For many people, artistic endeavors are not simply careers, or jobs, or hobbies, or fun free time activities. Art and creativity can be a lifestyle, a home base, a path, a journey, a medicine and a therapy.
For Anna and Maggie Drew, art has been a combination of lifestyle and career, upbringing and growing, self-expression and healing, fun and a gift for others. But 2019 is the year when the sisters’ artistic endeavors reunited for a new expression, one that reveals an inner world of family, a background of healing and empowerment, and the great potential of immediate community.
The Alchemist’s Daughters is Anna and Maggie’s newest artistic expression — a gallery they opened in South Bend in June full of paintings, photography, quirky household knickknacks, locally made soaps and more. Their venture is named after their own identities as the daughters of artist Nancy Swan Drew, and so themed after the environment their creative mother raised them in. Nancy raised Anna and Maggie to see every wall, table, accidental splash of paint and unfinished project as an art piece waiting to happen.
“We would be immersed in her creative spirit,” Anna says.
“It was very much like, ‘There’s a stain on that, let’s paint it,’” Maggie says of the home of their upbringing. “There was nothing [Nancy] couldn’t paint, and there was nothing we couldn’t play with.”
Nancy still lives and creates in Niles, and Anna, the older sister, and Maggie, the younger, now carry on the spirit of their mother in their new gallery, both in their art for sale and in the aesthetic space as well.
An upstairs bathroom in the gallery with unfinished walls was drawn over with chalk in the theme of Anna’s “Crown On” series, dozens of pieces for which visitors can see throughout the gallery. The bathroom wall and Anna’s pieces speak to their mother’s legacy: everything is art — even the stuff that isn’t.
While The Alchemist’s Daughters gallery follows the spirit of Nancy Swan Drew, the gallery is uniquely their own. Anna’s “Crown On” painting series decorates the walls and fills the shelves, but Maggie’s photography with embellishments like octopi and dresses drawn in white pen stand out prominently through the gallery. Their marks and expression are everywhere in the gallery because they wanted the space to speak about who resides there.
“It doesn’t matter where you are, you can make your environment yours,” Maggie says. “This is what we did our entire life, but we get to do it in public.”
“Coming into this space in May, we were giddy,” Anna says.
The meaning of their pieces and their expression runs deeper than what hangs from the walls and shelves, however. Both the gallery and the art within it speak to the empowerment of women. The Alchemist’s Daughters also features the work of six other local female artists, and is a space for what Maggie called “contemporary Midwest female art.”
“We wanted a space that was for women contemporary artists that was showcasing what we think is underrepresented in this community — and sometimes in the Midwest — which is females making very contemporary work and speaking to contemporary issues,” Anna says.
Women are empowered both through the art curated at The Alchemist’s Daughters and how the Drew sisters do community outreach. Women’s empowerment is the driving, pervasive force supporting Anna and Maggie’s work, the legacy of their mother, and the imprint they hope to leave on South Bend.
“I’ve always used happy, beautiful environments to outweigh some of the other things in life, and it’s really exciting that it’s out in the community now,” Maggie says. “Hopefully it will inspire other women to use their house to make their own things, and to feel like they can make things. I think everyone needs to make and create.”
While Anna and Maggie have displayed their individual work at other galleries and exhibits around the country, The Alchemist’s Daughters is their unified endeavor and the crossing of their creative energies. In the months leading up to the opening of The Alchemist’s Daughters, the right components and life circumstances started coming together for the sisters to begin conversations of a collaboration.
“When Maggie was starting this new series, we started talking. ‘Are we going to do something together? What are we going to do together?’” Anna says.
The gallery was the answer to their questions, and it became a solution for other artists and aspiring creatives in their community.
“People respond energetically to this space,” Anna says. “They say there’s nothing like it and that it feels good. There’s appreciation that we’re here.”
Before the gallery opened, Anna and Maggie were already splashes of color in a canvas of Midwest creativity, but now The Alchemist’s Daughters is already gaining recognition as an attraction in South Bend’s greater community of collective visual art stops. The Drews’ gallery is featured in Curate South Bend, a visual arts guide for the city.
“You don’t have to go to Saugatuck. You don’t have to go to Grand Rapids,” Anna says.
“You can go for an afternoon in your own backyard and be in some really cool spots that are forward thinking and showcasing exactly the art you’d find somewhere else.” χ