June 18, 2008 Arts » Cover story

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Women Who Rock 

Presenting six ladies who make Charlotte a cooler place to live

I am woman. Watch me rock. (Roaring is so 1970s.)

It's easy to be a woman who talks loud, but what about the chicks who are doing something? You know, like, making a mark on the community with culture, art and sheer intelligence?

These are the women who rock. The women who put talk into action and give Charlotte a kick of flavor.

Creative Loafing decided it would be cool to recognize these ladies in this, our quasi-annual celebration of "Women Who Rock." Here's a look at who they are and what they do:

Making the old new again

Allyson Speaks doesn't like to see cool things go to waste, no matter how old they are.

Speaks, who owns Century Vintage on Central Avenue, has a blue sofa to thank for her becoming a shopkeeper.

"I was pregnant with my son and the refrigerator broke," she says. "I had saved up enough money to not have to work a couple of months after he was born, but replacing a refrigerator was not in the budget."

So Speaks went to an auction to find a used refrigerator, and when she arrived, seven months pregnant, she saw a blue sofa that had that 1970s-era swagger. And it looked as if it hadn't been used and abused.

"It was a big sectional sofa. Nobody bid on it, and I asked them what were they going to do with it. They said it was going to a landfill. It really, really bothered me." It got to her so much that she started looking for a venue where she could take furniture from the 1950s, '60s and '70s to find them a new cool home.

While she wasn't able to save the blue sofa, Speaks says she's run across other things that she was able to save, including a pair of chairs she found before the birth of her son that could easily fit into her car.

She began selling to the original owners of Century Vintage and they convinced her to rent a spot in the store. When the owners decided to sell the store, Speaks decided to purchase it. While she handles furniture and art, the store has more, including jewelry and clothes.

She says being a shop owner was something she never envisioned. "When it came up for sale, no one would have taken it over because it was not profitable at that time. But I had to have a place to sell my stuff."

Century Vintage, however, isn't just a shop where you can find avocado green furniture and lamps that remind you of sitting in your grandmother's house. The shop also houses a performance space where artists, no matter the genre -- whether they're musical or performance artists -- can come and perform. And on the weekends, you can catch independent film screenings at the store. A handful of visual artists, who have created work that isn't your garden-variety mainstream paintings and such, also display their works on the walls of her shop. "I don't have to like what they do, as long as I respect it as art," she says.

Ready for my close-up

The Charlotte-based photographer known only has Moye has always been an artist. But she found her muse through the lens of a camera.

The photography thing all started for her in middle school. Her family had taken a trip to Pennsylvania, and her cousin gave her father an old Minolta camera that he wasn't using anymore.

"My dad didn't play around with it much either, so I just picked it up and started playing around with it; with the camera functions and capturing the things that were appealing to me at first," she says.

Now, years later, she's garnered a list of clients that reads like a "Who's Who" of the Queen City: She's worked with R&B singer Anthony Hamilton, former Carolina Panther Mike Minter, local radio personalities Ifé Moore and Consuella, the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, several best-selling authors and more (including this here paper, too).

But Moye says she feels her greatest sense of accomplishment when she breaks down boundaries with her pictures.

"Even when I'm dong photography for clients, it may be fashion, advertising oriented, it's just natural for me to incorporate the essence of who that person is and use that in a way to affect the greater society," she says. "Whether we're dealing with things like race, religion, sexuality, economics, sexism -- any of that will kind of naturally find its way into what I'm doing depending on what type of energy I'm feeling from that client.

"I try to stay really authentic to what I'm feeling from myself and what I'm feeling from that person," she continues. "I love photographing people. I love their facial expressions. I love finding myself in them, I love pulling things out of them that were hidden or need to be resurfaced or things they didn't know about themselves. I just love knowing that we can find a way to connect."

When she shows her subjects the finished product, Moye says she hears a lot of people say, "that's not me."

"I get a lot of 'Wow.' I explain to people what I've managed to do is capture a side of you that you've never seen or that you didn't know existed."

But the best reaction, she says, is silence. "I think I'm really making people reflect on themselves and where they sit within the grand scheme of our world. Those are the times I like the most. When they're just looking instead of giving me a lot of words, I can just feel where they are."

Rock, skate ...

The Charlotte Roller Girls are the closest things to superheroes we have in this sometimes-bland banking town.

You may even work or live next to a Roller Girl -- because from 9 to 5 they are attorneys, mothers, business owners and even mild-mannered bankers. But head south on I-85 to Kate's Skating Rink in Gastonia on a practice night and you see just who these women are: hell on wheels.

Though the Charlotte Roller Girls is a young roller derby team, they are a group of winners. In their first season, the players have won four bouts and lost only one. What other sporting team in Charlotte had that kind of success right out the gate?

Rosemary Gardner -- aka Rosie Cheeks -- started with the team in January 2007. She'd seen a recruiting flyer around town for a meet-and-greet that had already passed.

"I thought: 'This sounds awesome. I wonder if it's full,'" says Gardner, who works as a photography assistant by day. "I came to a meet-and-greet with a friend and put some skates on and skated around and decided, 'I think I can do this.'"

Within a couple of weeks, Gardner went to a match in Raleigh and saw just what Roller Girls really do. "It was really awesome." Before long, she purchased skates and joined the team.

"It was a great way to work out and not in a gym setting. I grew up playing sports, playing soccer and dancing, and I kind of missed that team atmosphere a little bit," she says.

According to Roller Girl Jenna Klauk -- aka Sybil Action -- the sport, "lowers your heart rate and raises your rear end."

"I don't think I've been in this good of shape in my adult life," she says.

Klauk, an attorney, says to be a Roller Girl, you have to be willing to sweat.

"We get stanky!" declares Klauk.

And you have to love team sports and have confidence, she adds. "It's an aggressive sport."

But you don't have to be a star skater. Klauk says the league started with women who could barely stand on skates, and now they are some of the best players.

Cress Barnes -- aka Lucy Quipment -- spends her days as a mother of three, business owner (along with her husband) and a part-time pre-school teacher. She confesses that it's hard to start something this big that requires people drive to Gastonia to participate in something they don't get paid to do.

"I'm very surprised," she says about the Roller Girls' success, "and very happy."

This just in ...

News 14 reporter and weekend anchor Lisa Reyes loves to be on top of things.

"I like to talk and tell stories," she says.

The native New Yorker says watching the coverage of the first Gulf War in the 1990s on CNN solidified her career path. She recalls seeing CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour covering the war.

"I was like, 'Wow.' There's a female reporter out there," she says. "And then when the O.J. Simpson trial started and everybody was on it, and there was the white Bronco chase. There was just something about being on top of what's going on and being able to say I was there. I like being on the front line and being a part of history -- and sometimes being a part of justice being served."

Reyes says luck and family brought her to the Queen City from Florida, the site of her previous job.

In Charlotte, Reyes -- the first Hispanic anchor on the local cable news network -- has become a role model to young people in the Hispanic community.

"When I first started here about four and a half years ago, I went to a school, and one of the principals came up to me and said, 'We really love watching you on TV because we have so many students with the last name Reyes. And for them to see you doing what you're doing is really inspiring,'" she says. "It is important for young people to see somebody who looks like them on TV because then they think they can do it, too. It's really an honor and humbling to be the Hispanic anchor for News 14 Carolina and to be able to represent the community in that way. Our station is still very young. I carved out that little piece of history, and I have that imprint. So, it's nice."

Reyes, who started her career in New Mexico, isn't like your typical TV journalist who talks about sitting in Katie Couric's chair on the evening news. She says she plans to ride this wave wherever it takes her.

"I've been able to cover some amazing things," she says. "Before I came here, I'd never been to a NASCAR race before. I recently covered the Pope in Washington, D.C. and that was amazing both personally and professionally. I saw the Pillowtex smoke stacks go down. I've seen the community come together in light of tragedy, and it's exciting to see the mayor [Pat McCrory] running for governor."

The art of storytelling

Forget the Brothers Grimm, Kali Ferguson knows how spin yarns that get the imagination flowing. Since the age of 4, Ferguson – a storyteller and poet – has been performing and says the only reason she had a career in education was because she didn't think she'd make money telling tales. "I had always dreamed of being a storyteller," she admits, "but I thought it was just so far off."

She was wrong.

While in graduate school in Miami, Ferguson -- a native Charlottean -- says that she decided that she was going to come "out the closet" about her role as a storyteller.

"I remembered that I always loved children's books. So, I said I was just going to tell people that I was a storyteller. Within a month, I was hired for the Broward County African-American book fair. So that began my career."

Now back living in the Q.C., she specializes in telling folk stories. While all of the stories she tells aren't ones that she's written, she says that she has recently tried her hand at writing stories as well.

"I come up with stories when I'm doing teaching-artist work," she says. "Usually when I'm in the schools, and I can't find a folk story that matches a specific topic, then I come up with something."

Storytelling, she says, isn't just for children. "It frees up the imagination because, you know, in this modern world of media, everything is spoon-fed to us on TV or on a movie screen. So, we no longer work the part of our imagination that can envision a scene. It makes for [numb] people. Imagination is really what changes anything -- in business, politics or what have you."

Storytelling is a strong teaching tool, she says. Through telling stories to children, they learn how to write a scene, how to build up to a climax and how to make characters come alive.

Ferguson says some of her favorite stories can't be found in books, but from family members. "I come from a family of storytellers," she says. "The stories I love are the ones my dad swears are true."

From medical school to art cool

Owning an art gallery wasn't in Allison Wolf Hertzler's plans while she was a student at North Carolina State University. "I was too much of a practical mind to think that I could make a living at art," she says. "At that time I didn't know anything about graphic design and computer design. It wasn't part of the daily language when it came to art."

But Hertzler, the owner of Green Rice Art Gallery in NoDa, had a change of mind after a trip the Sri Lanka.

"Everything I did always had a creative twist," she says. Three days after graduating from NCSU, Hertzler went into the Peace Corps for two years and worked in public health. "In any project that we did, I always added an art element and that sort of thing. I came back from that experience very different. I was not going to go to medical school, was not going to go into public health."

Instead, she went into the nonprofit realm. She worked with the mentoring organization Big Brothers Big Sisters of America in marketing. There, she put her design skills to use.

"That's when I got in the art world again and, to me, in a more practical sense," she says. "I moved out of there and worked at [the University of North Carolina at Greensboro]. I was the first woman art director at UNC-G." After a year, Hertzler decided that she wanted to strike out on her own and do design work.

"Before that, all of my jobs had to do with kids and for me to go into something that was not kid oriented was sort of a different thing for me."

She moved to Charlotte and fell in love with NoDa. "I decided it was time for me to get back into the real world," she says. "I wanted to open my own design center and I knew I couldn't do it from home."

But an art gallery?

She says it's something she just fell into. In her design office, which was located near the Center of the Earth gallery, Hertzler realized that local artists needed some place to show their work. She had one wall that allowed her to let the artists display their stuff.

By the end of her first year at her office, she'd moved to the current Green Rice location.

In the five years that Green Rice Gallery has been open, Hertzler has been the launching pad for many in the city. The up-and-coming, urban-flavored art collective God City had one of their first big shows at Green Rice. It was a hip-hop exhibition that no one else wanted.

"We're approachable," she says. "I think people feel comfortable coming in here. We're really trying to get fun, unique and eclectic things out to people."

Party with the Women Who Rock

To coincide with this week's issue, which honors rocking local women, CL is hosting a special "Women Who Rock" party.

Going down at Loft 1523 (1523 Elizabeth Ave.) June 25 at 6 p.m., the party is our chance to award the six women profiled in this article -- and more than six other dynamic dames -- with actual, tangible awards in a casual setting. And it's your chance (dear readers) to just have a good time.

Along with the awards, this event will also feature an exhibition of photography by Moye (who is mentioned in this article), music by DJ "That Guy Smitty," drink specials and more. And admission is free.

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