“Come on up for the unusual,” a pointing hand sign directs, just inside the door at the Attic Gallery on the corner of Washington and Grove. A well-worn, historic, wooden staircase leads to the second floor of this more-than-a-century-old building, offering a trickle of artworks on the walls and window on the walk up. Signs on the risers hint at what’s up ahead.
But nothing can really prepare newbies for that “Welcome to Oz” moment that greets them at the top. It’s a technicolor sweep of art crowding onto tables, leaning against file cabinets, hanging from display trees and jockeying for notice on just about every inch of available wall space and surface.
A 50-year history as a showcase and sanctuary for art, artists and art lovers anchors the Attic Gallery as Mississippi’s oldest continuously operating art gallery.
Owner Lesley Silver anchors the Attic Gallery as the gentle heart and soul at its core, amid a swirl of paintings, glasswork, woodwork, metal work, jewelry, fabric art, assemblage, collage, pottery and lots more.
The Attic, as aptly named for the climb up as for its stash of treasures, hasn’t deviated from that spirit since it first appeared in downtown Vicksburg in 1971.
New folks get a look like “What have I gotten myself into?” Gallery assistant Karen Moore says. But she can spot it, and talk it down. “I know, it’s a lot,” she says. “Readjust your intake valve, and give it a go.”
“They leave a changed person,” Moore concludes.
A Serendipitous Start
Art—“from A to Z,” Silver describes it, when pressed—runs the gamut from fine art to self-taught to fine and cool crafts, with honesty of expression as a connecting thread. Artworks find a loving way station at the Attic, until they catch the eye of an art lover and find a forever home.
The Attic Gallery’s start was modest and its growth organic. Its lifespan is evenly split between two Washington Street locations, a quarter-century at its original site above Versil’s Gift and Bridal Shop, and the past 25 years in the three-story building she bought at 1101 Washington St. Like merchants of old, she and husband, Daniel Boone, live above the “shop” on the top floor. Boone operates the Highway 61 Coffeehouse at street level.
“People ask me, ‘Oh, so when did you decide you wanted a gallery?’” Silver says. “Well of course, I’ve never decided that. … Things happen, and then they’re there.”
The first thing happened on a 1971 trip to California. Silver and her former husband, Mike, visited Comsky Gallery in Los Angeles in search of a gift. Fascinated by their Mississippi ties, the owner invited them back to her office, then out to dinner with her husband. Mike’s gift shop came up in conversation, and they learned of an L.A. trend, of couples registering for art rather than sterling silver. The gallery owner offered to help, if they wanted to try something similar.
Once home, he took her up on that idea. Etchings arrived in the mail during their daughter Kallyn’s 5th birthday party. Mothers on the scene became the first customers of the affordably priced original art, and the art-selling cycle began. When they ran out of display space in the shop, Mike suggested Lesley check out upstairs. The Attic Gallery was thus born. Soon, she got to know and show many Mississippi-based artists who visited.
“One thing sort of led to another, and that’s how it’s been,” Silver says.
Above Versil’s, the ceiling was low on the ascent, and some customers had to duck. In store lore, former Gov. Kirk Fordice once hit his head and bit his tongue on arrival.
Lighting was bare bulbs, and there was no heat, air or running water. “When it got colder, I put my bedspread on this table and stayed under it,” Silver says, fingering the cloth that covers it now. “It was what you’d call slim. It’s changed.” What’s stayed the same is that table, which turned into a desk and hub of Attic Gallery activity from the very start.
Covered in cloth drapes, the sturdy, wooden, octagonal relic likely felt the slap of cards, back in the days of illegal gambling. Since 1971, it’s been where Silver sits, and others plop down to chat. When it wouldn’t fit down the stairs for the Attic’s 1997 move down the street, the table was taken apart and reassembled at its new home.
That iconic table, like Silver’s discerning eye, is integral to the spirit of a place that nurtures and intrigues as much as it surprises. “I love coming here,” says Lacy Simms of Vicksburg, who calls the gallery her “retreat” as she takes in the riot of color and creativity. “It’s just different. And, it’s peaceful.”
“I’ve been blown away at the degree to which this place feeds the people that enter here,” Moore says, “whether they know they need feeding or not. And, whether they be artists or customers or locals, just coming in to visit. This table is almost like hallowed ground.”
Glass artist Ginger Kelly, who drove up from Breaux Bridge, La., to deliver works, remembers her first Attic intro with friends, a decade ago. “I was amazed, (Attic Gallery is) just a fabulous place,” she says. “We’ve all been in galleries with a lot of art, right? And sometimes it’s overwhelming, or it’s disorganized. But even though Lesley has so much work and represents so many artists, there’s a total cohesion about it.
“I find it’s just very inspiring,” Kelly adds. “It’s always like a little shot in the arm.”
New Works Celebrate Longtime Love
The milestone marks 50 years of retail, but even more importantly, it marks 50 years of relationships. Those ties run deep. “We really love our artists,” Silver says, and the feeling’s mutual.
Ellen Langford, who has been bringing art here since her 1998 return to Mississippi, says Silver has been like a second mother and a spiritual mentor.
When Boone invited long-time Attic artists to share thoughts as the anniversary approached, responses echoed those bonds.
“Lesley is the Attic Gallery for me: the art, the artists, the visitors, the building itself; it all rests for me in the light that begins with Lesley,” Lucy Hunnicutt asserts.
“She has created a haven in the Attic that draws people of every stripe from every walk of life,” artist Martha Ferris says.
Lastly, Ron Lindsey attests, “(Attic Gallery) means the world to me.”
The Vicksburg locale brings the world in, too, as Moore and Silver have fun recounting the Mississippi Blues Trail tourists from Europe and the river cruise passengers who discover it.
The Attic Gallery’s golden anniversary shines brightest on Saturday, Oct. 2, with a day-long celebration that will include a wool felting demonstration by Kinu Kraus in the morning, and live painting onsite by Ellen Langford that afternoon.
“I want this to be about bringing art to people, and letting them see and enjoy and just be around it,” Silver says. She’ll set easels and artwork inside businesses and offices up and down Washington Street, so people can see art all along the main brick street that runs through downtown Vicksburg.
“For us to have been able to be on Washington Street for 50 years, I think it says something for the community,” Silver says.
The gallery will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Oct. 2, 2021, and briefly close for an hour before reopening at 6 p.m. for a reception. The anniversary exhibition features 50 new works by 50 selected artists, upstairs from the gallery in Silver’s and Boone’s home. The show’s works are also on view at atticgalleryvicksburg.com.