The Grace Gallery waves hello in aqua. Her thoughts flow in metallics within painting-filled rooms, and she shimmers.
Artist and owner Shannon Harris sees the gallery as an extension of herself, hence the building’s very own sparkling personality. The pumping heart works in the back corner of the space, where Shannon paints in her studio to create “my happy place, with all my magic.”
Settled off Dolly Ridge Road, The Grace Gallery is home to Shannon’s skylines, landscapes and other abstract paintings that bind her portfolio together in loose, hazy blocks of color and married golds and creams. It’s also home to classes of all kinds—from children’s parties to private adult lessons—that allow Shannon to share her techniques with others.
Just like her own painting style, Shannon’s classes are joyful and personal. She can tell someone’s occupation within five minutes of their work on the canvas, and she finds the best ways to lead each student through the project —usually a large abstract. “We call it the good time gallery,” Shannon says. “When all my girls are here, it’s something else. People come in here all the time and say we need a reality show.”
The Grace Gallery embodies so many of Shannon’s experiences—the acorn in her logo is symbolic of regrowth, something that rings especially loud in the spring season as the gallery approaches its four-year anniversary.
Shannon opened the gallery doors within days of April 27, 2018, an anniversary of its own for her and the Cahaba Heights neighborhood. April 27—the day tornadoes struck the Southeast and completely devastated parts of Vestavia Hills in 2011—weighs heavy on any longtime resident or business owner when the day rolls around.
Urban Green, Shannon’s upcycling class space and shop just across from her current gallery, was the setting for her own April 27. Uprooted and tornado-blown trees that destroyed the store seemed to be the physical manifestation of the emotional pain Shannon was experiencing.
“At the time [of opening Urban Green], our own home was in foreclosure, my marriage was falling apart and I was a new single mom to my toddler son and teenage daughter,” Shannon writes in her story on The Grace Gallery’s website. “I was sleep-deprived and working 18-hour days to provide for my children along with giving myself a purpose in those very dark days.”
But in the same way Cahaba Heights saw the epitome of a tight-knit, do-anything-for-you community after the tornadoes, Shannon found the same strength. Within the months surrounding the tornadoes, Shannon began painting for friends and family while her son, Cooper, was sleeping, and pinning down the creative talents she’s always clung to throughout her life. By the next April, she was approaching the idea of being a full-time artist and had her work for sale in her first gallery on 30A.
For herself and for her classes, Shannon holds on to what she’s seen in the artistic practice throughout her life—that art is therapy. “When artists have overcome pain, and they’ve used their art as therapy to get through some dark times, there’s depth in their art,” she says. “That’s always been my therapy, and that’s why I call my classes therapy.”
Classes beam with fun and brightness and adventure at The Grace Gallery. For children, requests to paint a cat riding a horse start there and then morph along with young artists’ inspiration. For adults, Shannon takes away the paintbrushes and equips them with plastic scrapers and other hard edges so they work with color in its pure and raw form.
She brings the same tools to her own art, pulling materials and techniques from her past work flipping houses, and “improvs” and experiments with the paint. But when she sees her “mad scientist” pieces resonating with a viewer, her series begin to emerge. “I like to invent new things. If it goes well, that’s a new series,” she says.
In her series of skylines, Shannon has brought Birmingham, Mobile, Huntsville, Montgomery and Atlanta to life in her hazy hues. The buildings and landmarks feel familiar, but Shannon makes them her own with her color staples—blues, golds and creams—and her loose imagining of the structures.
This style continues in her lakes and her collegiate series, all tied together through her signature palette. “My best drink as an artist is color balance and color placement,” she says. “It’s important to have that eye and balance the colors.”
The medley of light, metals, and color create a glow surrounding Shannon’s work, a glow that radiates throughout her second home at The Grace Gallery. The future looks just as bright as she is expanding her pillow line, hopes to introduce more textiles and interior design elements, and is gaining a clearer image of her purpose and her art therapy.
Shannon sees herself one day introducing a nonprofit side to The Grace Gallery and earning an official certification as an art therapist, combining psychology and social theories into the ways she has seen art transform lives.
Her idea is to create a program for adults to find support and expression through art. “If a creative does not find their creative purpose—their God-given gift—if it doesn’t get let out in the proper way, it’s going to get let out in a different way.”
Through Shannon’s method of painting—impulsive and off-the-cuff, moving with emotions—she sees resilience —the kind that she’s reminded of when spring blooms and carried with her always.
BY: Elizabeth Sturgeon