Oxford Treehouse Gallery Gears Up For 3rd Anniversary, Reflects on Influencing Local Art Scene
On April 14th, Oxford Treehouse Galley is set to celebrate its third anniversary, but the work that has gone into making this one of the most beloved art galleries in town dates back far beyond the past three years. For the last 15 years, Vivian & Walter Neill have been making serious life changes and pouring their hears into what has become one of the most influential and regularly visited galleries in all of Oxford.
Located in East Oxford, the Oxford Treehouse Galley, commonly referred to as “A Mississippi Art Haven,” stands tall tucked away amongst the trees and nestled between a blacksmith shop and bed & breakfast also owned by the Neill’s. Saturated with artwork from over twenty regional artists, Oxford Treehouse Gallery is vibrant and imaginative on the inside, inspiring and stimulating. Take a step outside on the high-rising screened in porch for a more peaceful experience to view more art, study or sit with nature, but don’t be surprised if you see cats, dogs or even a few chickens roaming around the property beside you.
The big-city talent and small-town charm that Vivian & Walter Neill have created within the Oxford Treehouse Galley is unlike any other. Its southern aesthetic is as unique as it comes, housing one of the widest varieties of art in town, bringing in a variety of art lovers from near and far. Today, Oxford Treehouse Galley looks forward to welcoming new artists and even more art fans to its showroom, which shouldn’t be a problem since the word about OTG is spreading as quick as a hiccup.
Regular gallery hours Thursday-Saturday noon to six, but the Neill’s are happy to open its doors anytime — just give them a call (662–236–1667).
Where did you grow up/how did this influence your interests in art?
VIVIAN: Jackson, Mississippi. My sister, who is 9 years older then me, introduced art to me through her own gallery.
WALTER: My parents collected art. I took art from Marie Hull when I was a kid; she’s maybe the most famous Mississippi artist. I was exposed to art and artists locally, mostly southern artists, which was really great.
Tell me about how you got into your line of work.
V: I had studied art at LSU in the 70s and then worked with my sister who was an artist.
W: As a kid I always wanted to make furniture, but back then people were more interested in just a regular ole degree. That didn’t happen, so I ended up being a plumber. I had a plumbing business for about 10 years in Jackson, and then I started doing welding, black and white photography for five or six years, and that was a creative outlet. I did that while I had the plumbing business, and then I got interested in metal welding and making things like that, and then I got into blacksmithing.
When was OTG opened and what was the inspiration for opening it?
V: We moved into this space in 2005, and we opened as Neill Studios where we would have occasional art events here where we would share the space with other artists. But then when we moved in in 2006, it wasn’t very convenient to open to the public regularly, so we had that period where we were focusing on getting the house built. Once we got in the house, we opened
What is one important lesson you’ve learned from opening up the gallery?
V: The biggest challenge is staying on top of contemporary marketing tools, so whether I want to or not, I have to deal with the Facebook, Instagram, social media. You just can’t ignore contemporary marketing or pop culture.
If you could interview anyone from your life living or dead, but not a celebrity, who would it be and why?
V: Probably Walter’s mother Karleene Cooperneill. She was born in 1921 or 22. She was a medical doctor. She went to Stanford from Laurel, Mississippi at the age of 15, and she was really on the cutting edge of civil rights in Jackson, Mississippi. She was very progressive, a supporter of the arts.
What is your favorite song?
W: Mine would have to be John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things”. This year though it’s The Beatles’ “When I’m Sixty-Four”.
What kind of art do you do specifically?
V: I do impressionistic, figurative, and I work in landscapes as well as block prints. I paint in oils. Mostly right now I tent to gallery business though.
What kind of art do you mostly exhibit?
V: We have metal works, ceramics, jewelry, turned wood, crazy sculptures, but we’re also about to take on a folk artist. Our curatorial process is that we both have to like it. We try to have a real wide range of styles and artists so people have a lot to look at when they come. You know, if they’re going to make the trip here, there needs to be a really rich experience for people. Whether it’s the chickens when the come in or twenty-some different artists.
What is your favorite art that comes though that you get most excited about?
V: We get really excited about the crazy sculptures of Ed Williford because it’s so intriguing. It’s not the stuff that’s going to fly out of here, but we love having it in the gallery. We just feel like it adds a dimension to the gallery that wouldn’t be here if we just had paintings on the walls.
What does the future look like for Oxford Treehouse Gallery?
V: We feel like we’ve definitely gotten on the radar. You can just feel the momentum. We have been fortunate enough to have good press, and so we get a lot of tourists in. We feel like the local people are just really learning about us. As local people learn about us and send people out, they also are utilizing this space for events. We do corporate meetings, bridal showers, weddings, rehearsal dinners, so we feel like it won’t be as much or a destination point as just part of the local Oxford scene.
Will Oxford Treehouse Gallery have a tent at Double Decker?
V: Yes, we have a great spot again right across from Square Books on the corner next door to Tisch [Jewelry Werks].
Questions and answers have been edited down for clarity.