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Wesleyan Artist Market: Elizabeth Ables Talks about Art, Chemistry and Inspiration [Podcast]



Elizabeth discusses the Market, her background and inspiration, and the impact that art has on our lives.

We’re talking with another artist to be featured at the Wesleyan Artist Market. Elizabeth Ables is an artist working primarily in pottery, but she is also a teacher to the young artists attending Wesleyan School. Rico and Elizabeth discuss the Market, Elizabeth’s history and inspiration, and the impact that art has on our lives.


Elizabeth’s Instagram: @Ables.Elizabeth

Wesleyan Artist Market: https://www.artistmarket.wesleyanschool.org/?fbclid=IwAR1CHO4OSbMxutNgMGk3X9B2YXFsOJiXVhjXvhu7jQ3fbqenUlW-bemPSSc

“There’s always a risk that a piece is going to crack and that you’re not going to get the color that you want to. But then with experience, you realize it’s just clay. I can make it again. And I can try again. And sometimes you get happy accidents, where it might not have been what you were planning for, but what you ended up with was beautiful in its own right… It’s just like life in that sense. But if you’re open to what you get, often it’s so much more beautiful.”

Elizabeth Ables


[00:00:30] – Intro
[00:01:58] – Being an Artist and a Teacher
[00:03:50] – Raku Pottery and Technique
[00:07:49] – Elizabeth’s History and Inspiration
[00:11:18] – Teaching Young Artists
[00:18:18] – Wesleyan Artist Market
[00:22:11] – Fun Facts about Elizabeth
[00:25:04] – Closing

Podcast Transcript

[00:00:30] Rico: Hi everyone, this is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life. The podcast that covers everything about Peachtree Corners, here in the great state of Georgia. Today, we have a special guest because it’s artist month, right? Wesleyan Artist Market will be held at the end of this month and so we have one of the featured artists here today to talk to us about her art and about Wesleyan Artist Market. But before we get to that, I wanted to thank one of our supporters, EV Remodeling. Content is supported here by community-minded companies and organizations like EV Remodeling that help us produce editorially independent content. They are companies that underwrite us in additional ways beyond print advertising. And Eli, from EV Remodeling has come on board as a great sponsor of ours. Not only for the magazine, our new launch of a new magazine coming out in May called Southwest Gwinnett Magazine, but as well as these family of podcasts. So I want to thank them for their support. To find out a little bit more about their work and the philosophy of designing your space to design your life, check out Eli’s website at EVRemodelingInc.com. So thank you Eli, I appreciate your support. I want to bring on our artist. Hey, Elizabeth, how are you?

[00:01:44] Elizabeth: I’m good, thank you. How are you this morning?

[00:01:46] Rico: Good, good. You’re one of three artists that we’re profiling in the latest issue of Peachtree Corners Magazine. That should be hitting the mailboxes this weekend.

[00:01:57] Elizabeth: I got mine yesterday.

[00:01:58] Rico: Did you really? Good. The Post Office is working overtime then. That’s good. That’s great. So, and that was written by Patrizia Winsper who’s done some great work. And she’s done, I guess the articles of profiles of artists for the last three years running for us. And I do appreciate you being on our podcast. I think we had, there were two students that we had from Wesleyan Artist Market just a few weeks ago on our podcast to talk about their work. So it’s good to have, not only are you an artist, but you work for Wesleyan School as well, right?

[00:02:28] Elizabeth: I do. I’m the elementary art teacher. And so some of the students that are now participating as artists were some of my students when they were much younger. And it’s so amazing to be able to watch their talents grow and to see their inspiration and to see kind of the, just the direction that they take. And some of them may choose to continue on with design and with art. But they’re all just so incredibly talented that it’s, that’s one of the cool things about this art show is that you do get to see some emerging artists as well. And the community gets to celebrate the arts here in the springtime and see such a variety.

[00:03:04] Rico: Yeah. Interestingly enough, I mean, some people think art is just paintings, drawings, and maybe pottery. But there’s a whole world out there of stuff. I mean, one of the kids does seamstress work and creates through fabric, creates her art.

[00:03:18] Elizabeth: Yes. And you think about our world nowadays with social media, there is so much visual communication. And we are all drawn to things that are attractive or have something that connect with us. Well, that’s an artist who designed it.

[00:03:33] Rico: Yeah. From their perspective and what they see, the experience of creating the art. You know, I think one of the things Patrizia quoted you about is that art, if you want perfect you buy the manufactured pieces. There are a thousand molds just pieces, right?

[00:03:49] Elizabeth: Exactly.

[00:03:50] Rico: Because it was interesting to just, to read that article about the way you work. And the way pottery, the way glass, the way artwork, when you’re firing up artwork even, how number one, it could be explosive in so many different ways, right?

[00:04:05] Elizabeth: Yes, exactly. And very unpredictable.

[00:04:09] Rico: Yes. Unpredictable. Where you might start out with what you think is a blue and chemistry will and fire will show you that no, it’s a red.

[00:04:18] Elizabeth: Yes. And within the pottery world, specifically what I was talking about there, I was talking about Raku. Which Raku is very environmental that’s where it’s more unpredictable. In an electric or a gas kiln, which is the firing process, it is more predictable. And the chemicals that go into the glazes, you know the range that you could get. So speaking of this particular range in the Raku firing, I know if I don’t put it in reduction, which is putting in one of those containers where there are combustible materials and you put a lid on it. So the fire sucks out, uses up the oxygen, sucks out certain particles, certain minerals in the glazes. You kind of know the range that you’re going to get, but it is still unpredictable. And where that range is going to hit. Like, where is there a hotspot in the fire? And that sort of thing. And so whether your item is in the top of the kiln or on the bottom of the kiln. How fast it cools, how fast you put it in reduction, if you’re doing Raku, all of that impacts the coloration and where it’s going to be. So you can know a range is basically what you’re going to get, but you it’s unpredictable.

[00:05:26] Rico: Amazing. It’s so you’re, when people see movies where people are making pottery and stuff, and then they have to have to kiln it, they have to like bake it if you will. Yeah.

[00:05:39] Elizabeth: Exactly. And so one of the things, you know, that movie everybody thinks of, gosh, there was that one movie with Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze, and it really is very kind of sensual and informing it and very meditative, very cathartic. And so that part was so true. Ghost, that was the movie. That part is so true. And it just, the feeling of it, you just really can get lost in what you’re doing.

[00:06:04] Rico: You do your work at, I think, if I understand correctly Spruill Art Center.

[00:06:08] Elizabeth: I do. Mostly because, in my classroom here at school, I don’t have a wheel. It takes more strength. And so that’s going to be in the upper levels. And so I do hand building with my students. And that’s where they basically, they make pancakes and turn it into something. They form a, what’s called a pinch pot, which is a centuries old process of starting with a ball and then forming it with your thumbs and your hands to form a pot. Then you can do coils. That’s the way we work here and that’s learning the fundamentals of clay. And that’s what I started with when I was learning clay as well, was learning the fundamentals of hand building. And then I went into the wheel or throwing pottery. And that takes a lot of strength and it, the key to that is really being able to center your clay. So trying to get it completely in the middle and get it smooth. And that takes a lot of practice and skill and strength.

[00:07:03] Rico: I would imagine if you didn’t have a good day, going to do that may not turn out well, or it could turn out well, I guess.

[00:07:09] Elizabeth: Exactly. Some days you get to the wheel and you’re just like, wow. Things are just not quite working today. And then other days you do something and you’re forming it and in 15 minutes you get a beautiful pot and you’re like, wow. I’ve got the feel today, so.

[00:07:23] Rico: I think anyone with a passion, whether it’s sports or it’s art, when they’re at that plate or they’re on that field or they’re at that seat, creating something. If it’s not your day, it’s not your day, right? To be able to create what you need.

[00:07:38] Elizabeth: Yeah, we really do. We have days where somehow it’s all clicking, you’re focused, you’re in a feel, and you keep going. And then other days you decide it’s time to clean your bucket and go with something else.

[00:07:49] Rico: You’ve had experience in different art work out through the years. I understand that you moved here to Peachtree Corners maybe about 28 years ago?

[00:07:56] Elizabeth: Yes, I did. I’ve been in Atlanta since ’87.. And so, but I was in the Dunwoody area as opposed to up here in Peachtree Corners. And I did many different art forms through the years. One thing I did a lot of heirloom sewing, hand embroidery, hand dying, antique laces and things like that. And I’ve done some painting.

[00:08:16] Rico: Okay. But you’re settling on the work you’re doing now. And what is it? I would say pottery, but what, how would you describe it? Like, the work?

[00:08:26] Elizabeth: Yeah, pottery. I love, I love finding beauty in functional items. I’m not as much a sculptor for a, so I’m not looking for abstract. Even though some of the Raku pieces are more decorative than they are functional, due to their surface nature. But I just love having beautiful functional things around. And that’s kind of what got me started, is wanting to be able to make those things that I could envision in my head. You know, little bowls on the counter that you want to put your recycling in or something, just that simple kind of stuff. But I wanted something really pretty and I wanted it sort of organic. I didn’t want it commercial. I wanted to kind of come up with the vision, the size, the color, the texture, all of that, that I wanted on my own.

[00:09:07] Rico: So is it fair to say you get your inspiration from everyday life or the?

[00:09:12] Elizabeth: I do. I really get most of my inspiration probably from nature. I’m very much an outdoor kind of person and just love the beautiful colors that we find in nature, birds. The ocean is a big inspiration, and that’s one of the things that I’m constantly trying to replicate in my glazes, is kind of just coming up with those colors of the ocean and the blended colors. So not really a solid, but blended. And textures from nature like bark. Yeah.

[00:09:38] Rico: So that must be difficult because talking about the color before, and how chemistry is a big part of this, and fire, and heat, and being able to stop the reaction. Does it get easier with experience or is it still hit or miss to where you feel?

[00:09:53] Elizabeth: It gets easier with experience, but there is some hit or miss to it. You’ve just got to know that there’s a certain amount of unexpected and there’s always the risk. There’s always a risk that a piece is going to crack and that you’re not going to get the color that you want to. But then with experience, you realize it’s just clay. I can make it again. And I can try again. And sometimes you get happy accidents, where it might not have been what you were planning for, but what you ended up with was beautiful in its own right.

[00:10:24] Rico: A delightful surprise.

[00:10:26] Elizabeth: Exactly. It’s just like life in that sense. And that you you’ve got these plans, but it doesn’t always work out that way. But if you’re open to what you get, often it’s so much more beautiful.

[00:10:39] Rico: So do you find yourself sometimes driving or doing things and then all of a sudden think things, like darn, well next time I think I’m going to try to put horse hair on the layering of the pot to see if that burns off and becomes. Do you think like that? Is that something you do in the middle of?

[00:10:55] Elizabeth: Yes, but I certainly cannot claim to have inspired and created that process of the horse hair. Like that goes back hundreds of years, I believe in Japan. So, no, I don’t claim that. But I would love to say, you know what, I’d love to do this and see what would happen if I do this. And maybe if I put just a little, or if I put a lot or if I do this kind of a shape, how is it going to change?

[00:11:18] Rico: Now you have young kids you’re teaching and they’re going through the process.

[00:11:22] Elizabeth: Yeah. My children, my students are young kids. My children are in their late twenties.

[00:11:26] Rico: That’s what I meant your students at Wesleyan. And I grant that they’re doing the basic work. But do you find that some of the students that come back to you have done more? Have done other things?

[00:11:38] Elizabeth: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Where they get to go on and they learn more and they experiment more, they develop more skills and develop their confidence to be able to go in the direction that they envision. You know, it takes a lot of confidence for children to risk failure to be able to create art. Cause you’ve got to fail a lot of times as we all know. And so, to be able to see them when they get up potentially to their AP art and they do it in AP 3D Art. I mean, there was just a special student a couple of years ago and he’s at Kennesaw and he was just making some glorious things and just getting so intuitive with his forms. And then how he was altering those forms to represent an idea that he had was just so heartwarming and that, it’s just exciting to see.

[00:12:29] Rico: So as a teacher, do you find some of them coming back or sharing things with you?

[00:12:33] Elizabeth: Oh, absolutely. I follow some on Instagram and to see what they’re doing. I’ve got a little student now that was always enamored with birds and she’s going to be a participating artist in the show and she has got some beautiful pieces showing birds. And now she’s doing them, not in a traditional sense, but she’s got her own view on how she’s presenting them. And that’s what an artist does, is sees things differently and helps other people see things in a different way through their art.

[00:13:02] Rico: Right. So, and the kids that you teach now, how old are they? What age?

[00:13:06] Elizabeth: Kindergarten through fourth grade.

[00:13:07] Rico: That’s definitely a certain perspective different from high schoolers and middle schoolers, I’m sure.

[00:13:13] Elizabeth: Yeah. You know, in some of the ways they’re more free. They just, they have no problem painting horses blue and doing all sorts of things, you know? But then as they do get a little bit more fourth grade, that’s when the inhibitions and the insecurities of comparison to fellow students comes in. So that’s when they start to withdraw a little bit. But my goal as the teacher is hopefully to give them skills and confidence and courage to be able to work through that, to be able to get past that fear of failure and realize, it’s just paper, it’s just ink, it’s just pottery and clay. And that’s how you know, I’m going to learn.

[00:13:49] Rico: You know what I think also as they get older, I mean, I’ve been speaking to my daughter lately, she’s a psych master. So we sit down and we talk for an hour sometimes about stuff. And we talked about how, when you’re younger, you see things much differently than an older person. Because an older person has so many years of experience and also years of a perspective, right. Which is a lot different than younger people. They, younger people see things very differently, I think. Because they’re on that other end of life, right? And so sometimes, so I have a young son that also writes, and sometimes they don’t want to share this stuff. Because, you know, it’s just like, well, what are you going to think about it? Or what are you going to think about me reading this, you know?

[00:14:32] Elizabeth: Yeah, you’re opening yourself up to being vulnerable to people. And that opens yourself up for judgment. It opens yourself up for failure and it brings out the insecurities that we all inherently have.

[00:14:44] Rico: Yeah, because art is personal, right? I mean, you do something and I’m sure you pour your heart into something and then you want to show it. And then as an artist, you might be listening, stepping back and listening to different people looking at it. And maybe they’re not knowing you’re around, and they will have different perspectives. And I’m sure, have you, have you heard anything that you could share that would be one of those surprising moments where someone said something about your artwork?

[00:15:10] Elizabeth: Oh, my goodness. Well, I will say this, my students are just some of my best cheerleaders. When they come to the Artist Market and they see my work, they’re just like, oh, Ms. Ables you’re just so good. And you know, and that’s just so heartwarming because in my mind, when I look at some of the pieces, I might see the imperfections that I wish weren’t there. And so, they’re wonderful. So if you ever are having a bad day, just pull the young students out and they’re going to remind you that you’re kind of a rock star in a way. They’re also going to tell you the truth sometimes that you don’t necessarily want to hear, but they’re, they’re wonderful. And that’s just one of the blessings of what I do. I can’t think of a time when I was like eavesdropping or rather able to hear that.

[00:15:55] Rico: That’s fine. Sometimes that happens. When you were young and you went to school, what did you study in college, for example? Was it art, I mean?

[00:16:03] Elizabeth: No, it was not art. It was actually communication and sociology. So I was planning on going into broadcasting. So I worked on a television show in the news program some and then I just ended up, I guess I chickened out. And I wasn’t willing to go off and move to a really small market, really small town, and kind of be on my own quite at that point. So you know, life has a way of bringing things differently. And so through my children, I ended up getting my teaching degree and that’s what brought me kind of back full circle. And that’s why I said, even in the article that I think of myself more as a creator, because I’m not a formally trained artist. Which many of the greatest artists around and throughout history were not formally taught. So there’s a lot to be said for the experience of trial and error. You know, I’ve had some great teachers and inspirational people along the way.

[00:16:55] Rico: I guess if you know, if we talk about like centuries ago, like the Renaissance. I mean, there were workshops, people became apprentices to famous artists and they would learn that way. I mean different now. You go to school, they teach you, you know, you go through these classes and levels and they teach you different materials, different mediums that you use.

[00:17:16] Elizabeth: So they can teach, your education can teach you the technical aspect and it can teach you I guess, skills and things like that. But it doesn’t teach the heart and the passion for what it takes to really be able to communicate through your art, something that’s unique to you.

[00:17:33] Rico: Yeah. Film school is like that. I think you could go and you learn the technical aspects of how to shoot something. Then you at least can know what rules to break, right? And if you have that passion and you have a great reel, then you’re going to be able to make it somewhere maybe. But sometimes it’s luck too, right? It’s the, where you put yourself out and how much you put yourself out. You know, to get that praise or that judgemental. You know, I mean, people are going to judge your art one way or another.

[00:18:02] Elizabeth: It does help to have a little bit of success early on, and a little bit of that because it does, it just emboldens you to keep going in that direction and to keep trying. And if the door slammed a few too many times, you really have to dig deep to find that resilience to keep going.

[00:18:18] Rico: That’s right. That’s right, I’m sure. So how long have you been doing the Wesleyan Artist Market?

[00:18:24] Elizabeth: Well, as a participating artist, I think about six years. Actually when I came to Wesleyan School, 24 years ago I guess, when my son first started at Wesleyan school. I was familiar with an art show in another city. And I brought kind of my vision of trying to create an art show for Wesleyan. So I actually started the art show. So for the first five years, I was the chair of the art show. And then I took a hiatus and then I came back as working here and then I became a participating artist. So I went from being a customer, the founder, customer still, right? And now I’m a participant artist.

[00:19:05] Rico: Wow, okay. I didn’t know that about you. That’s good to know. So but now do you do any exhibition work or showings outside the Artist Market?

[00:19:15] Elizabeth: I don’t. And the main reason why is I’m not a high production potter because this is not my full-time job. And so I just don’t have enough time to create the inventory that I need to go do some of the other area art shows. So I find Wesleyan and the Wesleyan Art community, they get my first shot. They get my attention.

[00:19:36] Rico: Do you have an Instagram account or use that scene for your stuff?

[00:19:40] Elizabeth: You know what, I am developing my Facebook account, so I’m going to have Facebook Marketplace.

[00:19:46] Rico: Oh, okay.

[00:19:46] Elizabeth: And then eventually I will get to Etsy. It’s been on the to-do list, but again, keeping up with the production of it is just the challenging part.

[00:19:54] Rico: Yeah, for sure. Etsy and social media has made it great for artists to be able to share their artwork, be able to find followers that are interested in the pieces that the artists produce. So it’s a great time for our young artists, I think.

[00:20:09] Elizabeth: Yes, it is, really. Especially during this pandemic, it’s been able to keep the arts going and keep people connected.

[00:20:16] Rico: For sure. And technology is just making it easier to be able to, even be able to see things in a three-dimensional way versus just a flat piece of art. Like image on the screen. It’s becoming less expensive to create your artwork in a way that people can flip it and look at it at their leisure versus let’s say a video. So just a lot, lot of good technology out there making it better for artists to be able to share their work. So it’s kind of cool that way. Okay, because you do what you do when you go shopping and you, you know, you’re going out at other, we’re not talking about flea markets or art festivals and stuff, but just normal shopping. Do you see stuff that inspires you? Do you see things there that says to you, why is this even being sold?

[00:20:58] Elizabeth: Sometimes I see the things that are, why is this thing even being sold? Yes. But again, I do definitely see some things. I love italian pottery and I love that earthiness and that look of that. And I see things, and I keep thinking, I want to be able to achieve that color in my pieces sometimes. Cause I’m so drawn to color. And there are certain colors that are really difficult to get in the glazes. Just, and so I keep looking for the perfect color and keep looking, as I create my art and try and develop more and more patience with trying to take the time to create and to fine tune, particularly the glazing process. And so I do.

[00:21:38] Rico: Do you do sample glazes? That was just hitting me as you were saying, and we talked about chemistry before. When you’re creating the chemistry for these glazes, if you will, do you test fire some samples?

[00:21:49] Elizabeth: Yes, you really should. Mainly because to get the layering and to see how they’re going to react with each other. And so that is important. So you make little tiles that you are able to do that. Knowing that it’s going to be a little bit different, but you try and create these little ridged tiles that are going to give you the vertical effect. So you know, if it’s going to run or is it going to break and things like that.

[00:22:11] Rico: Alright, cool. I just want to ask you some other questions to tie things up a little bit that I normally ask my interviewees, I did this with the students. Just some quick questions, like what’s your favorite, or most inspirational place in Peachtree Corners? Or in general.

[00:22:27] Elizabeth: In Peachtree Corners, my favorite inspirational place, I would kind of say my backyard. I’ve got beautiful trees and I’ve got beautiful azaleas and the birds. I do love taking walks and we’re blessed here to have so many parks, which is wonderful. But in my neighborhood we have a park down along the river and that’s just always so inspiring. I can almost feel the people that walked on those grounds 200 years ago, along the river, and yeah.

[00:22:54] Rico: For sure. What is your favorite book or movie?

[00:22:58] Elizabeth: Gosh, I will say modern day book would probably, where the Crawdads Sing was a good one. Redeeming Love is a pretty amazing one. And then kind of more of a classic, To Kill a Mockingbird. To go back and read that as an adult, and there’s also the audio version, which Sissy Spacek narrated, which really brings a flavor to it, which is pretty cool. So I like that one.

[00:23:23] Rico: Yeah, the kids have read that. Obviously it’s a classic book for reading in English class and seen the movie.

[00:23:29] Elizabeth: But to come back and read it years later and to really get the nuances, that’s pretty.

[00:23:33] Rico: Yeah. Especially the original version versus, I think there’s several versions of it, but as far as edited versions. Removing words and stuff. The original version really does make a difference to read it in that language.

[00:23:47] Elizabeth: It does. And to think about it in the current, the light of what’s happening in current day.

[00:23:52] Rico: Yeah, for sure . What wouldn’t you do without?

[00:23:56] Elizabeth: I would not do without, of course family doesn’t count, but family. And my animals, right? My animals. I wouldn’t do without creating of some sort.

[00:24:06] Rico: Okay. I think you said before, you’re a cat person?

[00:24:09] Elizabeth: And dogs. I’m just an animal person. Yeah. I’d have a menagerie, if I could.

[00:24:15] Rico: What’s your favorite food?

[00:24:17] Elizabeth: My favorite food. Gosh, I don’t guess french fries is a good option. No, not allowed to say that.

[00:24:26] Rico: Extra fries please.

[00:24:28] Elizabeth: Yeah, really. Vegetables.

[00:24:31] Rico: Oh, okay. Cool.

[00:24:33] Elizabeth: I love vegetables.

[00:24:34] Rico: Alright. And last question is, if you had a superpower, what would that be?

[00:24:38] Elizabeth: Gosh, I thought about that one other time, and now I’m on the spot, you know, trying to figure it out.

[00:24:42] Rico: It’s hard. You have Superman, you have Spider-Man you have.

[00:24:46] Elizabeth: And I’m thinking too, the first thing that came to my mind was to be able to create, to bring peace, but that’s not the same kind of super power that we’re thinking. I wouldn’t want to read minds, I know that part I would not want to read minds. So, maybe to stretch and morph into any shape you want.

[00:25:04] Rico: There you go. That’s very artistic actually, when you think about it. Alright, we’ve been talking to Elizabeth Ables, teacher and a student in a way of life, an Artist that’s going to be at the Wesleyan Artist Market. So tell us where we can find out more about the Artist Market. Where can we find you there if we come visit? And all that or how can people follow you if that’s the case?

[00:25:30] Elizabeth: So for following me, I am on Facebook marketplace and then I am on Instagram. Just, I think Elizabeth Ables. Now the Wesleyan Artist Market is on the campus, the beautiful campus here in Peachtree Corners. And it’s going to be open on Friday, April 29th from ten to seven, and then on Saturday from ten to three, I believe. And there’ll be about 70 plus professional artists, as well as student artists. There’ll be food trucks. It’ll be a wonderful celebration of the arts. And there’s a variety of art styles, mediums, price ranges, you name it. And the artists have got to be present. And it’s not reproductions, it’s gotta be original art. And so it’s a wonderful opportunity to meet the artist, to learn more about their process and what their inspiration was, and to really be able to connect in a personal way with what you want to bring into your home. And I think that’s what makes the show special. Because you can go to a gallery, but this way you get to see the artist and speak to them. Bringing art into your home is a personal thing. It’s going to be a part of your life for a long time. And so to know the reason why the artist created it helps you to connect, and it becomes part of your family. It’s just part of your visual family.

[00:26:43] Rico: Yeah, for sure. You need that background. You need that understanding of how that art came to be. It is Friday, April 29th from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM there’s some special events that day also Handcrafted coffees and gourmet baked goods for sale all day long even. So feel free, right? There’s pizza on the quad at 3:00 PM.

[00:27:03] Elizabeth: It’s free parking. It’s in the big gymnasium that’s in the center of the campus. So you can get to it from many different directions. There’ll be a lot of signs. There’ll be a lot of people directing you there. And you know, it’s just a great celebration. We’re praying for good weather because that’s always important.

[00:27:20] Rico: So to find out, just Google Wesleyan Artist Market or go to LivingInPeachtreeCorners.com or search them on Instagram because you can follow them there as well. Thank you, Elizabeth. I appreciate you taking your time with us and sharing a little bit about what makes art for you.

[00:27:36] Elizabeth: Well, thank you very much for spotlighting the Artist Market and for including me and giving me the opportunity to kind of talk about why I do what I do, and why I love what I’m doing, and bringing art to Peachtree Corners.

[00:27:49] Rico: This was fun. Thanks, Elizabeth.

[00:27:51] Elizabeth: I appreciate it.

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8 Theatrical Performances Coming to the Peachtree Corners Area



Discover local theatrical performances: mystery, musicals, comedies, and Shakespeare in the Park. Support the arts with every ticket.
Photo by cottonbro studio

Mean Girls: High School Version
Thursday-Friday, April 11-12
Thursday and Friday, 6 p.m.; Saturday, 2 p.m.
Paul Duke STEM High School
5850 Peachtree Industrial Blvd., Norcross
Tickets: Adults, $12; students, $10 and children (ages 5 and under), $5

Adapted from Tina Fey’s hit 2004 film, the Mean Girls musical has been nominated for a staggering 12 Tony Awards. Now, Paul Duke STEM brings the high school version of the show to life.

Tickets are on sale and can be purchased here.

The Curse of the Hopeless Diamond
Thursday, April 18. 6:30 p.m.
Anna Balkan Jewelry and Gifts
51 S. Peachtree St., Norcross
Ticket: $25, includes snacks and one glass of wine

The audience-participation murder mystery is a fundraiser for Lionheart Theatre’s summer theatre camp for kids and teens; it’s being hosted by Anna Balkan and 45 South Coffee House.

About the show: Reginald and Daphne Potter are touring extensively, along with their world-famous Potter Diamond, in the company of four detectives. It’s well-known that the Potter Diamond is beautiful…and cursed!

Purchase tickets here.

Thursday-Sunday, April 25-28
Thursday and Friday, 7 p.m.; Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m.
Valor Christian Academy
4755 Kimball Bridge Rd., Alpharetta
Tickets: $20 per person

About the show: Presented by CYT Atlanta, the show spans from the twilight of the Russian Empire to the euphoria of Paris in the 1920s as a brave young woman sets out to discover the mystery of her past. Pursued by a ruthless Soviet officer determined to silence her, Anya enlists the aid of a dashing con man and a lovable ex-aristocrat. Together they embark on an epic adventure to help her find home, love and family.

Click here to learn more.

Little Shop of Horrors
Thursday-Sunday, April 25-28
Thursday, Friday, Saturday, 7 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.
Norcross High School
5300 Spalding Dr., Norcross
norcrosshigh.org, nhs-drama.com, 770-448-3674
Tickets: $10

About the show: A horror comedy rock musical, Little Shop of Horrors centers around a florist shop worker who raises a carnivorous plant that eats humans.

Secure your spot.

Thursday-Saturday, May 2-4
Wesleyan School Powell Theatre
5405 Spalding Dr., Peachtree Corners
wesleyanschool.org, 770-448-7640

About the show: The fantastical, magical musical is based on the children’s stories of Dr. Seuss.

Discover more here.

Breaking Legs
May 3-19
Fridays and Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, May 18 and Sunday matinees, 2 p.m.
Lionheart Theatre Company
10 College St., Norcross
lionhearttheatre.org, 678-938-8518
Tickets: Adults, $18; students and seniors, $16

About the show: In this madcap comedy, an Italian restaurant is owned by a successful mobster and managed by his beautiful unmarried daughter. When the daughter’s former college professor asks for financial backing for a play he’s written about a murder, the three main Mafiosi are intrigued with the idea of producing a play. The daughter becomes enamored of the playwright who discovers, through the ‘accidental’ death of a lesser thug, that his backers are gangsters.

Find tickets here.

Finding Nemo JR
Friday-Sunday, May 10-12
Greater Atlanta Christian School King’s Gate Theatre
1575 Indian Trail Rd., Norcross
greateratlantachristian.org, 770-243-2000

About the show: The hour-long musical adaptation of the Pixar film features Marlin, a nervous clownfish who lives with his adventurous child, Nemo, in the Great Barrier Reef. When Nemo is carried off to Sydney, Marlin must overcome his fears and travel across the ocean to find him.

Learn more here.

Much Ado About Nothing
Saturday-Sunday, May 11-12
Saturday, 2 and 5 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m.
Simpsonwood Park
411 Jones Bridge Circle, Peachtree Corners

About the show: Contemporary Classics Theatre presents Shakespeare’s romantic comedy May 11-26 at Simpsonwood Park in Peachtree Corners, Christ Church Episcopal in Norcross and Autrey Mill Nature Preserve in John’s Creek. Director Susanna Wilson’s version of the play is set in Italy during a 21st century film festival. Love at first sight, jealousy and confusion, an illegitimate sibling, mixed-up lovers, three weddings and a funeral fill this amusing look at love, betrayal and acceptance. Performances will be outside for a “Shakespeare in the Park” experience. Audience members should bring blankets and lawn chairs as no seating is provided. Shows run approximately 100 minutes with no intermission. 

Click here for more information.

Want more event happening in and around Peachtree Corners?

Check out our recent article: 25+ Free Events Happening at Peachtree Corners Library in April and May

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Arts & Literature

Wesleyan Artist Market 2024: Spotlight on Three Artists



Singing birds, blossoming flowers and warmer days — the delights of spring herald the 26th annual Wesleyan Artist Market (WAM).
Painting by Meagan Brooker

Singing birds, blossoming flowers and warmer days — the delights of spring herald the 26th annual Wesleyan Artist Market (WAM) in Peachtree Corners, a vibrant celebration of art. 

Discerning art enthusiasts head to Wesleyan School, located just north of Atlanta, for a chance to explore paintings, photography, mixed media, ceramics, jewelry and beyond from over 80 professional artists.

Mark your calendars: this year’s market takes place Friday, April 26, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday, April 27, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Stop in and immerse yourself in creativity!

Ashley Skandalakis

Returning to WAM for the second time is an artist who combines colors and textures not on canvas, but in an array of unique and lovely flowering vessels. Ashley Skandalakis, owner of Atlanta Planters, LLC, creates custom designs of planted pots to adorn your home or business and can fit all styles and budgets.

Ashley Skandalakis

Before this southern belle raised in Americus, Ga. started playing in the dirt, she tried several different careers — from interior design to pharmaceuticals, technology to entrepreneurship. Skandalakis took a sprout of an idea and turned it into a blooming, multi-million-dollar business with her Lappers dining trays. Now she’s well on her way to growing Atlanta Planters.

For the past five years, Skandalakis has been making metro Atlanta more beautiful one potted planting at a time. She attributes the company’s growth to her unique style, attention to detail, outstanding customer service and beautiful products.

Start before you’re ready

After quitting her stint in the technology field, Skandalakis was in search of the next sensation that would produce the same rush her tray invention and eight patents gave her. A friend opened a new Buckhead restaurant and Skandalakis offered to replant her waning orchids. The restauranteur, lacking time and funds, agreed.

Self-taught Skandalakis took the vessels home, gathered orchids and supplies, and created striking compositions embellished with interesting stakes, moss and other plants. Dining patrons were so impressed by her eye-catching creations that they requested her business card as she carried them through the restaurant during delivery.

“When you’re passionate about something, you figure it out as you go,” she said. “Every day you wonder, ‘What am I going to learn today?’”

Rental truck road trip

At the suggestion of a painting class comrade, Skandalakis submitted photos of her fanciful florals to the Thomasville Antique Show. Two days later she committed to being a vendor in a show taking place in a week’s time.

“I had to source planters, orchids. I didn’t have a business license. I didn’t have business cards. I didn’t have a credit card processor. I didn’t have anything, but I pulled it all together. I stayed up till 1 o’clock in the morning making 45 orchid compositions. I really didn’t know how to do them, so it took me a long time,” Skandalakis shared.

Turning a $5,000 profit at that show in February of 2020 made her realize she had a new business. When the pandemic shut everything down in March, Skandalakis pivoted to outdoor containers and embraced her budding bailiwick with verve.

Busy beautifying outdoor spaces

Applying for a business license, building a social media presence and advertising led to some scheduled appointments. By May of that year, Skandalakis was fully booked creating seasonal planters for clients.

“Twice a year, I go to clients’ homes and make their planters gorgeous. If they need planters, I source those too. I love working with people to find the best containers for their space,” Skandalakis beamed.

It’s a carefully orchestrated juggling act to get everyone’s plantings done. The season begins on April 15, when frost no longer poses a threat, and runs through the end of June. Winter pots are cleaned out and planted for the spring and summer. In October, the remnants of summer plantings are removed, and containers are replanted for fall and winter.

During the Christmas season, Atlanta Planters decorates fireplace mantles and front porches with handtied greenery, garland, lights and wreaths.

Perfect planters and plants

The quest for unusual urns from across the globe excites the impresario who works with vendors to source the best, whether modern or traditional. Preferred supplier Elegant Earth makes handmade products in Birmingham, Ala. The owner is an Atlanta native who is featured in Veranda magazine this May.

Skandalakis searches online auctions for vintage and antique vessels. She also scours the trade market in High Point, N.C. When associates have shipping containers arriving from abroad, they often give Skandalakis first dibs at their treasures.

Annual trips to Europe further the flowerpot obsession. Her travels usually entail securing planters while endeavoring to piggyback on friends’ cargo containers to get them across the pond.

Several hundred planters can be found at her Marietta store on any given day. Skandalakis intentionally purchased a deep lot to house them all.

A variety of wholesale nurseries around the southeast supply Skandalakis with the highest quality plants. Annuals and perennials usually come from local nurseries. Larger landscaping plants come from all over the region where the heartiest plants intersect with competitive prices.

Continuous growth

Though planters make up the majority of her business, those entrusting Skandalakis with their pots naturally began to ask her for landscaping advice as well. To better assist clients with landscape design, Skandalakis sharpened her skills at Emory University.

“I enjoy landscaping projects. Inspired by some of the world’s best landscape architects, I am constantly learning. It’s important to continue to grow,” she asserted.

A $600 minimum per planting session covers plants, healthy soil, fertilizer, plant toppers and labor. Skandalakis’ green thumb leaves clients happy with their containers.

Clients old and new

Customers who’ve been with Atlanta Planters for a while trust the gardener’s judgment. They’re happy to allow her artistic liberty. Skandalakis knows her clients’ favorite colors and which locations require shade or sun plants.

New clients are asked to provide pictures of their home, yard and planters. She believes the outside of the home should be an extension of the inside in terms of style — whether it’s modern, traditional or transitional.

Next, Skandalakis inquires about her clients’ sun/shade situation, access to irrigation, whether they have pets and if deer are an issue.

Floral designs to suit your lifestyle

Are you a good plant parent? Skandalakis can plant superb succulents for those who may habitually “forget” to water their containers. A building’s architecture and the client’s taste also can dictate what types of plants and containers are used.

Boxwoods in planters that tell a story look best on traditional properties. Grasses in sleek metal or concrete white pots are typical of modern estates.

Bright and happy

Every day brings joy; clients are happy to see her arrive and enamored with their containers when she leaves. Skandalakis once daydreamed about people who loved their job; now she professes to be one of them.

“When you enjoy what you do, it’s not a job at all,” she smiled.

The same look of satisfaction spreads across her face when she speaks about having shown her children that we’re capable of anything we put our minds to, without limitations.


Last year Skandalakis was blown away by the phenomenal show where she made new acquaintances and gained clients. Her large planters adorned the Wesleyan campus outside as well as the gym. The show takes place during her busy planting season, so Skandalakis and her team worked on weekends to prepare.

Expect to find a variety of planter sizes and types in her booth — some planted — in addition to orchids, other plants, indoor compositions and appealing merchandise from her shop. Last year she brought cowhide chairs from a Texas auction.

Book Atlanta Planters

An enterprising lady behind two successful businesses, Skandalakis enjoys sharing her inspirational story with women’s groups.

Listen to her friendly Southern drawl as she introduces loads of products and her latest “Five Favorite Things” on Instagram @atlantaplanters.

To learn more about Atlanta Planters or to obtain a quote, visit atlantaplanters.net or call 706-289-5736.

Stop by the Marietta flower shop for swoon-worthy, seasonal merchandise at 324 N. Fairground St. and find beautiful indoor plant compositions, orchids, gifts and an eclectic selection of indoor and outdoor planters. Skandalakis and her team can “plant them up” for you on site.

Elaine Jackson

In the quaint setting of Madison, Ga., Elaine Jackson finds her muse. The quiet town allows for easy access to the mountains where she often escapes to stock stores like Dogwoods with her paintings.

Highlands, N.C. is like a second home for Jackson. She and her husband have been visiting there since before they were married; the town hasn’t changed much since then.

A self-taught floral and landscape painter, Jackson started her journey into creativity with an art class in her teen years. It wasn’t until much later that she fully embraced her passion for painting.

Born and raised in Macon, Ga., Jackson’s artistic journey took shape gradually. After obtaining a degree in advertising, she found herself working in a bustling Buckhead PR firm where she met her husband. 

Upon starting a family, Jackson put her artistic pursuits on hold to focus on motherhood. Today, from her converted carriage house garage studio, she creates captivating works of art.

Discovering the artist within

Once her daughters were grown, Jackson found the time to delve into her passion for painting. She began honing her skills, initially starting with watercolors and eventually transitioning into acrylics; she now uses both mediums.

Over the past twelve years, Jackson has dedicated herself to her art full-time, tirelessly perfecting her métier through trial and error, self-exploration and occasional workshops.

Capturing Southern tranquility

Inspiration for Jackson’s artwork comes from various sources, whether it’s a place she’s visited, the picturesque landscapes of her surroundings, art galleries, design studios or even from pieces requested by clients.

Jackson finds comfort in exploring the scenic vistas where she’s lived and drawing from the unique beauty of each location. Her paintings are infused with personal significance.

“Many of the landscapes are reflective of where I’ve lived or visit often in the South which have special meaning to me. The coastal scenes reflect the Georgia/South Carolina coast or the Gulf in the Santa Rosa Beach area. The countryside pieces and pathways are inspired from when I lived in Franklin, Tenn. or visited North Carolina,” she said.

The painter’s preferred subject matter often revolves around hydrangeas. Her floral paintings exude a sense of serenity and harmony, drawing viewers into a world of lush foliage and vibrant colors.

The space between realism and abstract art

What sets Jackson’s work apart is her distinctive style which she describes as abstract impressionism — a delicate balance between realism and abstraction. Through loose brushstrokes, palette knife sgraffitos and a harmonious blend of colors, she captures nature in a way that resonates with viewers, inducing feelings of tranquility. 

“It’s not abstract to the point where you can’t recognize what you’re looking at. I want people to still identify with it, but it’s looser than a realistic painting. It’s like a transitional in between,” Jackson explained.

Embracing blue-green

Her signature blue-green palette, inspired by her love for the color green, has become synonymous with her artwork, sought after by collectors and interior designers alike.

It’s helpful that it’s a popular color scheme in decorating. Working with several interior designers, Jackson stays abreast of trends. People moving to Lake Oconee often commission work from the artist. Her shades of green and blue are ideal for lake houses. 

“I’m trying to work myself into other hues. I have to keep those colors off my palette, or I’ll gravitate back to them,” Jackson said. She plans to explore different colors in new paintings and collect customer feedback received by the shops carrying her work.


Jackson paints large canvases (48”x48”) as requested by designers. Though she was once “scared to death” of them, the large-scale pieces allow her to immerse herself in the creative process, granting her the freedom to express herself with fluidity and spontaneity.

She often incorporates texture into her paintings using palette knives, sponges and even unconventional tools like sticks from the yard, adding depth and dimension to her compositions.

A growing presence

Despite the demands of maintaining inventory for shows, her website, multiple galleries and interior design shops across Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas, as well as fulfilling commissions, Jackson remains dedicated to her craft. Her work ethic and perseverance have paid off, earning her recognition and admiration from art buffs and collectors.

Initially, it was challenging to get her artwork into stores. However, Jackson’s influence has grown in step with her social media presence. She’s paid her dues and today shops pursue her. 

The artist is thankful to have built up her business. “I’m slowly trying to spread myself across the country,” Jackson revealed. 

Although her daughters encourage her to take time off, Jackson finds it difficult. She’s in business for herself and feels the studio, just two doors away from the kitchen, calling.

A steady base of realtors keeps Jackson painting watercolor home portraits that they gift to their clients. They’re popular at Christmas, too. 

As Jackson’s artistry continues to evolve, she remains grateful for the opportunity to share her passion with the world. With each painting she invites viewers to immerse themselves in the beauty of nature for a moment of respite from the chaos of everyday life.

Framing the narrative 

The cost of framing large pieces is so prohibitive, Jackson paints the edges of gallery-wrapped canvases so they don’t require a frame. This leaves framing up to clients; some like gold, others want silver or wood. Many prefer to keep the paintings frameless. 

Jackson does frame some of her smaller pieces (24”x24”, or 16”x20”). Usually, she uses modern floater frames. They’re not too expensive and they elevate the presentation of the work.

Her watercolor pieces are normally framed, but the artist also keeps some in a folder. People can purchase them loose and select frames to fit both their space and aesthetic. 

Everything old is new again

Recently, Jackson has been exploring antique stores in search of old frames. There’s a treasure trove to be found with intricate designs and aged beauty. The artist has identified a growing appreciation for blending vintage elements with contemporary decor. She loves the thrill of the hunt!

Jackson repurposes the frames for special paintings that she thinks are fitting. Their ornate, almost gothic appearance reminiscent of a bygone era finds renewed admiration.

Other than applying a subtle wash to tone down excessively dark gold hues, the artist prefers to leave the frames untouched, allowing their original splendor to shine through. This endeavor has proven fruitful; her ornately framed pieces quickly find appreciative homes.


Preparing for art shows requires careful consideration. Jackson strives to offer a diverse selection of paintings in various sizes, styles and price points from $150 to $4,500, catering to the preferences of different patrons.

A mix of florals and landscapes — from small, intimate pieces to large, statement-making canvases — ensures there’s something for everyone.

The painter suggested a series of framed landscape paintings 20”x by 20” as a good idea for shows. Each one works as a standalone piece or can be configured in groupings. Instead of having to purchase one huge piece, people might get a few smaller ones to fit a space.

Jackson has been exhibiting at WAM since 2015, gaining a number of followers in the area. She appreciates the indoor luxuries and looks forward to client interactions.

“It has consistently been a good, well-attended show each year,” she said.

Find Jackson’s work

Those seeking to experience Jackson’s talent firsthand can find her work in galleries and design studios across the South. To inquire about purchasing a painting or commissioning a custom piece, visit her website at ejacksonart.com or follow her on Instagram @ejcolors.

Jackson’s artistic journey is a testament to the transformative power of creativity and the profound connection between artist and audience. Through her paintings, she invites us to pause and find solace in the timeless beauty of nature.

Purchase Jackson’s work in Georgia

  • WebbMarsteller in Peachtree Hills, Atlanta
  • Sunshine Village Art Gallery in Watkinsville
  • Dogwoods Home in Clayton
  • Ocmulgee Arts in Macon
  • Julep Gallery on St. Simons Island
  • Zeb Grant Design Home in Madison

Meagan Brooker

In her childhood days in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., Meagan Brooker longed to paint the sky and clouds on her bedroom ceiling. Her earliest memories include a yearning to express her creativity.

The little girl who once begged her mother for art supplies and classes was first encouraged to pursue her passion and develop her skills by a high school art teacher.

“I was doing a Georgia O’Keeffe replica in oil pastels. She walked up behind me and said, “Whoa, you’re really talented!” You always remember those who encourage you to do what you love,” Brooker stated. 

Despite an early penchant for photography, Brooker’s family encouraged her to pursue pre-med studies at the University of Georgia. “Use your brain,” they told her. “You’re smart, make some money.”

But Brooker realized she didn’t want to study science for four years, much less practice medicine for the rest of her life. It simply didn’t interest her. Conversely, shifting to art second semester caused her to flourish, feel divinely inspired and never look back. 

Nurturing creativity

While her mom was supportive, her dad would’ve likely continued to endorse a medical school path had he not passed away when she was in secondary school. She majored in Art Education at the University of Georgia.

Brooker transitioned to Wesleyan School after teaching elementary art in Gwinnett County for two years and participating in a year-long mission trip to Kentucky. During her second year at Wesleyan, she began working towards a Master of Studio Art degree at New York University.

Brooker has been a freelance artist for decades. She currently resides in Duluth. She’s been teaching high school art and witnessing the growth of Wesleyan’s visual arts program for 17 years.

From photography and ceramics to drawing and painting, Brooker loves working with and teaching about all types of art. Painting with a plenitude of textures and washes of color is her favorite.

Art teacher by day, artist by night

Once her young sons have gone to bed, Brooker can be found painting in her home studio surrounded by her work, an easel, tables and storage shelves.

The industrious working mom laments a lack of time. She craves longer stints in the studio to develop more robust work, both conceptually and physically.

For Brooker, painting is meditative self-care. It takes her away from the tasks of her daily life, fulfilling a need for self-expression and recreating the world around her. She derives satisfaction from depicting on canvas what she’s experienced while traveling.

Imagination takes flight

Brooker’s fascination with winged creatures began with seeing Raphael’s cupids when she was young. Later, she became enamored with birds on a wire and recently, she’s been painting birds and butterflies in flight. To the artist, they represent hope and resilience.

Her work is a pictorial ode to her father’s passing with spiritual undertones. Brooker finds flying animals and insects enchanting because they’re harbingers of something bigger than us. The artist believes there is more to this world than what we know and see. 

Little loves 

Wishing to spread beauty, calm and joy in the universe, Brooker creates artwork that reflects her personal experiences, wishes and dreams.

“When clients are moved by the same sentiment, it is a beautiful, spiritual connection,” she said. 

The artist calls her 3”x3” and 6”x6” canvases “Little Loves.” Inspiration for these fast-selling pieces stems from a sentiment, quote or Bible verse featured on them. 

Reflecting on the chosen words inspires the colors, textures and patterns the artist uses to represent them. Seeing clients emotionally drawn to her work warms Brooker’s heart. It tickles her to know that some pray and meditate with her tiny paintings before them on mini easels.

Brooker’s art 

Brooker produces whimsical, textured and painterly acrylics on canvas ranging in size from 8”x8” to 46”x60”. Most of her canvases are 20”x30”. She works primarily with thicker acrylic paints, spellbound by the effects of experimenting with washes to create layers of unpredictable textures. 

Palette knives are her tools of choice when creating texture with thick body Liquitex acrylic and Golden high flow acrylics. Intrigued by the unexpected, Brooker described her process.

“I cover every canvas with a layer of acrylic washes [water dotted with different colors of acrylic that bleed like watercolor and create a textural background] and however they land, color and texture-wise, I build from that as I’m inspired. I love that you don’t really know how it’s going to turn out at first,” she explained.

Robin’s egg blue, Payne’s gray (a dark blue-grey), golds, teals and some neutrals dominate Brooker’s palette. She’s drawn to abstraction because it’s harder than it looks, she said.

“Travel far enough, you meet yourself.” – David Mitchell

Traveling inspires Brooker’s landscapes. Working from pictures taken on her trips, she paints sceneries that captivated her, aiming to replicate their loveliness and the emotions she felt there.

“Italy is my heart,” she said, recalling her Cinque Terre series. She also painted an Ecuador series, enthralled by its mountains and verdant hills.

Wesleyan Artist Market

As an art teacher, Assistant Director of Fine Arts, Head of Visual Arts and a veteran exhibitor, Brooker has an insider’s perspective on the market. She sees how it comes together full circle.

She witnesses parents volunteering to put on this hugely successful event, giving generously of their time to the school. In turn, the faculty has more funds to better support students.

“It’s a beautiful testament to how much they care about the school and our mission. I’m very thankful,” she said. 

Find Brooker’s paintings

Through her dedication to art education and her unwavering commitment to her craft, Brooker inspires others to embrace their creativity. 

To view and purchase Brooker’s work, find her on Instagram @meaganbrookerfineart.

Learn more about Meagan Brooker in this episode of the Peachtree Corners Life podcast.

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Arts & Literature

Wesleyan Artist Market 2024: Meagan Brooker



The Wesleyan Artist Market takes place in Peachtree Corners on April 26-27, 2024

Listeners are taken on a journey into the colorful art world through the eyes of high school art teacher Meagan Brooker. With 17 years of experience at Wesleyan School in Peachtree Corners, Brooker shares her passion for creativity, sharing how art has become a form of therapy and a source of inspiration in her life. From discussing her artistic process and inspiration to highlighting the importance of art for mental well-being, Brooker’s infectious enthusiasm for art will captivate and inspire listeners of all backgrounds. Brooker’s art will be displayed at the Wesleyan Artist Market 2024, April 26-27.

Tune in to discover the transformative power of creativity and art in this enlightening and uplifting Peachtree Corners Life Podcast episode.


00:00:00 – Introduction of Artist Meagan Brooker
00:01:32 – Teaching Art at Wesleyan School
00:04:00 – From Science to Art: Following My Creative Passion
00:08:42 – Balancing Creativity and Exhaustion
00:10:18 – Painting as Meditation and Process
00:13:53 – Tuscany Landscapes to Inspire Artists
00:17:29 – Finding Inspiration in the Unexpected
00:20:32 – The Healing Power of Art in Challenging Times
00:23:16 – The Pros and Cons of Social Media for Artists
00:25:49 – Embracing Digital Art Tools and AI in the Creative Process
00:29:08 – Exploring AI’s Role in the Creative Process
00:31:23 – Closing

Podcast Transcript

Rico Figliolini 0:00:00

Hi, everyone. This is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life. This year, this month, today we’re doing an interview with an artist that’s going to be at the Wesleyan Artist Market, Meagan Brooker. So let’s say hi to Meagan. Hey, Meagan.

Meagan Brooker 0:00:13


Rico Figliolini 0:00:14

Thanks for being with us. Appreciate it. Thank you for being with us. Before we actually get into all of this, I just want to say thank you to our sponsor, EV Remodeling, Inc. They do a great job when it comes to remodeling, design and build, start from scratch up. Eli, him and his family live here in Peachtree Corners, does a great job. Lots of people know them. Anything from your bathrooms and kitchens to your whole house almost. So check them out at evremodelinginc.com. We appreciate the support of these podcasts. So now let’s get right into it because we’ve done this, I just did this interview a little while, a few weeks ago with two student artists that are going to be featured at Wesleyan Artist Market. Their stream is actually going to happen Wednesday. For Meagan and I to know you all that are listening won’t know which Wednesday that is, but it’s going to be on a Wednesday. Actually, before we go to press with the next issue of Peachtree Corners Life magazine, which has three profiles, including Meagan, of the Wesleyan artists, three of the artists that are going to be there. So this is a compliment to that. We’re going to be talking a bit about art and what inspires Meagan. So let’s get right into it. Meagan, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and maybe how you started at Wesleyan.

Meagan Brooker 0:01:36

Yeah. So I teach at Wesleyan school. I teach high school art. I teach all levels of AP photography, and I’ve been there for 17 years, which makes me feel very old.

Rico Figliolini 0:01:51

You’re not, though. You look fine.

Meagan Brooker 0:01:54

Thank you. So I went to the University of Georgia and went after getting my degree in undergrad of art education. I taught elementary art in Gwinnett county for two years. And then I did missions work for a year, actually, and was looking for a high school job because I thought the idea of the challenge of high school would be really interesting. And, yeah, I just love my job and I love Wesleyan. And I’m very grateful to be there because obviously I’ve been there for 17 years.

Rico Figliolini 0:02:29

Yes, it’s a great school. Wesleyan school is in the city of Peachtree Corners, and they do a fantastic job and they’re growing. I mean, they’re in the middle of actually a building project right now for their STEM building. So lots going on at Wesleyan. This is just one facet of what they do. So you’ve been there 17 years and you’re teaching high school students, I believe the high school, the upper level class. Upper school, yes. In particular, what are you teaching at this point? What subject or mediums are you working in?

Meagan Brooker 0:03:01

So currently I’m teaching all levels of 2d art. So drawing, painting, mixed media, anything that’s 2d from foundations all the way up to AP, the AP level, which is kind of college credit courses. And that includes AP photography. Previously I taught photography and way back in the day I used to teach 3d as well. But I love now that I get to specialize in two d. And then we have amazing teachers who teach focus on photography and focus on 3d. So we have a great team.

Rico Figliolini 0:03:33

Excellent. Cool. Let me ask you something, because as we grow up, as we’re young and we’re getting into school and we’re in elementary and middle school, we start discovering ourselves a little bit, right? We start discovering what we like, what we don’t like and stuff. Of course, people around us, including parents, may sometimes tell us what we should like and we shouldn’t like or what we should become. I know that you inspired early on to be an artist, to go down that route. Well, maybe not to be an artist, but to go down the route of the arts versus the science. So tell us, what inspired you? At which point did you decide you wanted to be creative versus being, let’s say, a doctor or something?

Meagan Brooker 0:04:17

Yeah. Well, that’s interesting, actually. I tell all my students, like, follow your innate gut and what fulfills you and stirs you up and makes you want to do more. I, from a very young age, was always wanting to paint, create, take classes, paint my ceiling in my bedroom, even though my mom wouldn’t let me paint furniture. I was always wanting to create or create my own space or do something creative. I had a very fast working creative brain and I came from a small county up in north Georgia, and there weren’t many opportunities in the arts. So in high school I had a great art teacher who was the first one who looked at my work and said, you know, you’re really talented. And I was, you know, so I got that encouragement and that fed in, which made me want to work harder. It made me want to do more and try more and get better. So I actually went to college and started in premed because I had good grades and was smart and my family was like, you, listen, go make some money. Don’t become a teacher.

Rico Figliolini 0:05:27

Not good money there.

Meagan Brooker 0:05:30

So I started off in premed and I just was bored to tears. And it was not life giving anyway. So I decided to switch to art and have never looked back ever since then. My family sometimes wishes I might have, but they see how life giving it is for me now and how innate it is and how much I’m able to do with the creativity. So it’s come around.

Rico Figliolini 0:05:56

So you’ve never really looked back and said, maybe I should put my brushes away and do something else.

Meagan Brooker 0:06:02

No, it’s too natural. I have too much of the creative and too much to put out there to stop. I’m not really that great at anything else either. Have too much fun with it to stop now.

Rico Figliolini 0:06:18

Right? Okay. And I can appreciate that. My parents wanted me to be an accountant, hated numbers, could never do that. And just not for me. My brain didn’t work on that side for that. But teaching art, this is one of the things I learned from my youngest, right? He says to me, I asked him, I said, what do you want to be? He says, I’d love to be a writer. I want to write. I want to write novels and stuff. So he’s creative, but he doesn’t want a job, that he has to write a lot during the day, because then all his creativity is gone by the end of the day. So how do you work that? How do you balance. It’s a life balance, right? Work life. How do you balance that creativity with the work that you do all day long with other kids? How do you do that?

Meagan Brooker 0:07:05

Honestly, that is probably the toughest part of my job. And I have two young boys, so that to complicate the.

Rico Figliolini 0:07:14

How old resources.

Meagan Brooker 0:07:18

One’S twelve, he’s in fifth grade and one is eight. And they go to Wesleyan with me, which is also a huge blessing. When I started off in art education and I got into the courses and started doing the practicum teaching, I loved being able to impart the knowledge of creativity and the natural working of all of the brain work that working with your hands does in every way. And it’s not about teaching methodology to me, as much as it is like pulling out this natural creativity. And I was always fascinated with art therapy. I considered studying that, but I think art is very much a natural therapy. And there’s so many studies about how when we’re working with our hands, how our brains calm down, they can think better. They’re clearly so. Even just a 30 minutes break in the middle of the day or an hour break to work with your hands and not have to just use a different part of your brain is so good for anybody. You think about how it works with four year olds. It’s the same with 80 year olds. Being able to use my creativity during the day, it is exhausting because I feel like being asked 20 questions every five minutes. I do come home depleted, but at night, when the boys go down, when I can, I will go down and just let it all out on canvas. I will say, currently, my work is not the most conceptual. It’s more reactive, but it’s kind of more guttural and things that I. It’s emotional in a way of things that I’m reacting to in my current life. And I feel like most artists do that. It’s like where you are, your work is breathing out of where you are.

Rico Figliolini 0:09:17

I think that makes sense, right? Because inspiration is in the moment when you’re doing these things. It’s not like most artists plan these things out. Sometimes you may have in your head, but you’re working in the medium you’re working in. It could appear different, and you’re trying to rough it and do different piece from it. When you are like that, when you have to be in your space, if you will. I know writers, for example, will write with the door closed, if you will, and they know that pages and chapters will go away at some point because they’re just getting into that space. Do you find yourself doing that with art? How’s the process? Do you sketch first and then go to the medium that you choose for it in the paper or the surface that you want to put it on? How do you do that part?

Meagan Brooker 0:10:04

That’s a really good question. I love sketching and planning in my current stage, just don’t have that much time. So I tend to work out my process as part of the process and build up my layers and build it up until it’s a complete being. So the art is very much a process as opposed to being a super planned, which is my personality, more free spirited by nature. And so sometimes I will write verses or quotes or things that are on my mind kind of in the canvas as I’m going as a meditation. And then I’ll build the color, texture, and design up as part of that meditation of whatever is on my heart at the time. And the art will kind of come out of that longing or prayer or moment that I’m having there. I do small ones that are, I call them little loves, but they’re all based off of an attribute or a thought, like prayer, contentment, love. That they’re kind of prayed over in a way.

Rico Figliolini 0:11:21

I know there’s one behind you, but I put one of your pieces on the feed right now. Tell us a little bit about that one.

Meagan Brooker 0:11:29

This one. If I had a gallery show, which I hope to one day, I would call it something like an affinity for winged things. I’ve always had loved angels. I love birds, butterflies. There’s something about them that represents such hope and freedom. And so the past few years, I’ve done quite a few butterflies. And so the one on the screen here, I love the color tone in it, but I recently started adding in kind of a duo tone background with the gold and white. That almost represents a duality of. It. Kind of brings in a contrast of emotion, if you will.

Rico Figliolini 0:12:11

I see two different color spaces. A border, ragged border. Same way with. I see this. Right. This is another piece that you’ve done. Same type of ridging, same type of look. Duality. Two different worlds, two places. What were you doing here in this one?

Meagan Brooker 0:12:33

Yeah. Similar to this one here behind me. I feel like there’s always a tension in our humanity of light and dark. Right. There’s a tension we’re pulled between right and wrong, light and dark, hope and failure, or anything that could pull us down easily if we don’t pull toward the light. So when combining these hopeful creatures like birds and butterflies, with that tension, to me, it’s this representative of choosing the hope, choosing freedom, choosing to do what you can do, to move yourself to a higher purpose and to truth and to light and to all the things that God offers us in this life. So it’s just kind of representing like, yes, sometimes life’s really hard, but there is hope.

Rico Figliolini 0:13:29

Let’s go to something a little different that you shared with us. This one, it’s a bit different than the other two. Can you tell us a little bit about this one?

Meagan Brooker 0:13:39

Yeah. This one was inspired by, actually, Tuscany and the green hills of Tuscany. I love traveling. I love Italy, especially has my heart. I’m actually taking a group of the high schoolers to France this summer, and I’ve not been this part of France, so I’m excited about that. But I often will recreate images or know certain landscapes of pictures that I take when I’m traveling. Not all overseas, some here, and recreate them. And so this is kind of representing, loosely, the villas that you’ll see dotted all over the hillscape. The landscape of. And Tuscany is dotted with farmland everywhere. And these are just hilly wineries and orchards.

Rico Figliolini 0:14:29

So this was done in acrylic? Correct. And you chose that over. Do you work mostly in acrylic now, or do you work in.

Meagan Brooker 0:14:38

I love oil, love watercolor. I love mixed media. For artist market, I choose to do acrylic in the same vein. And I hope that you don’t hear this as an excuse is more. It’s just a stage of life where it’s quicker. The acrylic, I’m able to move quickly and work quicker and layer in it and get the effect, because I don’t necessarily have time to sit and make 30 oils in this stage of life. So acrylic offers me the ability to work a little quicker in it.

Rico Figliolini 0:15:10

Okay. And this particular piece, I mean, they’re all relatively big pieces too, right? Like 30 x 30 or something along those lines.

Meagan Brooker 0:15:17

That one’s huge. That one is, I believe it was 40 x 60. It’s about the size of this one behind me. And a friend bought it for their piano room in their house. So it looks really good on that big wall.

Rico Figliolini 0:15:29

Nice. When people do buy your stuff, do you recommend certain framings for your pictures, or you let them do their own thing?

Meagan Brooker 0:15:37

Usually they have something in mind that fits their aesthetic, but I love float. Personally, I think float frames look so good.

Rico Figliolini 0:15:46

So when people buy your paintings like this, I’ve asked this of other artists, how do you feel about it? You’ve done it. It’s not like it’s the 30th piece that you’ve done of the same exact thing. So you’ve spent your time doing it, and it’s leaving you. It’s almost like a baby. It’s going away. It’s going to be in someone’s house. How do you feel about that?

Meagan Brooker 0:16:09

This new series with the duality are some of my favorite new ones. And to see one of my favorite parts of doing work for clients, when people are choosing work, like at artist markets as opposed to galleries or collected and stuff like that, is seeing people’s reaction to it and why they choose it. That is such a precious moment, because I think every artist, or most artists at least, pour so much of themselves into it. And to your point, some of them have trouble letting go of it because they become precious. But when they stop in their tracks and have a visceral moment of like, oh, my mom just died, and she loves birds, and that’s her favorite color, and they’ll just start, my goodness, there are tactile things that they will hold on to that become meaning to them, that may not be the eye assigned to it, but it doesn’t matter. That’s what the beauty of art is. The expression of the color, the movement, the feeling, and the hope that people will hold on to.

Rico Figliolini 0:17:16

Wow. Yeah. I can’t imagine that feeling. I’m not an artist, so I can’t imagine that. I’m a graphic designer, but not an artist, so I don’t know how that feels. I do know how it feels to put together a magazine and send it to the printer and then have it come back in a palette of, like, 10,000 copies or something. I don’t know how that feels.

Meagan Brooker 0:17:39

That’s a relief, is what that’s called.

Rico Figliolini 0:17:42

Yes. In fact, I have two deadlines this week, so it’s going to be a relief when this week is done. Yeah, it’s just one of those crazy weeks, actually. So we talked about keeping fresh and continuing to evolve. Well, actually, we didn’t talk about evolving as an artist. You touched upon it a little bit. But how do you do travel? You do find, like you said, Tuscany was a great, beautiful landscape to be inspired by. You can’t go wrong with Tuscany. Right? Do you find inspirations in some of the simpler things in life or places that you didn’t even think inspiration would come from, or moments? Does any of that happen sometimes?

Meagan Brooker 0:18:23

Yeah. Sometimes I think back to COVID, and we were so limited, and I’m a mover and a shaker. I don’t sit still well to a fault. And so having to sit still kind of shook me. But I found myself grabbing my camera and going out in the beautiful spring light and catching these abstracted flowers that were blooming across the street and the way that the light hit them or life, noticing trees in our yard that were blooming. And I hadn’t noticed how beautiful they were at the time. Things that I hadn’t stopped long enough to appreciate. And, of course, the beauty of my children and their just innocence at their ages. And so just taking time to stop that makes me want to highlight the beauty of life as opposed to the hardship. Because anytime we can have a moment, and if my art is a moment to stop and be like, okay, let me just take a beat and find some hope and find a little moment of truth and hope in our day.

Rico Figliolini 0:19:33

Okay. COVID was an interesting period. Right? It was a bad time for many families, but it was also, in some ways, a good moment in time because things stopped. We were forced to stop what we were doing. So it was so bad at one point that if you remember the supply chain issues, ships stopped delivering, and in fact, the sea woke up more. The creatures in the sea, the whales, things were happening, air was a little cleaner. It was just different time. Right. So I can see that quiet. But you’re basically forced into doing things that we weren’t. We were forced to stop doing what we’re doing. The inspiration, I guess, can be found in many places. You’re teaching lots of kids through the years, 17 years of teaching at Wesleyan. I’m sure there’s been talented, very talented kids across that time frame. Is there any story, inspirational time, particular student or group of students or class that you felt was a moment that you want to remember? Maybe that inspired you, maybe that inspired other kids. Maybe there was something going on at that moment, or maybe even creativity out of students that you didn’t think would be creative because maybe art wasn’t their thing.

Meagan Brooker 0:20:54

Well, for one thing, that just because we came out of the conversation of just talking about COVID is how important art was to the ones who had it during that time. Teaching hybrid was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And when we were, like, on camera and trying to teach art from home and all of that. But I have multiple stories of students who. Art was their lifeline at the time, because whether home was not safe for them or whether they just needed to be out and be social or whatever it was, art was their way of their identity, of finding some way of expression that pulled them out of the anxiety, the mire, the scariness, the loneliness of the time, and a way to express themselves and kind of think outside of themselves. When you’re so glued to your phone or your computer trying to do a thing, art pulled them back out. So that was a beautiful thing and a testament to the purpose, I think, of our dedication, and I think what comes to mind, and I’ll shout out to my current AP art class, who are just, they’re so much fun, and we’re actually having our art show next week, so I’m excited about that. And they’re so creative. But I think that in this culture of, again, what we’re seeing post COVID is a lot more anxiety, a lot more pressure, a lot more peer pressure. The social media is out of control, and culture has a lot of expectations. And I think that what is beautiful is seeing the kids respond to these pressures through their art and subverting them with truth and with showing their own personality and identity in a way that they wouldn’t in social media. So their own personality and their truth is coming out. So they’re becoming more confident through their expression of art in a way that they wouldn’t without it. Right. So it’s like, oh, I am good at something.

Rico Figliolini 0:23:01

Right? No, I get where you’re going. You’re right. I could see that. But I can also see social media is good and bad. Right? Instagram, TikTok. I mean, there’s different various levels. If you allow yourself to scroll for 30 minutes, you’re losing a bit of your life. Maybe. But there are artists out there that actually share online also, and they use that medium to be able to share their art, whether it’s ceramics they’re doing or whether it’s actually watching them create something in the moment. Yeah, because that’s TikTok. I mean, does that. Right. Instagram, to a lesser degree, I think. But you could be watching an artist, a street artist, or just an artist in a studio painting, sketching the whole process for an hour or two, which is kind of interesting, right? Because you get to see the creative process. Most people don’t see that. They see the finished piece. They don’t know what Meagan Brooker to make that piece or what. Brie Hill, who was one of the students I interviewed, what it took her to make a painting and what she invested in that painting. Or Esther Cooper, who’s the other student I interviewed who does creative pastries. Right. That’s a whole different long. There’s no longevity to that. It expires at some point, you either eat it or it goes bad, but in the moment, it’s a good looking piece, maybe. Right. Talking about 3d art. More than that. Right. The scent of it and stuff. So I could see how social media can be helpful in some ways with some students.

Meagan Brooker 0:24:33

Yeah. I think with social media, we have so much at our fingertips now we can appreciate art in a whole new way, because, like you said, you can see the process. You can understand it more, but it also makes you want to try more. And there’s always going to be cynics. There are going to be people who will try to poke a hole in it. But I think we will be students until we die. I think that’s part of the creative part of teaching. Like, we always have more to learn. And so that’s what’s so fun about social media, is being able to go on and try something new or to see new work, because we’re to be inspired by something outside of us which broadens our perspective and opens our worldview a little bit.

Rico Figliolini 0:25:22

Yeah. Now, just to stick with technology a little bit, because there are students that use Photoshop, procreate, other digital products and software where you can create online in layers, brushes. We create your own brush palette, if you will. Do you delve into any of that? Do you see students using that as part of the process of what they’re doing? Are they using it even to pre plan a physical, tactile piece of art? What’s the final piece?

Meagan Brooker 0:25:59

It’s such a big question right now in the art world, and my co worker Drew Phillips has actually done a lot of research and given some talks on this. I currently do not teach any AI in what I am teaching, but I see the value of. Well, also I will say there’s inherent AI almost in everything now, like in my AP photography, and know there’s always the option of generative fill. But AP doesn’t allow any type of AI, but I think the use of it for know. So speaking of Rehill, she’s one of my students. She’s amazing. She just did with a girl being lifted up by doves with a sheet and ropes. That’s hard to take a picture of. She just finished it yesterday and it’s stunning. So maybe we can do a recap and show the finished piece. Not yesterday, today, but it’s hard to take a reference picture for that, to get her full concept in there. And we made it happen. But you could put that kind of prompt into AI and have it kind of create a reference for you, but then you are drawing it. So there’s a lot of debate about that and the crossover of what’s allowed. And, but, and there’s a lot of people who think that AI is going to take over a lot of jobs. But I’ll tell you, and this is coming from conversations with people who are working with Microsoft, AI creatives will never be out of a job because AI needs creatives to be able to create the prompts to do the job. And so the people who can think outside of the box and creatives, there will always be a place for us.

Rico Figliolini 0:27:45

Yeah, there’s so many forms of AI too, right? There’s language based, generative, there’s very various levels of AI. So you’re right though, because you need to be able to, I’ve played in it a little bit as far as writing and stuff like that, and even dolly and some of the visual elements and even a different form of sora, which is more video based. Right. And it’s not everything that people make it out to be. It takes the process of doing it almost, like you said, in some ways you have to be an artist to be able to pull out from that anything artistic that makes sense. Yeah. So it’s not as easy as people think. I get that question sometimes. Can’t you just do this in Photoshop? AI is in there. It’s like, no, you can’t just do that. You have to really think about what you’re doing here. It’s never going to look like what know, you could go into AI and you could go chat GPT and Dolly and tell it what you want and say, good, close, you got to where I need it. Add this and this, but don’t remove that and it’ll give you something completely different. So I know the prompts might be a little, you have to work the prompts the right way and stuff, but yeah, AI is a good tool to derive inspiration from. I think I agree with you there. You’re going to need creative people still, but I’m sure that’s still within the next five years that probably will be part of being taught in the creative process. Right. How to use AI as an intern or apprentice, if you will, for yourself in some ways. So you’re going to be at the wesleyan artist market. You’re going to be showcasing some of your work. I’m assuming some of the work that I showed, that we showed may be there. What type of work will you be actually showing at the show?

Meagan Brooker 0:29:33

Yeah, I’m doing some more of the, like what we were talking about with the dual duality and kind of playing around with that more, trying out some new subjects and content, but mostly that. But I want to try out some landscapes and build in some more looser sunset sunrises along with the birds and butterflies and see what I can turn out there.

Rico Figliolini 0:29:59

Cool. Anything you want to share with us that we haven’t touched base, I really.

Meagan Brooker 0:30:06

If you haven’t been out to the artist market, I highly recommend it. Okay, again, I’ve been at Wesleyan for 17 years, and I’ve been displaying at the artist market for 17 years. And believe me, I’ve grown a lot. I would be embarrassed to show you what I sold the first few years. I think my first year was actually, I taught ceramics, and so I did some ceramics, but I’ve grown a lot. But the funds of the market come back to the students. So it funds the fine arts and so the marching band, the visual arts, the theater, and so it comes back to the students there at Wesleyan. But beyond that, it is such a high level event put on by volunteers from the school, which is almost hard to believe because it’s such a professional looking event and it’s indoors. It’s one of my favorite things that we do throughout the year and I’m so grateful for those who put it on. So come out to see us. It’s a really fun event for the family.

Rico Figliolini 0:31:10

It’s going to be April 26 through the 27th, so that Friday, Saturday, and if you want to find out about it, it’s Wesleyan artist market. Just google that and I’ll show right up. Do you want to leave a last maybe word for any aspiring artists or educators? Anything you want to leave advice for them before we end the show?

Meagan Brooker 0:31:32

Yeah, I think if you feel like the need to create, whether that be writing, singing, writing out songs, it doesn’t matter if you’re good at it. The act of creating is fulfilling and there’s a reason that you are stirred to do it. And I think personally, I think that’s God working in you to bring you to a higher light and a higher purpose. And so just do your thing. It doesn’t matter what everybody else thinks, as long as it’s for you and for him or for whoever else you want to see it. Just let your light shine.

Rico Figliolini 0:32:03

Cool. We’ve been talking to Meagan Brooker. She’s a 17 year veteran teacher at Wesleyan school, teaching high school kids about art, and she’s going to be showing at the Wesleyan Artist Market. So stay with me for a second, Meagan. I want to just say thank you to our sponsor, EV Remodeling, Inc. Does a great job design, build home remodeling, kitchen, bathrooms, everywhere that you can think of. Eli and his family live here in Peachtree Corners. They’re just wonderful people. You should check them out. Evremodelinginc.com. So check those out and thank you, Meagan. I appreciate you being with us.

Meagan Brooker 0:32:38 Yeah, my pleasure.

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