This story was originally published in the June/July 2015 issue of Chattanooga Magazine.
While Chattanooga has recently received national accolades for its outdoor offerings, it is also developing a reputation as a thriving city for arts organizations and professional artists. One couple is helping ensure the reputation sticks.
Stan and Peggy Townsend have been involved in the Chattanooga arts scene for years in varying capacities. With an undergraduate degree in art history from Rhodes College and a Masters in Arts Administration from the University of Cincinnati, Peggy and Stan make the perfect arts couple. He graduated from Eastern Tennessee State University with a degree in fine arts with an emphasis in printmaking and painting and is an accomplished working artist. Together, they have 35 years of art experience and wanted to put it to good use in Chattanooga.
“We noticed a need for art instruction that was skills-based, both for the general public and for professional artists who needed mentorship environments,” says Peggy.
With this idea in mind, the Townsends got their start in the Business Development Center in 2007, like many other Chattanooga businesses. There, they began running an online store where they primarily sold castings and patinas, with hopes of expanding into an art school in the future. After spending three years in the incubator, the Townsends began looking for a new space.
“We knew we wanted to stay in the downtown area and we began resuscitating the idea of an art school,” says Peggy. “So we were definitely looking for a place that was suitable for classes.”
The Townsends happily settled on a space in the CraftWorks building in the Southside District at the corner of Main and Williams. At the time, they were one of the first businesses to set up shop there. “Since we arrived four years ago, it has been really cool to watch the neighborhood boom and it has been so satisfying to be apart of that.”
The Townsend Atelier [ℹ️ City Guide] is now much more than an online store, though they do continue to sell inventory online and in house. They import specialty paints from Europe and offer of high-quality brushes and tools, which attracts locals and out-of-towners alike.
Over the past four years, they have also gained a reputation as being a top-notch destination for both hobbyists and professional artists looking for creative challenge, inspiration, and instruction.
“We really have created an arts center in the Southeast that we are so proud of,” says Peggy. “We have given our professional artists here the ability to take master classes as well as teach classes of their own, which gives them employment and keeps them here in Chattanooga.”
While they provide a number of services to meet the needs of professional artists, beginners are not forgotten. “Most of our classes are tailored toward any level and we also offer classes specifically for beginners,” says Peggy. “There is often a mix of experienced artists and beginners in classes, but the environment is very relaxed and not at all intimidating. Many people come in with no experience at all and just continue taking classes. It is fun to watch them grow as they come back each week for class and improve their confidence and ability.”
Beyond classes and workshops, the Townsend Atelier also hosts a variety of community events like their popular “Art Throw Down” which features two artists painting the same model in front of a live audience. Usually lasting about two hours, this event is ideal for people who may not be interested in learning how to paint but are curious about the artistic process.
“We love these events. They are very educational as well as entertaining,” says Peggy. “It’s a great time to mingle and friendly heckling is definitely encouraged.”
As the artist community in Chattanooga has continued to expand and more and more out-of-town artists travel to the city specifically for artistic purposes, filling up the Atelier’s classes and workshops- it became evident that it was again time to expand. The Townsends began looking for a new space a couple of years ago, as they wanted to take their time in the selection process to make sure it would be the right fit.
“We wanted to find something with character and a bit of a warehouse and industrial feel,” says Peggy. Luckily, through a partnership with Artsbuild [ℹ️ City Guide], they were able to secure a prime location on the middle floor of a building on 11th and King Streets. This new space will be much larger and will allow the Townsend Atelier to grow their art supply store and add more community events to the calendar, in addition to continuing their classes and workshops.
“We will double our classroom space and our retail space will be more well thought out,” says Peggy. “We plan on doing a fall lecture series that will be open to the public as well. And of course, moving will be a cool way to become a new member of a neat district.”
Artsbuild will also be moving its headquarters to the main floor of the building and renting out additional spaces to other arts organizations. As a true arts building, it speaks to the expansion and growth that has occurred with the Chattanooga arts community relatively recently.
“Over the past 20 years, the arts community in the city has definitely changed for the better,” says Peggy. “There have always been really great artists here, but in the past 10 years or so, it seems like we are now becoming recognized by other cities as being a great arts community.” Undoubtedly, reasons for this new perspective are the many dedicated arts organizations committed to maintaining and improving the artistic community in Chattanooga, like the Townsend Atelier.
“At the Atelier, we are interested in preserving and keeping artistic skill alive. We focus on educating both artists and students and provide them with a place to learn something new or build on skills they already have,” explains Peggy. “From that standpoint, I think we are filling a real niche in Chattanooga—to grow new artists as well as existing ones.”
Visit www.townsendatelier.com for more information and to see a full schedule of upcoming classes, workshops, and events.
Photography by Grant Dotson, courtesy of Townsend Atelier