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VOL. 130 | NO. 140 | Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Make a Mess

Vergos sisters open art studio for kids in Overton Square

By Madeline Faber

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If you eat a plate of ribs at Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous, you’re likely to walk away with messy fingers. You’re also likely to get messy at a new business in Overton Square, where sisters Anna Vergos Blair and Katherine Vergos Riederer have opened their kid-friendly creativity zone The Art Project.

Three-year-old Matilda Blair works on a painting at The Art Project in Overton Square. Matilda’s mother Anna Vergos Blair has opened the new business with her sister Katherine Vergos Riederer.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Only six months ago, the pair dreamed up a place where kids could make art, parents could engage or kick back with adult beverages, and no one’s carpet had to be made a casualty.

“Basically anything that makes a mess, (my daughter Matilda) loves, but I didn’t love the mess in my house,” Blair said. “I started looking for a place to do free art, free in the sense of let them do what they want and explore different materials with no real set projects or no visible outcomes.”

Blair’s 3-year-old daughter was enjoying art-making afternoons at Riederer’s house, but they knew there had to be a better alternative. At Christmas, they started toying with the idea of opening a children’s art studio, and they came up with a plan that incorporated the pair’s practical knowledge and artistic flair.

Blair is an attorney, and Riederer worked in New York City as a children’s clothing designer. When she returned to Memphis, she always thought she would start her own company. The sisters both grew up helping out at their family’s restaurant the Rendezvous, so that provided a touch of entrepreneurial moxie.

“Having a family that has put themselves out there in Memphis and been able to run a business successfully for so long kind of gave us a little bit of confidence that we could use their resources and business knowledge to also help us in doing this,” Blair said.

They turned to Taylor Berger, vice president with Newmark Grubb Memphis and the maverick behind several local restaurant concepts. The next day, he showed them two bays at 2092 Trimble Place. The grand opening took place July 7, and the activity hasn’t slowed down since.

On a recent afternoon at The Art Project, several grade-schoolers are painting on easels in the Scribble Space, a semi-private circular enclosure. Twenty-four easels line the inside of the Scribble Space, and the outside rim is stocked with materials like building blocks, loose fabrics, spare cardboard, chalk, glitter and oil pastels. Little tables and chairs are scattered throughout for solo coloring, and employees hover to dish out more paint.

Today’s artists have covered the sprawling chalkboard wall. Tomorrow, it will be wiped clean and new kids will discover the space.

“It’s controlled chaos,” Blair said.

Five-year-old Harper Godwin plays with building blocks at The Art Project in Overton Square.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

On days like this, families can drop in for a daily fee or on a yearly or monthly membership basis. Classes for paper doll making and screen-printing are upcoming, and the Vergos sisters hope to add several classes a week once school is in session. Classes and private parties are held in the Scribble Space, so The Art Project is always open for drop-ins.

It also offers digitization services where parents can bring by a stack of their children’s art and walk away with a DVD or one-of-a-kind printed invitations or stationary.

Parents can sip on Relevant Roasters coffee and soon will be able to order beer and bring wine. Eventually, the sisters hope to host adults-only art nights with catering from local restaurants. (The table in the middle of the Scribble Space raises and lowers and could be made to fit the parent’s-night-out crowd.)

The sisters’ main motivation was creating a space that appealed to both kids and adults, and Overton Square proved to be the perfect location.

“We wanted somewhere that was easily accessible to Downtown, East Memphis and Midtown,” Riederer said. “Somewhere with easy parking and a place where parents could make a day out of it.”

In an area billed for its nightlife, the west side of Overton Square has become increasingly kid-friendly. The Art Project fits in well with tenants like Belly Acres and Sweet Noshings and the attraction of the Overton Square Tower Courtyard. With Ballet Memphis planning to relocate to the French Quarter Suites parcel, The Art Project hopes to draw from families enrolled in dance classes across the street.

“We love what’s going on here (Overton Square). This is our favorite area,” said Jennie Brooks, an East Memphis mom visiting The Art Project for the first time. “We’re looking into memberships considering how today goes.”

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