By: DeBorah Ogiste
A gallery for discerning tastes has been created in downtown Asheville from the experiences of a lifetime—Aesthetic Gallery. Brenda Macauley, recipient of the 2010 WNC Minority Enterprise Retail Business Award, provides a place for people to come, browse, and enjoy the beauty of her eclectic collection. Some people live myriad lives within one lifetime. When their path takes unexpected turns, they pause, breathe—and recreate their life. Brenda Macauley is one of those people. Beginning in early childhood, all of her experiences led to her creating an art-lovers paradise named Aesthetic Gallery.
Brenda came from a family of poor means in the Liverpool area of England. Her father, a ship’s captain, spent most of his time at sea, coming home only a few times a year—bearing gifts from the continent of Africa. Raising four children primarily on her own, Mrs. Macauley put her large home to use by renting out rooms. This not only aided the family’s finances, but was a catalyst for Brenda’s future. A boarder moving out (and leaving behind a mattress with fabric stuffing) started eight-year-old Brenda on her first entrepreneurial adventure. Taking the fabric out of the mattress, she made dolls and doll clothes and sold them to the neighborhood children. Being one of only a few black families in the community, Brenda had to rise above the ignorance and the taunts, to keep her eye on the end result—making money to supplement the family income.
At twelve, Brenda came to the next fork in her life journey—her mother’s death. This was a tough time and Brenda used art as a comforter. Living in a home that had no electricity and only a battery-operated radio for entertainment served to stimulate her imagination. This led to the ability to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary, which would serve her well later in life.
Brenda’s relationship with her father became a little strained during her teenage years, after her two older sisters met and married Americans and moved to the United States. This left a void in her life and a determination within her father that his youngest daughter was not to follow in their footsteps. Brenda threw herself into her academics and art to get through this tough time. She entered the University of Liverpool to study Social Science; there she met and married her first husband. They had two children and shortly afterwards, against her father’s wishes, Brenda moved to the United States.
Brenda’s marriage did not survive the immigration and she was soon left to raise two children on her own. Working at a department store, she became friends with a wonderful man who was in the corporate world. Determined not to bring another man into her home, she remained friends until her children were grown and out of the house. At this time they married, and Brenda began yet another leg of her journey. Her husband’s position required that they move frequently, living in many areas throughout the United States. Without the security of laying down roots in one particular area, Brenda made the best of her travels. In each city that they lived, she attended school, taking social psychology classes among others. Much later, after the death of her husband, she was faced with the necessity of finding a solid career.
Brenda obtained her Real Estate license in California, only to realize that she was not comfortable in the “rat race.” Knowing that there was more to life, Brenda joined the Peace Corp in 2001 and was assigned to Lesotho, a land-locked country in South Africa that had once been under British rule. During a time of great unrest within the political structure of the country, she worked with a cooperative of women. When she encouraged them to use their weaving skills, they created beautiful tapestries depicting village life. Other products emerged—book-bags, tops, and hats—and Brenda became their business advisor, securing contracts to sell their products to both residents and tourists.
In 2003, with her love of textile arts reawakened, Brenda headed back to the Bay area of California. She took some art classes, joined a weaving group, taught weaving & knitting, and became even more passionate about textile arts. After a few years of research and travel, she decided that Asheville, North Carolina, was the place to settle and make her new dream come true. It took more than two years to find the right space for Aesthetic Gallery. She took one look at the less-than-desirable building and knew that she could create a space of beauty and comfort. Walls were removed, exposing locally-made brick—a rare find. Floors were pulled up to reveal rich natural hardwoods.
Interestingly, Brenda’s collection began by having Asheville artists take photographs of important locations in this area—then sending those photos to an artist’s collective in Australia, who interpreted them in silk embroideries. The amazing results can be seen at the gallery, gracing those solid brick walls.
When asked how she was faring in this economy, she responded, “You always have to use common sense and stay above the curve. In addition to my high-end pieces, I also provide good art that is easy on the pocketbook. Learning from the past, I strive to think outside the box.”
In addition to international artwork, Brenda carries local and regional pieces made from a wide array of materials. You will find works of cashmere, mohair, and silk—as well as bright baskets made from telephone wire (woven by South African men while away from their families, working in the mines). She carries Aboriginal art, even a portrait made of crushed eggshells. The people, places, and cultures come alive to visitors as Brenda shares the story behind each piece. This is a must-see showroom for designers, locals, and tourists of discerning taste.
Note about the Minority Enterprise Award: The gallery won the retail category award because the business has been open for more than two years; it has created jobs by renovating the retail space by 50%. The gallery impacts the community by donating art to non profit annual fund raising events, we proudly promote local artists by displaying their art. In addition, Brenda has completed several leadership classes and serves on community boards. – AB