If you’ve ever been to Meredith and the Mill Falls Marketplace, chances are you’ve strolled by Oglethorpe Fine Arts & Crafts as you’ve made your way by the famous waterfall. And chances are you couldn’t resist coming in to take a look at all the beautiful, handcrafted items that are on display in this open, bright, and airy shop. Indeed, the store itself is a work of art as it highlights the artistic creations of over 500 artists from across the country, and features pieces that can be used and enjoyed in our everyday lives.
“Oglethorpe Fine Arts & Crafts opened its doors in May of 1994 with a focus on quality American handcrafts from the beginning,” says Katheryn Rolfe, owner of this unique store, which is committed to showing people how easy and gratifying it is to integrate art-quality craft into our lives. The shop started in a space of approximately 900 square feet and has since grown to about 2000 square feet, with several small increases over the years as surrounding shops moved away. This allowed Oglethorpe to increase its space without having to move. Says Katheryn about her spot in the Marketplace, “I absolutely love my location with the views of the pristine waterfall and brick walkways.”
Oglethorpe’s gallery features quality-made products and craft, and has something for everyone, including home décor, pottery, lighting, woodenware, fiber crafts, hand forged wrought iron, jewelry, mouth-blown glass, and a variety of gifts. “We absolutely get so excited to see the new work arrive and have the opportunity to share these beautiful products, made by hand, with our customers,” says Katheryn. She goes on to explain that Oglethorpe carries work by artists that they have featured for years, as well as new work each year by new and existing artists. “It keeps the inventory fresh and ensures that our customers are always seeing new and different work, which is one reason they love to visit often!”
And visit they do! Katheryn says that her customers are her greatest source of pride. Many of her regular clientele have been coming in to support the shop for years and continue to visit, as they are “as excited as we are about the new work and the changing inventory,” she remarks. “Many, many of these customers are much more than customers—they are our friends and we have built relationships over the years that are going to continue for many years to come. We have watched children grow up from babies and toddlers to young adults, and we share in all their accomplishments.
“People who really understand and appreciate the arts are special folks. They realize the heart and soul of an artist goes into each piece and they understand the value of the originality and care taken to produce the piece. I could relate scores of stories of customers who have found us and, even after moving south, call on a regular basis so we can fulfill their gift giving needs for them. Those are the things that make us most proud because we all know that there are many choices of where to buy.”
In keeping her customers happy, Katheryn gives a lot of credit to her staff. “My ‘family’ of employees are as proud, enthusiastic, and excited in Oglethorpe as I am, and I can’t imagine doing this without them. All are long-term employees and feel as close to our ‘customers’ and as excited to see the new work as I am. You can always be assured that someone who cares is at the shop and we will say ‘hello’ when you arrive and are more than willing to help you if you need it or will let you browse at your leisure. We even have some customers who come on a weekly basis because it is their ‘relaxation.’ We joke that they know the shop as well as we do!”
Oglethorpe started their ‘Made in America’ campaign long before it was the popular thing to do. Katheryn guesstimates that 98% of what she sells is American-made, with a few items coming from “our good neighbors to the north, Canada.” They also carry hardware for display, such as plate stands, that some customers request for their own use at home, and are the only truly foreign-made items in the store.
“Buying American-made is what we all should be doing, supporting our own economy and the people who live in our communities,” says Katheryn. “I am glad to see the popularity of this concept rising over the last 19 years . . . we are proud to have done so since our doors opened and today have the works of over 500 [American] artists on display.”
When asked about the future of Oglethorpe, Katheryn replies, “I would hope the future would bring about the opportunity for a little more retail space so that we could showcase additional furniture pieces and expand on home décor. The importance of interior design will always be an important connection to what I sell. Our homes should showcase what we love and be a place of comfort for us.”
The atmosphere at Oglethorpe certainly reflects Katheryn’s ideals. As evidenced by the many returning visits, Oglethorpe’s customers have found that sense of ‘home’ and ‘comfort’ at the store, for which Katheryn is deeply grateful. “Thanks to all our great customers and fans who have ‘adopted’ Oglethorpe as their ‘favorite’ shop! We wouldn’t be here without their support.”
The Mill Falls Blogging Team
photos by Bob Manley courtesy of Oglethorpe Fine Arts & Crafts