When Ellen Newbauer opened Artists of Elements in July, showcasing the work of artists like Lake Gaston local Cathy Wiggins was exactly one of the things she had in mind for the 370 Lizard Creek Road gallery and event space.
Wiggins will be the subject of Artists of Elements’ second installment of Second Saturday at the Elements in which a featured artist is selected each month. Last month it was photographer Sarah Baltz and Wiggins, a Greenville native and former Raleigh resident, has the nod for September.
Having already made a name for herself in the quilting world, Wiggins has taken the craft by storm in the last several years by quilting with leather. She is quite literally the pioneer of the medium, having written instructional books on the theme and having her work purchased and featured by the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln, Neb.
“This is what this gallery is for,” Newbauer said. “It’s the unique stuff.”
A selection of Wiggins’ work will now have a permanent home in Artists of Elements. But being featured for Second Saturday at the Elements will allow a host of Wiggins’ quilted leather items to be displayed prominently on the back wall (when entering the main door on the side of the building).
Each month, there will be an opening reception for the featured artist with wine and appetizers from 6-8 p.m. For this month, the Wiggins month, that will fall on Saturday, Sept. 12.
As much as Newbauer found Wiggins’ work to be a perfect fit for the gallery, Wiggins also knew Artists of Elements was ideal for herself upon visiting with Newbauer.
Wiggins, who now lives permanently on the lake north of Macon, previously thought somewhere such as art hubs like Asheville, N.C. or elsewhere in the mountains might be home to the sort of locales she was looking to house her quilted leather.
That turned out not to be so. Instead, she found something more community oriented in Artists of Elements.
“I’m excited about it,” Wiggins said. “ I just knew eventually I’d be able to have my stuff displayed somewhere. I just had no idea where that would be... I’ve been very pleased with the reception that I’ve had here.”
The reception so far has included Wiggins’ work being purchased through Artists of Elements from out-of-state visitors or weekenders.
“They’re going all over the country just from here,” Wiggins said, “which is really awesome.”
Wiggins’ quilted or molded leather pieces for sale can range in price from $25 to $4,000 and include wall art, bags, journals, book covers, saddles, vessels, and votive candle holders.
“I want people to come in here and say, ‘Oh my God, I’m not going to see that anywhere else,’” Newbauer said.
Newbauer, who specializes in woodworking, couldn’t tell at first Wiggins’ work was quilted leather.
Wiggins gets that reaction a lot and despite some initial blowback and confusion in the quilting world, quilting leather has picked up momentum.
Wiggins, 59, only started experimenting with leather six years ago.
“It’s now not unusual to see quilts that are quilted on leather in shows now,” Wiggins said. “They’re actually using it as a medium now. It’s very humbling when I think, ‘I made that happen.’ What makes me so happy is that I exposed people to things they didn’t even know were a possibility.”
Since leather for quilting was so hard to come by, Wiggins started Gypsy Wood Leathers to supply leather (plus quilting kits), suitable for any sewing machine, to other curious quilters.
Her daughter, Olivia, created the Gypsy Wood Leathers website, which ultimately led to Olivia now minding the new Artists of Elements website, as well as its social media channels. Some of the works in the gallery can now be purchased online through the website.
“This is more than anything I could have dreamed,” Newbauer said. “I had an idea in my head. But it was nothing like this.”