to work three, half days each month. “Some do demonstrations while they are here, like making jewelry, in addition to working the gallery,” Williamson adds.
The gallery is part of a co-op organization sponsored by the Artisan Alliance. The Artisan Alliance is a non-profit art organization originally formed in 1966 as The Village Art Club. The group exists to further art appreciation and education within the community.
In addition to the gallery, the Alliance offers:
The Clay Studio, which provides classes and training by professional potters on creating your own pottery. It is located in a separate building behind the gallery. (479-257-2221; TCSatWishingSpring@gmail.com)
The Bella Vista Arts & Crafts Festival, one of Northwest Arkansas' premier shows held annually on the third weekend in October. The juried show features artisans from all over North America. (479-715-3311; info@BellaVistaFestival.org)
Of course, as the Alliance likes to point out, a visit to Wishing Spring Gallery is like “an arts and crafts show every day.”
The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. To keep up to date on gallery happenings, visit its Facebook page or www.artisanalliance.art. For more information on on the Alliance, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 479-273-1798.