Can a love for trees be the guiding force behind a new career path as a gallery owner? For Sidney Cruze, that may just be the case. Before purchasing Zola Craft Gallery in August of 2014, Sidney worked as a freelance writer researching environmental topics. Among her favorite topics to research? Beech trees. Many of the books she reads in her free time are about trees as well – The Forest Unseen and The Songs of Trees, to name a couple. And during a tour of her gallery – which carries work from more than 55 North Carolina artists – she just might gravitate towards something like the gorgeous tree tiles from Po Co Paper. Sidney smiles as she picks up her favorite of the tiles and tilts it towards the light. The tiles – made from 100% post consumer fiber and framed in rough-cut lumber – are portraits of living trees – real trees the makers see in their everyday lives. This kind of eco-conscious, earthy vibe is a common theme in the gorgeous art displayed throughout the Zola Gallery, all of which is curated by Sidney herself.
Of course, it isn’t just a love of trees that led Sidney to her work as gallery owner and curator. She also loves art and the process by which it is created. As someone who studied ceramics herself at Claymakers in Durham, she understands and appreciates the process of making pottery. Sidney knows that even a simple piece can be challenging to make well. There are many aspects of the artistic process that you can’t see in the final product, though the evidence of fine craftsmanship is there in the details. Knowing the artistic process helps people to understand and appreciate those details even more. In the same way that she once did research for her freelance writing gigs, Sidney loves researching this artistic process. She shows off a vase made by potter Liz Paley and describes how Paley created it using a pottery wheel, a pastry crimper, and a heat gun. Sidney also shares that the earrings she is wearing – gorgeous pearl-like stones in a simple cascade effect – are actually cast metal. Sarah Richardson, the California artist who makes them, heats up the metal to get the effervescent, shimmery finish that is reminiscent of pearls or oyster shells.
So, the real reason Sidney rarely takes a day off isn’t because she can’t, but because she doesn’t want to. The stories she hears from makers and her connections with the Durham community are what make her job so rewarding. Even when she is traveling for leisure – say to Asheville or Virginia – she is checking out new galleries and craft shows and meeting makers. She is always on the lookout for that perfect piece that will fit right in to the shop. What does she look for? Textures, for one thing – silky wood or hammered metal. Excellent craftsmanship, for another – evidence that the piece is well made and thoughtfully constructed. Sidney also loves to buy art that is functional – things you can use in your home every day, like cutting boards, serving dishes, vases, and jewelry. On top of all that, Sidney asks herself a few questions when choosing what to keep in the shop: Is it beautiful? Will her customers fall in love with it? Does it tell a story?
Stop in to Zola and Sidney will likely be there with a story to tell about one of the beautiful items she has selected for the gallery. And because she loves making connections with customers, she may also want to strike up a conversation about a few of her other favorite things:
Favorite Travel Destination: Sidney and her family make an annual trek to the Virginia Creeper Trail where they spend the weekend biking and camping.
Favorite Music: Like her Ninth Street pals Emily Wexler and Deb Nickell at Cozy, Sidney is a big fan of Eva Cassidy. She also loves Tift Merritt, Van Morrison, Mandolin Orange, and Dire Straits.
Favorite Stress-Reliever: Swimming. If she’s not at the gallery or seeking out new art to display there, you might find Sidney swimming laps at one of Durham’s local pools.