Ann’s Day at Elsewhere Artist Collaborative

When I read Ann’s latest news from The Scrap Exchange, I was completely intrigued. I had heard of Elsewhere Artist Collaborative before (from Ann, actually), but still haven’t been there.

I am always attracted to excessive collections and can’t tear myself away. They are a little like car crashes. I think that it is in part because I love to organize stuff. Plus my dad and mom save a lot. A LOT! So I am in a constant struggle of trying to make sense of it all and protect them from possible health hazards and mental congestion that could quickly blossom from too much stuff. Somethings should be treasured; others should be trashed. Well… given away. You know, reduce, reuse, recycle.

Ann is the queen of this recycling philosophy and following she describes her recent trip to a place which has taken a new approach to, well, sharing stuff. Artists are coming from all over the world to make sense of it all.

So when I read her letter, I immediately asked her if I could post it to my blog. Her response: “yes, yes, and yes.” You always need lots of yes people in your life. Enjoy!

Last week, I was invited to speak on “The Art of Reuse” as part of a lecture series hosted by Elsewhere Artist Collaborative down the road in Greensboro, NC. It was the first time I’d been to Elsewhere and it was truly fascinating!

Elsewhere is like nowhere on the planet. It’s a “living art museum” that houses an unbelievable collection of clothes, dolls, games, toys, books, fabric, ribbon, antiques, and oddities amassed over a 68-year period by lifelong Greensboro resident Sylvia Gray, first with her husband, Joe, and then on her own after Joe had passed away.

The Grays bought their building on S. Elm Street in downtown Greensboro in 1939 and originally ran a furniture business out of it. After World War II, they began buying surplus military gear and selling it through mail-order catalogs. Following Joe’s death in 1955, Sylvia branched out further, turning the store into an all-purpose thrift shop. Eventually, collecting items became more important to Mrs. Gray than selling them. (While we were in the space, a man stopped in and told us a story about how he used to come around when the store was open. He’d find something he liked and ask how much it was, and Sylvia would say “Twenty dollars.” He’d pull out $20 and try to buy it and she’d say “Oh no, that’s $40.”)

Sylvia Gray passed on in 1997, but rather than clearing everything out as most families would have done, her people decided to keep the collection just as it was and her grandson George Sheer, along with Stephanie Sherman, have created a living museum where “experimental creators are invited to utilize the immense collection of objects to pursue site-specific material, conceptual, and/or technologically-based projects.”

It’s fascinating to be in place where not only is nothing for sale (there are big signs all around that say “Absolutely nothing for sale.”), but also where art is made from this astounding collection.

I am still blown away by all of the stuff (and I have seen some stuff in my life!) and also the energy and power that comes from material objects, especially when you have A LOT of material objects, gathered over decades, that essentially are not allowed to leave. I highly recommend a visit. (Possibly followed by some kind of cleansing exercises to return yourself to your previous state of existence … it is really mind boggling.)

All the best,

Ann May Woodward
Executive Director
The Scrap Exchange

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