For sisters Carolyn Wright and Sylvia Culberson, opening an art gallery was a natural move considering their enduring interest in art.
“I have a little bit of an art background,” Culberson said. “I was an interior design major in college.” She also has created some of her own artwork. Wright describes herself as “a longtime art lover.”
Before opening LONA Gallery in downtown Lawrenceville in April 2010, Culberson and Wright had a home décor direct sale business together.
“We started to meet a lot of artists and artisans, and we really love the downtown Lawrenceville area,” Wright said. “We started out with a few artists we were acquainted with, and we searched the area for other artists we could bring in.”
Today, LONA Gallery, located at 186 Crogan St., sells original paintings, jewelry, pottery and more.
“We try to give our customers an eclectic mix of art,” Wright said. “We don't like to concentrate on any one style or medium, because not everyone's going to like the same thing.”
Prices vary widely, with paintings ranging from $40 to $5,000, Culberson said. Although the economic recession has affected all businesses, the sisters said the gallery wasn't affected too badly.
“People are buying less of everything,” Culberson said. “Art being something you don't have to have, we sometimes suffer more than other businesses.”
But people still find a way to purchase art, Wright said, which is especially important, to make your home beautiful when you aren't going out as much.
“We want people to go away with the feeling that, 'I can afford to have original art in my home,'” Wright said.
Samuel Faulkner, a retired biology professor, was a recent customer at LONA Gallery after noticing a pastel piece when he was in downtown Lawrenceville. He exchanged emails with Wright and Culberson, and ended up purchasing three paintings.
“It's different from most galleries around here – many feature a dozen variations of 'bowls of Southern magnolias',” Faulkner said. “The work at LONA is competent, and I find it to be a cozy, friendly little gallery!”
Wright and Culberson see their gallery as more than just a business – it's an outreach mission to support the local art community and historic downtown Lawrenceville as a whole.
They have partnered with other businesses downtown, including Rita's Italian Ice and the Aurora Theatre, to display their artwork. Most recently, the Aurora Theatre displayed some of their paintings at performances of “A Chorus Line.”
“It's been a good partnership,” Wright said. “The theater and fine arts go hand in hand.”
They will also participate in Lawrenceville's third annual Fair on the Square on Sept. 17, Culberson said. LONA Gallery is helping organize a poster contest for children. The posters will be used to decorate bins used to collect food donations at the fair, which will benefit the Lawrenceville Co-Op, Inc.
Another part of their mission is supporting art education. College students studying art often come in to study the pieces for sale and talk about art with Culberson and Wright. They hope the gallery can also be educational for younger students.
“The schools are suffering in terms of lack of funds, and the art programs have been cut back or in some cases even eliminated,” Wright said. “So we want to give young kids opportunities to learn about the arts.”
The sisters said people seem to like the idea of a “gallery atmosphere” in downtown Lawrenceville.
“We feel that we're definitely on the right track, and people seem to be responding well to our presence here,” Wright said. “Not everyone who walks through the door is going to purchase, but everyone loves the art.”
Wright and Culberson have hosted a variety of events at LONA Gallery – receptions, book signings, red hat society meetings, and spa days – and hope to add art classes soon.
The gallery's many purposes are reflected in the many meanings of its name. LONA is an acronym – Lawrenceville Original and Novel Art. “Lona” also means “canvas” in Spanish. And, Lona was the name of a moon goddess in Polynesian mythology who fell in love with a mortal man. She married him, and they lived happily together for his whole life.