Found Colony Art School
Found Colony helps folks discover an artistic side
July 21, 2011
Lee Chambers, Found Colony owner. (Russ Lay photos)
Lee Chambers, owner of the Found Colony Art School, Bead Store and Gallery, likes to remind people that “Penland and John C. Campbell had to get their start somewhere.”
Penland and Campbell are renowned arts, crafts, and folkways (dancing, cooking) learning centers nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
In some respects, they have spawned artist colonies that thrive in the surrounding areas. Chambers would love to see something similar take route on Roanoke Island.
Business profile Chambers has been a fixture on the Outer Banks for years. Her story is peppered with hills and valleys just like so many others who have tried to carve out a living in one of the toughest markets anywhere. Her story even demonstrates how progress in the form of chain stores can result in collateral damage to merchants whose businesses are not remotely in competition with the big box outlets
Arriving here via northern Virginia in 1999, Chambers was wholesaling beads and teaching classes in people’s homes. When her daughter graduated from photography college in 2001, they began to work weddings and family portraits together, in addition to Chambers working at Soundfeet Shoes.
Her daughter wanted to add another activity to their income source, so they opened up the Bead Store on Colington Road, a 450-square-foot shop next to Billy’s Seafood.
Their tactic: free classes in making jewelry — beaded, hemp, leather, strung pearls, with students paying only for the supplies. Of course, many came back to purchase subsequent materials.
“It took off by word of mouth. On a rainy day, we would be packed to the hilt.” In 2003 they moved to a 2,000- square-foot store in the Nags Head, a move that almost worked.
Some of the material you will find at the store and gallery
“There was too much space for our inventory. At the time, Food Lion and Family Dollar were still in the shopping center. We kept doing really well, then Family Dollar closed and sales went down by half as we lost our walk-in business. But we still were covering our bills and in our fifth year, when we thought we would start really making money, the shopping center owners came in and told us they were not renewing our lease.”
The Bead Store, along with Mrs. T’s Deli and a hair salon were shunted aside to make room for Staples. Chambers packed up their inventory and planned to re-open, but during the down time her husband was diagnosed with late stage lung cancer and her attentions were channeled into the role of caregiver.
Her husband passed away in 2009, her employer let her go three days after her husband’s death and she was left with no money or job.
Girl Scouts are among the students.
Chambers began painting when she was 4. Her father was an artist. At age 10 she discovered beads and jewelry, and at age 13 she student- taught at a Montessori school. Her new goal was to open a full-blown art school, expanding far beyond beads and retail.
They opened two months ago in a complex off the beaten path on Roanoke Island. To get there you turn left at the Elizabethan Inn, following the signs to the Dare County Animal Center and the Detention Center. You keep driving past those buildings and more warehouses until you see a relatively new green and gold colored strip center at the end of the road.
The most prominent feature is Millwood Cleaners, but you have to continue driving to the very end of the road and then turn right into the back side of the center. Only then will you will have found the Found Colon
The name is a riff on the Lost Colony as well as the idea of an off-the-beaten path art school that people will seek and find.
In two months, she has already taught 24 students, following the old formula. One class consisted of older citizens who learned wire wrapping. Bead weaving (peyote stitch), bead basics, hemp jewelry, watercolors, acrylics, oil pastel painting, polymer clay, sewing, art quilting (painting with fabric) are among the choices.
There is no class minimum — Chambers will teach a group or one-on-one. You might even be able to walk in a take a class. Most are one to three hours, but there are also 12-week classes, such as the art quilting course
Some classes are free, others now have tuition. Currently there is a “Free Friday” offering for any class where one only pays for supplies. The goal is to make the school portion a non-profit, while keeping a retail store and gallery out front, which sells beads and art pieces.
All ages are welcome. Christian youth groups, youth surfing groups, even Girl and Boy Scouts have taken classes. The Found Colony also hosts birthday parties where kids go away having made something unique for themselves
Found Colony also hosts birthday parties
With the short day classes, Chambers is really interesting in tapping the tourism market, where groups could come in and spend a few hours learning some basic art techniques. To that end, she is trying to get the word out to local rental management companies and hoping visitors will find the Found Colony.
To give one an idea of Chamber’s passion and thought process, one of her biggest concerns is the state of art funding in school. “They have defunded art in school so far that people are not getting that. Art is a common sense, self-esteem builder, problem-solving function. Suppose the teacher says draw a flying pig –the child has to think about many things. What does a flying pig look like? Should it have bird wings, dragonfly wings or angel wings? Should it be a big or a small pig?”
Her daughter Larisa Pardo is close to adding another certification from COA in jewelry, and the next step is a lab for metal smithing and a small kiln for pottery. Pardo is a partner in the new venture, so the Found Colony is truly a family business.
“I meet so many older citizens who don’t want to hang around a seniors center all day with people their own age,” Chambers said. “They want to be around younger people and interact with them. Art can do that. I want this location to be a community center, a place where people can gather, hang out and interact. I want other art teachers to be able to come in here and teach what they know.”
If the mountains can support two artist colony destinations, surely the Outer Banks, home to so many talented artisans can do the same. And maybe Lee Chambers will be the person to create the next Penland.
Location: 4450 Maritime Woods Drive, Manteo, NC
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on July 22, 2011 @ 4:54 pm
Laura OBrien says:
My two daughters and I were vacationing in Nags Head and recently visited Found Colony Art School to make jewelry. We had met Lee at the Manteo Farmers Market Sat morning where she invited us to come by the art school later that day. Both girls loved picking their beads from a wide selection of choices. They had never made jewelry before so Lee walked them through the steps. It was super fun for the girls and they both left with prized keepsakes. What a treat to meet Lee and her daughter. The school is off the beaten bath, but all good things in life are. We wish them all the best with the new school. It is a treasure.
on July 25, 2011 @ 4:46 pm