By Amy Wenk
amywenk@reporternewspapers.net

Hidden behind Sardis United Methodist Church, off Powers Ferry Road in Buckhead, is an unusual community on the grounds known for worship as early as 1812.

Housed in former barracks from World War II are several working artists and a gallery owner who represents emerging artists.

Those entities, Wing and a Prayer Studio and Gregg Irby Fine Art, will hold an open house at the end of the month, featuring a wine-and-cheese reception Oct. 30 from 4 to 10 p.m. and walkthroughs Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

It is the first time this artistic community has opened its doors to the public in five years.

“People love to see where it starts,” said Buckhead resident Corinne Adams, one of the inhabitants of the historic space. “There is a poetry and an energy and a mystery. You get to see everything when you come here.”

Wing and a Prayer Studio

Adams started Wing and a Prayer Studio about 13 years ago after she stumbled upon the 4,000-square-foot building behind the church. The space had been the home of the Atlanta International School and a Montessori school.

“I was just wishing out loud for some place to work outside my house,” said the artist, who uses photography as her predominant medium in creating dreamy mixed-media pieces. “I came out here and pressed my nose against that window and thought, ‘This would just be heaven.’ ”

What was not as divine was the rent, but Adams opened the studio “on a wing and a prayer,” hoping she could find others to share the cost. It worked.

“We have never been lacking somebody who wanted to move in,” Adams said. “It’s so pastoral and meditative. It’s the perfect place to think big thoughts and make art.”

Adams is represented by Soho Myriad in Atlanta. Her work can be seen in the Westin hotel and The Mansion in Buckhead, as well as in galleries across the Southeast.

In addition, she is the co-founder of Atlanta Celebrates Photography (www.acpinfo.org), the city’s annual October photography festival.

The studio now is also the home of five other artists: Dixie Purvis, Holly Golson Bryan, Betty Sanders Botts, Kristina Bailey and Beth Stewart.

After Adams, Purvis is the longest resident of Wing and a Prayer and has a large space in the center of the building.

There she creates oil paintings on Russian birch panels, including abstract pieces and minimal landscapes in a variety of sizes. Her pieces incorporate drawing marks, creating a good tension in the presentation, she said.

“I want it to be a strong enough painting that you have got to view it from both a distance and up close,” said Purvis, who is represented by Sandler Hudson Gallery and Gregg Irby Fine Art. “I want that push-pull for the viewer.”

She said she enjoys abstracts because of the dialogue created between the painting and the viewer.

“It has a language all its own,” said Purvis, who leads two critique groups at the studio. “You have got to take time … to let that painting speak to you.”

Botts, daughter of former Gov. Carl Sanders, creates large-scale acrylic paintings on wood panels. Her subject matter is often animals such as foxes and deer. She is represented by Summit One in Highlands, N.C.

“Betty is a very spiritual person,” said Purvis, adding Botts often incorporates Bible verses into her work.

At the end of the building, in a space beaming with natural light, are Bailey and Bryan, the youngest members of Wing and a Prayer.

Bailey is a graduate of the University of Georgia, where she studied fabric and surface design. After school, she focused on textiles and worked for fashion designer Cynthia Rowley in New York.

“From the get-go, I considered myself a decorative artist,” she said.

Bailey has translated her experience into a varied career consisting of painting, decorative finishes for homes and an invitation line.

“I do a lot of commissioned paintings,” said Bailey, who is represented by Emily Amy Gallery in Atlanta. “I tend to look at my canvas as something to be embellished with paint and fabric.”

Bryan also attended the University of Georgia, studying painting.

“I am an abstract painter … but recently I have incorporated my love for drawing as well,” she said.

An avid gardener who also works as a florist at markandscott inc. in Buckhead, Bryan relays her love of nature through botanical illustrations added to her abstract pieces painted on panels. Objects like acorns and magnolia pods float throughout her work.

Lastly, Beth Stewart has a small space in Wing and a Prayer. The nurse at Emory Crawford Long Hospital uses the space to create oil paintings in her spare time.

Gregg Irby Fine Art

Next door is a gallery and art consultant firm run by Buckhead resident Gregg Irby.

For about 10 years, she has represented emerging artists, offering affordable contemporary art to the public.

“My artists are eager, just starting out,” said Irby, who represents 20 artists like Sara Cameli, an art teacher at The Lovett School.

She also explores new markets for her artists, traveling to places such as Jacksonville, Fla., five times a year to hold shows.

Irby has occupied the space behind Sardis for nearly three years.

“I just love that it is just such a clandestine spot,” she said. “It is just this wonderful little artist colony in the middle of Buckhead.”

On Oct. 30, Irby will hold an opening reception for Elizabeth Barber’s solo show.