Chickens, seclusion and relaxation are not words normally used to describe an art gallery, but they are often used to describe Oxford Treehouse Gallery.
This unique gallery not far from town breaks the mold of a traditional art gallery and provides visitors with an unforgettable experience.
Oxford Treehouse Gallery is seven miles from the Oxford Square, and is owned and operated by Walter and Vivian Neill. The Neills built the gallery on the large acreage they own in Lafayette County, along with a blacksmith shop and chicken coop. Their house is just a short walk from it all, but that was not their original plan.
“The building that Walter had built here after building the blacksmith shop was initially intended for a studio and office space for me,” said Vivian Neill, “but he overbuilt, so we then knew that it would instead be a gallery space for other artists.”
After building the gallery, the Neills began hosting events, and Walter constructed an apartment in the building’s basement where the two lived for a period of time.
“Events out here initially began in 2005, and once we moved into the apartment in 2006, it was hard to open the gallery up to the public, because a lot of the upstairs space was used for our personal space,” Vivian Neill said.
The two built their house next door, and the gallery opened in April of 2014.
“Since we had the space, we thought it would be nice to share with other artists,” she said, “and see what would happen, and see how people took to come out to the county for a destination art gallery venue.”
Though they are far from the center of city life, Vivian Neill said their location has not stopped individuals from taking a drive out to visit.
“We started out with a lot of tourists at first,” she said, “but after word got out, many locals started coming to visit, and we have a lot more traffic than you would guess. We are fortunate to have stories written on us, and to have the Oxford tourism office send travel writers out here, which has really helped us get on the radar of the locals.”
After their house was finished, the Neills decided to rent out the apartment. Vivian Neill said they have been lucky and have renters all the time who want to experience a unique get-away.
“The location, it is our best asset and our worst hurdle,” Vivian Neill said. “We also show a wide variety or artists. We show 20 plus artists, along with feature shows. These artists help us have a wide range of mediums; everything from hand forged metal work, to jewelry, to sculpture and pottery, along with paintings and block print. Most galleries don’t carry that much, so I would say that’s also what helps make us unique.”
Vivian Neill said all artists showcased are regional artists. “Their work changes regularly,” she said, “and we bring new work in to feature regularly on our screened-in porch called The Roost. New work comes into the Roost every month, and the gallery is constantly changing.”
The Neills take a different approach than other galleries. “We started with people that we collected, and then it has just grown from there,” Vivian Neill said.
Now that they have been in business from some time, they also have artists contacting them wanting to be featured in the gallery, and other gallery owners have started introducing them to new artists to showcase.
Vivian Neill said now is a good time to visit the gallery because they have received so much new work. “There is a lot of new work here right now, from many different artists,” she said. “We have new needle felting paintings, which is something we have just started carrying.
“We also have paintings that were just recently donated to us by Phyllis Beiser, who is a coastal painter. She donated these paintings as a fundraising effort for Delta Wind Birds, which is an organization we had an event for last weekend.”
The reason Beiser’s work focuses mainly on birds is because she has always had, “Love and awe of the coastal environment, animals, and birds,” and this inspires her to continue to paint these animals.
Beiser donated her work to this society and to The Audubon Society. “I believe that bird conservation is, or should be, a top priority,” she said, “That would include wildlife as well. It’s something that’s very near and dear to my heart.”
Maureen Donnelly and Chesley Pearman have new work in the gallery. Most of the work the Neill’s showcase is from artists who have done work around the Oxford area, and many of the artists’ work they feature have had their work featured since the gallery’s beginning.
Vivian Neill also pointed out that there are some special pieces in the gallery. “Walter has work in the gallery,” she said. “I don’t have any work left of mine, and I don’t have much time in the studio since the gallery has been open, and the majority of my time is devoted to running it.
“I do some simple block prints when I have time. Walter does a lot of metal work. He has sculptures out front, and other pieces in the gallery, like fire pokers, cheese knifes, steak turners, and bottle openers that he continues to keep in stock. All of his work is hand forged, and he also does large sculpture work.”
Though she can’t say which artist’s work is the couple’s favorite, she did mention one.
“Ed Williford from Magnolia, Mississippi is the most intriguing,” she said, “because his work is just very different. We don’t have anything here we don’t love. Walter and I both have to love it to have here. We are very fond of all the artists we have, and it’s great to have this relationship with this many artists.”
Vivian said the best part of owning the gallery is keeping artists working. “It’s really a lot of fun to have collectors come in, and to be able to help support artists,” she said.
Oxford Treehouse Galleries is located at 328 Country Road 418, and open Thursday through Saturday form noon to 6 p.m., but the Neills are willing to open at any time if you call.