SADAH alum turns pop-up art space into permanent gallery

School of Art Design and Art History

SADAH alum Lacey Vilandry (BFA ‘17) recently opened her gallery, The Pigment Sanctuary, in Princeton, W.Va. It’s a brick-and-mortar version of a tented gallery and workshop that she and friends established eight years ago at the Mountain Music Festival, which continues in June with 31 participating artists. Here, she talks about the gallery’s art education mission and several projects with a local nonprofit group.

“The Pigment Sanctuary only needed a small nudge from me. We came together eight years ago as a bunch of artists wanting to go to concerts paint all the time. There's a special comradery that is born out of spending weekend after weekend at festival after festival, painting after painting. We quickly realized that what we could create together was better than competing against each other. We would set up galleries under the same tents, sometimes as small as a 10x10 canopy, sometimes a circus tent that demanded two medium-sized elephants to erect. We had as many triumphs as we did tragedies, and the ones who stuck around through adverse conditions — even a tornado once — are those who make up The Pigment Sanctuary.

My business partner, Ashton Hill, was the first one to start spearheading live painting galleries for our crew, and Mountain Music Festival has been The Pigment Sanctuary family reunion since the start. It was in the summer of 2018 that Ashton and I started having conversations about formalizing The Pigment Sanctuary as a collective, but it wasn't until I moved to Princeton, W.V. in December 2019 that I started pushing for a permanent headquarters. Because of this city's immense support of the arts and the area's lower cost of living, I knew it was the perfect place to plant our roots. After looking at a few locations, and we chose a 1200-square-foot space that at the time was coffee shop overflow and storage. Ashton and two other Pigment Sanctuary members moved to town shortly after we started renting the space, and it took just over half a year to build the gallery. We wanted our gallery to be as unique as our path as artists. We designed it to be a whimsical, deep forest scene, but also a comfortable space to relax, drink coffee and take workshops.

Art education has become an integral piece of what we do. We taught workshops at festivals and separately, so it was important to incorporate them into what we're doing here in Princeton. Over the years, we learned so much from each other that we want to be able to share it. There is a real need for art workshops and classes in this area, to try to pick up what the public schools can't reach. Between multi-day intensives, intro to master-level classes, professional development and art parties, we hope to reach everyone, regardless of their walk of life, age, financial situation or artistic ability.  

Ashton led our first seminar in Virginia with Mischtechnik master Phil Rubinov Jacobson. It was three weeks at the White Lotus Resort outside of Charlottesville, and we're looking to continue to expand with more teachers coming in from around the country.

Beyond what The Pigment Sanctuary does directly with traditional art, several PS members and I also work very closely with the RiffRaff Arts Collective. It's a 501c3 organization led by Lori McKinney (another JMU graduate), focused on revitalizing struggling downtowns across southern Appalachia through the arts. With them, I've started a monthly fine- and folk-art market called the heART Market, which is free to vendors and helps budding entrepreneurs at the start of their artistic journey.

Another project with the RRAC is a food forest initiative. When I first moved to the city, I started pushing the idea that the grass lots should grow food instead. After almost two years, it's coming to fruition. The city is giving us property to artfully curate a food forest, and if it goes well, they're going to give us properties in every neighborhood in the city. The primary effort is to end hunger in the city, and the secondary is to commission as many local installation artists as possible. Each garden will have a theme that will dictate the composition of the garden and the art. We want to incorporate as many native plants as possible as we move forward, which will help create a stable ecosystem that will restore the soil and will continue to grow should there be a time when it's not getting regular maintenance.

Last year I led a community mural through the RiffRaff called Memories on Mercer Street. It was designed by Ellen Elmes, who specializes in depicting peoples' stories through murals. It was printed on fabric in grey-scale on 18 5'x3' panels. I led community paint-ins, where I mixed paint and guided people through the process like a paint-by-number. The inspiration for the design was the stories of people who grew up here and have seen the golden ages of the neighborhood. We had a storytelling evening on Zoom where people told us what it was like growing up here.

I recently received a grant from the West Virginia Commission of the Arts, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, to paint educational wildflowers around downtown Princeton. Each mural will have depictions of the uses of the plant and scannable QR codes linked to further information. I am choosing the location of each mural by how "forgotten" a location looks. I have found that people will care about a spot more if they can see the beauty in it, which starts with the ability and willingness of someone to bring that beauty out.” 

Information about workshops at the Pigment Sactuary is available on their website.

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Published: Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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