Stepping into ‘Round the Mountain trail site, Matrix Gallery, on a dreary afternoon that might best be described as a mix of drizzle and gust with a touch of grey, the forecast immediately brightens as shop owner, Lana Jaurez, ushers me in with her warm smile and easy way. A few steps more, and I’m fully immersed in the company and domain of the attractive, petite entrepreneur with chocolate eyes and silvering bob. I know in an instant I’ve just entered the realm of someone who is right in her element, doing exactly what she loves and even more obviously meant to do.
The Road to Blacksburg
As an Art Major at Virginia Tech in the ’70s, Juarez had her heart set on working at a Downtown Blacksburg craft shop in the spot that is now Poor Billy’s. It closed before she got that chance. Waiting and wishing for someone to reopen it, she took to the road as a juried artist specializing in stained glass, a craft, which by her own admission, she hasn’t pursued in a while. The journey would ultimately take her across the country just as it had as a young “Navy brat” transported from California to D.C.. It was during these more recent ventures that she met most of the artists and artisans “from all over” she still represents to this day. Even though she has long since left the juried arts circuit, the latest works of those early acquaintances are still exquisitely displayed right next to her more recent finds.
Opening the Doors on a New Chapter
Realizing she could no longer wait for someone else to reopen that craft shop, she, along with two others who have since moved on, opened the gallery November 7, 1987 just a few blocks up the road in what has remained its permanent location at 115 North Main Street.
Working Her Magic
During a visit that was altogether too brief, I immediately grasped the notion behind her success when two random gentlemen, one with a clear agenda and one without, appeared in her doorway. The more decisive of the two made quick work of coveting a dove sculpture, a premeditated gift for (it was apparent) a very special lady, though he was in no apparent hurry. He and the engaging Juarez lingered over musicians and friends they had in common along with a shared love for Keb’ Mo’, who (unbeknownst to him) had prompted the whole exchange by way of Lana’s sound system. The other, asking where one “might find antiques in town”, was greeted with the news that he could easily find “future antiques” right there in Matrix Gallery! It was clear to me that no one could open that door without feeling the urge to come in and find what would surely become a treasured heirloom. Even I was not immune. I ended up leaving with the perfect gift for a friend’s new arrival: a baby rattle crafted out of a single piece of American black cherry at the hands of Victoria, TX wood turner and furniture maker, George Bagnall.
Art from All Parts
The array of artists reads like a travelogue as diverse as Juarez’ journeys — Whiting, WA; Burlington, ND; Corrales, NM; Easthampton, MA; Arcata, CA; Haiku, HI — though weight and prominence are equally given to local and regional artists including Blacksburg’s own David Crane, Beverly Nachlas, and Sally Mook as well as Floyd’s Sarah McCarthy, Richmond’s Robin Cage, and the Shenandoah Valley’s Marsha Heatwole. The offerings range from pottery to glass, jewelry and wood, leatherwork, and hand-forged steel among a variety of other media.
“I believe it’s important to continue the tradition of honoring things made by hand,” Juarez intones. “Even though this is new,” she urges, cradling a pottery mug with heartfelt appreciation, “it’s ancient.” With a compassion that is hard to miss, she emphasizes how hard it is for the American artist to make it, especially now as things are moving too fast at the hands of technology.
“It’s something we can’t afford to lose,” she says with an impassioned plea.
Tell Us What You’ve Found There
Do have a favorite artist or prized acquisition from Matrix Gallery? We’d love to hear about it. Please share your story with us in the comments section, below.
When you’re through, go by and wish Lana a Happy 25th Downtown Blacksburg Anniversary! We dare you to leave empty-handed.
Matrix Gallery is part of the Montgomery County Artisan Trail and is open seven days a week.