“Life shifts and our best laid plans may not go as we wish – so don’t get so focused on the destination.
Enjoy the journey and remember we are always a work in progress.”
– Sandy Snead, Owner of Lark & Key Gallery and Boutique
Lark & Key Gallery and Boutique is the type of place you go to to immediately feel creative.
The gallery oozes rare talent, refreshingly calm energy, and pure genuine beauty. You can’t help but be inspired by the whimsical genius that surrounds you.
For example, pieces like this.
Frankly from the moment I entered this magical gallery tucked away in Charlotte’s South End, I felt intimidated by the talent and sophistication around me.
That is … until I met the gallery’s owners, Sandy Snead & Duy Huynh.
They are the most down-to-earth, warm, gracious business owners you will ever meet. They are also a POWER couple. Duy’s work enchants the walls of the gallery, while Sandy’s business mind keeps it all together.
…And that, she does artfully!
She recently shared the path that brought her to Lark & Key, as well as some keys to her success.
Sandy!…Thank you for taking the time to share your story and your incredible gallery with the Pink Mentor Network. I understand you are the brilliant mind that keeps Lark & Key running. Tell us about your current role.
As a small business owner I wear many hats. Daily tasks include a number of things such as communicating with our artists, finding new artists, displaying work in the gallery, curating exhibitions, working with customers, photographing products, keeping up with our website and marketing (social media, creating print ads, etc), accounting, and more.
My husband, and co-owner of Lark & Key, is a painter. We license some of his work so I also take care of communicating with the people/businesses interested in using his images for cards, book covers, etc.
Wow, Sandy. That sounds like a lot! How do you do it? How did you get to this point?
Owning your own business, especially retail, can be daunting – but is also very rewarding. I started out by selling my own jewelry at outdoor events, hosting art sales (featuring other artists) in my home and at a local yoga studio.
Once I made the decision that I wanted to have my own shop, I researched as much as I could – whether by physically going to galleries, searching online or reading books. I soaked up anything I could find that featured small businesses, especially those created by women.
I still seek inspiration from other small business owners and makers – Grace Bonney’s book ‘In The Company of Women – Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs‘ is currently on my nightstand.
Umm … me too!! I love the stories and women featured in that book. I’m a total fan girl! Tell us more about your education, and other influences that shaped your career.
I always loved art and as a teenager had an obsession with magazines – still do! I decided to go to college and major in graphic design, because at the time I really thought I wanted to do magazine layout and design.
When I started school all work was done by hand, by my senior year it was all computer based. At that point I realized that I didn’t want to spend all of my time behind a computer. So, although I graduated with a B.F.A in Art with a Concentration in Graphic Design, I never actually went into that field of work.
Unfortunately college, at least from my experience, didn’t provide many real world lessons. After graduation I spent a couple of years working as a nanny to ‘find myself’ then fell into visual display.
So then, how did you find your current career? What professional experiences shaped the business owner you are today?
My first job in the ‘corporate’ world was as a visual stylist. There was a ‘visual team’, but much of the work was done individually. You had to be a self starter and see projects through from beginning to end.
Yet those projects were part of a larger picture – affecting sales people & customers – so you had to know how to communicate with your team, as well as the entire store staff. Project management also included the use of space, as well as meeting deadlines and safety measures.
That job definitely set me on a path to continue my work in a creative field and I still have the ‘big picture’ mentality. I am always contemplating how each puzzle piece will come together and impact not only today, but next week or next year. That is especially important in my current work as a gallery owner as I plan art exhibits up to a year in advance.
I love it, Sandy. I also love that you went into business with your husband. That takes real courage! Can you tell us a little about that partnership?
My husband and I went into this business because we are artists/makers ourselves. Exploring galleries and shops and buying handmade is always something we have enjoyed doing and continue to do. Wherever we go we inevitably find ourselves in work mind/mode – thinking about things such as whether someone’s art would be good for our gallery.
I also can’t seem to shut off my design brain – always looking at how things are laid out, displayed, etc. Those aspects are not too stressful though. The hard part comes from knowing, on a daily basis, that everything is on you.
Although the gallery is open from 11-5 there are many hours, spent before and after, doing actual tasks or thinking about what needs to be done, how to find more customers, etc.
I have gotten better though. For the first 5-6 years I worked at home on my laptop most nights. Over the past few years I have let go a bit – realizing there is only so much I can get done in one day.
That’s truly admirable. Women in every field and profession can learn from your work-life balance lesson. What other challenges are there in small business ownership that women may not consider? How have you overcome them? Who has helped you along the way?
Being a small business owner can often be lonely and isolating. That may sound strange to some, but I have heard the same sentiment from many people. Talking to others, especially those in similar businesses, is essential to maintaining your sanity.
There are several art gallery owners I talk to – one in particular is also a close friend. She lives in Nashville and we speak or email regularly to discuss the highs and lows, our doubts and frustrations, our successes, etc. There is another friend that I have known since college – she previously owned her own retail business and is currently one of the artists I represent. We get together often – her perspective and insight is especially helpful.
That’s excellent advice. Surround yourself by women who have experienced and persevered against the challenges you face. Love it! What other words of wisdom do you have for young women?
I look at my 17 year old niece and the pressure she has now as everyone asks what she wants to do, where she wants to go to college, etc. I look back on my life, the path I have taken and how each step seems to have naturally led to the next – although not without it’s stress and worry. And I think about how often people ask “where do you see yourself / your business in five years?”.
Life shifts and our best laid plans may not go as we wish – so don’t get so focused on the destination. Enjoy the journey and remember we are always a work in progress.
More great advice, Sandy! So what’s next for you, and Lark & Key?
Lark & Key Gallery and Boutique is launching a new exhibit called ‘Confluence’, on view September 1st through October 28th.
Okay, I must admit, I had to look up “confluence” to fully appreciate its meaning. The term means “the process of merging”. And that, the exihibit certainly does!
Here’s a bit more about the inspiration and artists behind this exhibit, as pulled from the Lark & Key’s Press Release.
Duy Huynh’s recent artwork celebrates the wandering/wondering mind and the continuous search for new paths of perception. Merging the language of symbols, metaphors, and puns, the goal is to create visual narratives that resonate on multiple levels otherwise difficult to verbally articulate.
During the creative process, one’s thoughts may meander aimlessly from profound existential questions to the psychological clutter everyday life. Other processing challenges may include paralysis from over analysis, cognitive dissonance, and the malleability of memories. Huynh is fascinated by the unpredictable flow of these thought patterns, within himself as well as others telling their stories in different mediums such as music, literature, athletics, and the culinary arts. For Huynh the goal isn’t focused on answering any of life’s questions, but to rejoice in the quest itself. Ultimately he hopes “to create works that illicit a sense of continuity, connectivity, or some form of fortuitous confluence.” It has been twenty years since Huynh participated in his first public gallery exhibit. Though “Confluence” is not meant to serve as a retrospective exhibit, Huynh’s new work ties together many of his influences through the years.
Living and working in the mountains of Western NC, Julie Covington is surrounded and inspired by artists, musicians and farmers who fill their days living passionately with as many handcrafted items as possible. Her connection to the earth is evident in her wheel-thrown and altered stoneware pots that feel “equally at home on a cozy dinner table or on the floor of an old pick-up truck.”
Covington’s work is largely influenced by old things. Mostly handmade, but not always – things like baskets, quilts, kitchen accessories, tools and furniture. She is curious about the elements that determine why we continue to look at, hold and use certain things decade after decade, while others get tossed after a year or less. With a focus on functional work, she utilizes a wax resist technique to decorate her pots with universal, patterns such as vines and circle motifs that stand the test of time.
Huynh and Covington will also have collaborative work, one-of-a-kind pottery pieces embellished with Duy’s imagery.
Thank you, Sandy, for sharing your immense talents and unique career with us. Your creativity and business savviness is another example of REAL women doing EXTRAORDINARY work.
TO VISIT THE GALLERY
Tuesday – Saturday: 11am-5pm
First Friday Gallery Crawls until 9pm
Lark & Key Gallery and Boutique
128 E. Park Ave, Ste B
Charlotte, NC 28203
Sandy, and some of the local artists featured at the gallery, will also be hosting a Meetup at Lark & Key Gallery and Boutique later this fall.