When Lisa Curry and Nathana Cox bought the late nineteenth-century building in Downtown San Angelo (just a mile from Curry’s spa where both women work), their plans were simple: to create a personal art studio where they could paint freely without worrying about staining the floors or walls.
However, it seems, everything they touch turns to art.
A Powerful Space
Curry, a nurse and clinical aesthetician, and Cox, a laser technician, help women achieve beautiful skin as part of their jobs at the Waterford Wellness Spa. In their spare time, the painters pull beauty and color from stark white canvases. The diamond in the rough at 38 North Chadbourne Street, now Raw 1899, proved to be another work of art waiting to be revealed.
“The building talked to us,” Curry said, sitting with Cox in their gallery nook at a table blanketed with a paint-smeared tablecloth, their personal vibrant works adorning the walls behind them. “We initially bought this first building [on the corner], and learned a little history, and we thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we need the second building, too.’”
In March of 2016, they purchased the buildings from local contractor David Mazur, who then removed the Styrofoam drop ceiling to expose original tin. Beneath ragged shag carpeting, they unearthed concrete flooring flecked with Concho River sand and shells. Underneath the green plaster on the walls, they found cream-colored rock and faded red brick.
“It just became prettier and prettier,” Cox said. “And we said, ‘We need to share it.’”
The project then evolved into an elegant but comfortable art lounge, with appetizers, beer, and wine.
“We were thinking we were going to be small, like, ‘Can I get you a little cheese with your drink?’” Curry said of their original intent. “We were just going to casually talk to everybody.”
Sixteen months later, in 2017, the women opened Raw 1899. They derived the name from its estimated date of origin and the natural restored state to which they returned the buildings. Its grand opening exhibit featured more than 300 art pieces from more than 90 artists from as far away as Germany.
The space has been a hive of activity ever since. “We went into it with a pure heart: this is for San Angelo,” Cox said. “And that’s why we’ve been so blessed.”
Curry and Cox were both late bloomers as artists. Cox first painted about ten years ago; Curry began casually in the ‘80s, but it took a back seat to her career.
Cox said she could not find a niche in which to express herself until she picked up a paintbrush. “I tried knitting and ceramics and gardening and cooking and decorating,” she said. “It wasn’t until I started painting that it became a need.”
Their studio space provides plenty of inspiration. “Painting, to me, is an emotion,” Cox said, describing her style as abstract and impressionistic. “Some days I walk in and maybe I’m feeling frustrated, and it’ll come up in an abstract. I think art is successful when it’s on the canvas and evokes an emotion with the viewer.”
“Our painting is changing as we are growing,” Curry said. “I think every artist would say that, with every piece they’re doing.” Gesturing to her paintings surrounding her (including one in its infancy, a blue-and-white china face with tulips springing from its crown), she said, “I love what I’m doing right now. She [Cox] loves what she’s doing right now. You feel it and can’t wait to get back to it.”
Owning a gallery has made them more intentional as artists, Cox said. “It’s made us stretch because we’re so proud of what we have here. We’re learning something new every day.”
The San Angelo area has at least 300 active artists, Curry said, and Raw’s gallery is booked until 2020. “Every day, people come in and say, ‘I want to show you something.’ They’ll open up their phones and you’re blown away,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many artists whose work we’ve introduced at the gallery. It’s exciting to find new artists, and then you sell their piece and you can’t wait to tell them.”
“We get more excited when we sell someone else’s painting than when we sell our own,” Cox added.
In the Raw
Cox and Curry are still flattered and excited by event requests, even two years after opening Raw 1899. They’ve accommodated after-parties, holiday company gatherings, celebratory showers, bachelor and bachelorette parties, weddings, or even as a backdrop for portrait photography.
A gleaming wooden bar spotlighted with overhead halo chandelier lights is the focal point of the building adjacent to the gallery. Cozy seating vignettes in an assortment of décor styles that complement one another comprise the rest of the space for a vibe that is an amalgamation of untamed elegance and historic chic.
“I think it just has an energy that makes everybody feel good,” Curry said. “Whether you’re male or female, 20 years old or 80 years old, people relate to this space.”
“We wanted it to feel like you’re at home,” Cox explained. “We have blankets for the outdoor patio. You can snuggle up and have a glass of wine, kick off your shoes, and it’s like you’re in your living room relaxing. We see that all the time.”
Raw is a place in which San Angelo can take pride, Curry said. “I can’t tell you how many times a week people come in and say, ‘I can’t wait for my daughter to come in,’ or ‘I want my friends from New York to see this.’”
“We couldn’t have dreamed this up,” Cox said, seemingly still in awe of what has transpired the past three years. “I just think Raw was meant to happen. It’s been a rollercoaster. We’re just holding on for the ride.”
Raw is open 4 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, 4 to 10 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, and 2 to 10 p.m. (sometimes later) on Saturday. For their wine, beer, and food menu, or for information about upcoming art classes, visit their website.