When the opening night crowd surges through the Swan Coach House Gallery red door on Nov. 14, they will be greeted by an array of more than 240 artworks filling the walls. The much-anticipated “Little Things” show is up.

The “Little Things” exhibition celebrates its 20th year this holiday season. Two decades ago, the gallery’s first curator, Marianne Lambert, initiated the small works concept with a modest show of sketches from artists’ sketchbooks. It quickly expanded to include a broad array of mediums and styles to become an annual tradition which, today, draws large crowds ranging from new and veteran collectors to art lovers and gift-seekers. “It’s our biggest night of the year,” said gallery general manager Michelle Laxalt.

The Swan Coach House. (Special)

Lambert, who retired in December 2018 and is now curator-in residence, came out of retirement to curate the 2019 show. Long active in the Atlanta art scene, she consulted her lengthy scroll of Georgia artists and invited some 120 to bring three to five pieces apiece to deck the walls. The works are a mix of paintings, drawings, mixed media, 3-D wall pieces and photography. Images may be no larger than 8 inches on any side, and, if framed, no more than a 2- to 4-inch frame. There are mini-sculptures as well.

“’Little Things’ is a way not only to showcase a great variety of art by emerging, mid-career and established local artists, but also to give many artists a space to display their work and to present works affordable for the general public,” said Lambert.

As pieces are sold, they are replaced by another 200-plus works waiting for their turn on the walls of the 864-square-foot gallery. Shows of small works is now a concept that is popular in many galleries during the winter holiday season.

Visitors attend the 2018 “Little Things” show and sale. (Special)

The Swan Coach House – which includes an art gallery, restaurant and gift shop — is located at 3103 Slaton Drive, at the back of the 33-acre Atlanta History Center grounds in Buckhead. It is the original carriage house for the Edward Inman estate known for its historical Swan House mansion built in 1928, which is considered a masterpiece of renowned Atlanta architect Phillip Trammel Shutze. Edward Inman died in 1931, and his wife Emily, with family members, lived in the house until 1965.

A year later, the Atlanta Historical Society acquired the house and grounds and has since maintained the home as a historic house museum and expanded the campus to include the Atlanta History Museum, Smith Family Farm House, Wood Family Cabin, Atlanta Cyclorama, Veterans Park, gardens, trails and woodlands.

Enter the Forward Arts Foundation. Founded in September 1965 as a non-profit organization by 12 dedicated arts patrons and community-minded women, the group selected the carriage house as its home. The Forward Arts Foundation renovated the Swan Coach House, creating the restaurant, then considered a tearoom, and the gift shop, and opened to the public in 1967. The gallery opened in 1985 and serves as an outreach program for the Foundation.

All proceeds from the Swan Coach House entities, along with several major annual fund-raising events by the Foundation — Flea Market, Fashion Show and Swan Ball — go to support the visual arts in Atlanta.

In 1999, the organization established the annual Emerging Artist Award, now called the Edge Award, to recognize an outstanding up-and-coming artist in the greater Atlanta area.

The mission of the Swan Coach House Gallery is to engage the Atlanta community through art exhibitions and educational programs, said Michelle Laxalt. “We support and promote Georgia artists and curators.

“We focus on education, not the commercial aspects of a gallery, and that gives us a lot of freedom to bring in a wide variety of shows in all mediums from paintings, photography and sculpture to textiles, ceramics, folk art, installations and more,” she said. “We can present exhibitions that are more conceptual and experimental and that are often more challenging. What makes us special is that we continue to evolve.”

Laxalt is one of a four-member team of curators and gallery staff and each is an artist in her own right. Karen Tauches, former manager, is part-time creative director and curator; Carson Keith is part-time curator and assistant gallery manager; and Maria Bruckman is gallery and exhibition assistant.

In addition to curating, the team develops programming for the year. In a September meeting, the curators pitch their passions for the next year’s shows and vote for what will be a good mix of exhibitions. “There are way more artists than we can include, and so much talent out there,” said Tauches. “Deciding is a big challenge.”

Works by Leisa Rich on display at the 2018 “Little Things” show. (Special)

The schedule is set for 2020, and it includes shows curated by members of the Swan Coach House Gallery curators as well as invited emerging and career curators in Georgia and artists from around metro Atlanta and the state.

Adjoining the gallery, just a few steps through a doorway is the Swan Coach House Gift Shop, currently decked out in holiday array. It is chock full of decorations and ornaments along with gifts for everyone from babies, youngsters and teens to brides and grooms and everyone else. Shoppers can find jewelry, home décor, pottery, kitchenware and place settings, and there is a special section of clothing and shelves of handbags.

And, of course, swans. Swans in all sizes and material; more than you are likely to see in any one place.

Swans show up in the Swan Coach House Restaurant, too, in paintings and as a decorative touch atop a classic dessert favorite. The restaurant foyer is just a few steps down from the gift shop to the foyer or you can enter from outside through the red door.

“We are on our third generation of family members and of bridal and baby showers,” said Jonathon Betti, general manager of the restaurant. “For many, lunch here is a tradition.”

The clientele has expanded in more recent years as tour groups from around metro Atlanta as well as from out of town visit the Atlanta History Center and want to experience the Swan Coach House Restaurant.

The menu is expansive and updated with seasonal items. The homemade soups and casseroles are popular, noted Betti, but the favorite, by far, even for return diners, is the classic chicken salad (secret recipe) with a frozen fruit salad and Coach House cheese straws.

And that signature dessert? Chocolate mousse served in a meringue cup swathed in whipped cream with a whipped cream swan gracing the top.

A word of advice: If you hope to have lunch or especially a banquet or special event in one of the private rooms, make your reservations well ahead of time.
Holidays, especially the Christmas season are very busy, said Betti.

Swan Coach House
3130 Slaton Drive, Buckhead

–Judith Schonbak