By Joel Hall
Local artist Tonia Mitchell has literally spent most of her life traveling. As the daughter of a lieutenant in the U.S. Army, Mitchell spent her elementary years near Munich, Germany, attended middle school at Fort Clayton, near the Panama Canal, and finished high school at International School Bangkok, outside Bangkok, Thailand.
International influences are at the core of the works displayed at the Tonia Mitchell Gallery and Bead Salon. Open since December at the Napier House in Olde Towne Morrow, the gallery and bead salon features hundreds of pieces of artwork and beaded jewelry by local and out-of-state artists, as well as decorative dolls crafted by Mitchell herself.
Mitchell, a self-taught artist living in Fayetteville, began making dolls in 1995, following a varied career, which included stints doing clerical work for the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand and several years designing hats, T-shirts, and logos as a silk screener. Her dolls, which are made using a technique called soft sculpture, incorporate fabrics, designs, and beads picked up during her travels in Europe, Asia, Central America, and the Unites States.
"I enjoy the challenge of putting things together that are totally unexpected," Mitchell said. "I see that they can all blend together, just like a bouquet of flowers or people around the world. Any doll may have as many as 15 different fabrics on it. I also incorporate my beads."
Many of Mitchell's hand-stitched dolls come with accessories and clothing stemming from African, East Asian, Native American, and Indian influences, some less than one-foot tall, and some standing six-feet in height. The dolls, she said, have been featured on Home and Garden Television, displayed in the annual Toy Fair in New York, and received as gifts by celebrities, including Halle Berry and Maya Angelou.
"I have a library of books I reference," to make the dolls, she said. "There is a lot of trial and error, lots of practice."
The prices of the dolls range from $195, for the smallest, to $3,500 for the largest, Mitchell said.
Alongside Mitchell's dolls are more than 100 pieces of two-and-three-dimensional artwork by American, Native American, Vietnamese, and African artists. Artists, as well as jewelry makers are able to sell their works on consignment, according to Mitchell.
A large attraction to visitors, Mitchell said is the store's bead salon, which features a vast assortment of semi-precious stones, crystals, glass, coral, jade, agate, horns, bones, shells, and other beads for purchase. A bead-making workshop in the back of the gallery allows bead-makers, and other artisans, to create their own jewelry pieces.
"I love beads, and I noticed that there were few bead shops south of [Interstate] 285," Mitchell said. "They are usually centralized in the metro area, and since I live on the Southside, I thought it would be a wonderful thing to share."
Mitchell said the store is starting to attract the attention of local art, quilt, and bead societies. Jo Ann McEwen, a member of the Atlanta Bead Society, said the atmosphere encourages people to be creative.
"It's a very pleasant place ... you feel very creative and very comfortable," McEwen said. "This is also a place where you can display what you do and have it appreciated by other people. You can actually pay for your passion. It's a great outlet for artists."
Mitchell said the gallery seeks to be a place of various forms of artistic expression, and has hosted several successful spoken-word poetry events. The gallery, she said, has plans to host a wine tasting, Tai Chi classes, and workshops on bead-making, doll-making, and art.
"All people love beautiful things," she said. "I want other people to come, see, share, and inspire."
The gallery is open Tuesdays to Saturdays, 11 a.m., to 5 p.m. For information about classes and workshops, call (678) 876-7238, or visit www.toniamitchellgallery.com.