Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal
When thinking about art galleries, one might imagine a venue in the city, perhaps even downtown. There, people may find it difficult to park, maneuver through the large crowds, or even focus on the art itself because of the loud city noises or activities going on outside of the building.
Oxford Treehouse Gallery, located seven miles from Oxford, offers the opposite – a place of escape and enjoyment from the city life, as well as unique art and sculptures.
Owners Vivian and Walter Neill opened the business in April of 2014 as a way to help artists show their work and provide the public with a unique art experience.
Walter Neill often works down the road from the gallery in his blacksmith shop. One will find his flower sculptures and chickens roaming the property. The gallery is also a venue for parties or events and a bed and breakfast for quick getaways from everyday stress.
Growing up in Jackson, Vivian Neill aspired to become an artist and was involved in the arts, but she detoured into the restaurant business about 25 years. Eventually, she moved and reclaimed her artistic passion in Oxford.
“I always kept myself involved in various aspects in art,” said Neill. “I paint and do block prints. But now, more than anything, I’ve been immersed in the administrative aspect in the gallery.”
Neill, an artist, knew the space was too big for a studio and decided to create a place to share the work of other artists. The gallery now represents about 20 artists, ranging from sculptures and paintings to Walter Neill’s cheese boards, metal work and some jewelry.
“We’ve always collected,” said Vivian Neill. “So, we started featuring the artists we collected, and we’ve added artists over the years.”
The Neills felt confident and passionate about creating something special in a rural area. “We knew it wasn’t an obvious choice for an art gallery,” Vivian Neill said. “It took a lot of trust from [artists] who knew us, but they knew we would do everything we could to make it work.”
The Neills knew it would take time to get on the art world’s radar, but they were confident and hoped for the best. “It was sort of a build-it-and-maybe-they’ll-come,” said Vivian Neill said. “And every year has gotten better and better.”
In November, the gallery will feature the artwork of Martha Ferris, who has been making art for almost 30 years. Ferris was named the recipient of the 2016 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award in Visual Arts for her 2015 exhibit, Foreign and Familiar Places, at Fischer Galleries in Jackson. Her public art projects include the mosaic McRae Children’s Fountain in the Art Garden of the Mississippi Museum of Art.
Ferris, a Vicksburg native, first heard about Oxford Treehouse Gallery from Marcy Nessel, owner of Fischer Galleries. Nessel felt the gallery would be a great fit for her work. Eventually, Ferris met the Neills when they visited her studio on her family farm outside Vicksburg to discuss bringing her work into the gallery.
“I was so taken with Vivian and Walter,” Ferris said. “They’re personable, warm, open, and are artists themselves. I know and admire a number of the artists who show at Oxford Treehouse Gallery and am truly in wonderful company.”
Ferris’s work will be unveiled at the gallery on Nov. 4 featuring a collection of new paintings in acrylic and encaustic, as well as recent drawings in silver ink on black paper.
When the gallery opened, the artwork remained there longer than a typical art studio because the Neills wanted a chance for people to see the artists’ work. Now, they are working to get more featured artists like Harris, but their business philosophy has remained the same towards all artists they feature.
“We both have to like the work,” said Neill. “So, Walter and I, we don’t show it unless we love it. We have to feel confident about the work, and as you can see, there is a wide range of work.”
At 328 County Road 418, the gallery is nestled away from town, and it offers a peaceful, friendly environment.
“I mean how many art galleries do you know that have chickens hanging out on the front porch?” said Neill. “It’s just a place where you want to stick around for a while.”
The gallery is open from Thursday to Sunday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., but you can call, and the Neills will be happy to open the gallery so you can immerse yourself in the artwork, maybe step out to the back porch for some fresh air, or have a picnic with some chickens.