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Red Sky Gallery 

Must see, must buy stuff at Phillips Place

Red Sky Gallery is in Phillips Place, the five-star satellite shopping destination down the road from SouthPark. This gallery is a place you want to go to buy a gift for someone very special. Unintentionally, that special someone will likely be yourself. Bring your plastic card and it will be hard to walk out empty-handed.

Owner and operator Kellie Scott started this place up after 20 years in banking and 20 years of dreaming her dream job. She has always been a collector and a wide-eyed traveler and not long ago she decided to take the leap. She opened a gallery that puts her taste on the line. Now she's literally banking on her dream.

Sports lore has it that Super Bowl blowhard sportscaster John Madden bought a house sight unseen in California and instructed the realtor to find someone to fill it up with stuff, just make sure there was a good chair, a big TV and a fridge that worked. Had the designer come to Red Sky and cleaned the place out, the only things that would have looked less than stellar at Madden's new home would have been the wide screen, the La-Z-Boy and the big goofy guy sitting between the two.

Red Sky is more a fine stuff gallery than a fine art gallery. There are paintings and sculpture here, but there is also furniture, jewelry, ceramics, kitchen accoutrements, glassware, light fixtures and wearable art. It's less about showing the vision of a particular artist than it is about showing the vision of a single connoisseur of fine stuff through the work of about 150 artists simultaneously. A risky venture.

But in this case, a good one. There are one of a kind cards and marble here for less than $15 and there is a handmade desk for $10,000. In between there are the kinds of things you will fall in love with and buy on impulse, and things you will buy after wringing your hands for two weeks, then coming back with your friends to show them and finally you'll buy that unbelievably beautiful and comfortable rocking chair and take it home and stare at it for three hours. The chair will rock through the century because it will become a prized heirloom your grandchildren will wrangle over if the will is vague. "MeeMaw said I could have it."

There is a ceramic lamp here by Dana Major with three snarling dogs planted on the lamppost staring up at the handmade lampshade. The dogs' tails, paws, ears and claws are all detailed and textured and lure one to touch. They are frivolously mean-spirited dogs, comically vicious. You could read by the light of this lamp, but it would have to be a damned good book to keep your attention.

There is also a kitchen and a ceramics workshop here. The workshop offers classes for pot-throwing beginners on up to the experienced clay handlers who have been there, done that, want more. The workshop is in the back of the gallery behind French doors, and is clean, well lit and upfit for serious production. Two soft brick kilns fire work to 2300 degrees. They were warm to the touch when I visited. Kilns in the middle of Phillips Place can't be a bad thing.

John Madden would easily find the fridge in this kitchen but he might miss the blown glass pendant lights, the handmade olive picks and the etched and sandblasted martini glasses. It's a working kitchen with granite counter tops and red mahogany cabinets, beautiful but not unapproachable. Hung on the wall is a serpentine steel wine holder with tendriled and looped fingers that hold three bottles. The high-rise chairs pulled up to the countertop are painted wood and metal art pieces by Zabari Avner. It's a Dilworth fantasy kitchen. And it works!

The gallery opened three weeks ago with six artists featured prominently. Local painter Andy Braitman is one the six front row artists. His paintings are of the Neo-Impressionist ilk, inner lit landscapes of bucolic scenes of hill and dale. His use of the palette knife to create thick dimensional swaths of color describing fields and trees and lilting, paint-laden sky is well done. The paintings are beautiful but not magical, the kind of fresh and airy handmade work many Charlotteans would be thrilled to have lighten up the living room. The paintings are high end and not unexpected. John Madden would frown and nod approvingly and keep walking.

Red Sky is a shopper friendly place. There are short bios on all the artists and everything is tagged with a price. Most things here are touchable to careful fingers. Kellie Scott knows her artists. All hundred and fifty of them. It's obvious she was looking for that certain something for an entire year and she found many of them. All the work is displayed to make many items easy on the eye, and the aisles are wide and serpentine. Saks and Wal-Mart shoppers are equally welcome, and I suspect each will feel equally at home. I hate to browse, it drives me mad, but I browsed for an hour and a half, and felt sane when I left.

This stuff is all worth keeping. Red Sky bucks the trend of the deservedly disposable transient object. Good Americans share a predilection for collecting stuff we will (or should) throw away tomorrow. Buy one hand-turned maple writing device (pen) here and you may never pick up and throw away a Bic again in your life. You, or your loved ones, or your best buddy, will hold on to whatever you get here. It's comforting to think a few things will survive the century. All the stuff here has a leg up.

One final note -- in a gleeful tacky proletariat spirit, a few prices:

A dog lamp: $1,300.

A hand turned pen: $45.

Steel wine rack: $270.

An Andy Braitman painting: $3,300.

A visit to Red Sky for the crap weary consumer: Priceless.

Ceramics class schedule available online at: Gallery hours are 10-7: M-Th; 10-9: F-S; 1-6: Sunday. For more information, call 704-552-5200.

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