As children will, the young girl instinctively reached out and touched a beautiful multi-colored chunk of glass, turning it on its base as her eyes shone with delight.
Just as instinctively, her mother moved to pull her hands off the sculpture by artist Jon Kuhn.
Isaac Luski, watching the scene at the gallery named for him and his wife, called out, "Let her do it, let her do it. It's all right."
That visitors can transgress a museum taboo and touch some art at the Sonia and Isaac Luski Gallery expresses the core idea behind Charlotte's newest cultural facility: accessibility.
For one thing, admission is free. The Luskis love the idea of people walking off the street and getting close to the art.
The gallery is in the lobby of the Foundation for the Carolinas' new home uptown on North Tryon Street, a historic building once used by the Mint Museum of Craft + Design.
The return of craft art to the building fits with the original vision and investment of Bank of America, which donated the building to the Foundation. Some deal making by Foundation CEO Michael Marsicano made it happen.
After an $8.7 million renovation, the structure looks better than it ever has.
Sonia Luski said the space makes her think of Frank Sinatra singing "Embraceable You."
"You come in and it hugs you."
Range of work
Art collectors for more than 40 years, the Luskis have given about 360 works by 79 artists to the Foundation. Family members also have contributed.
Works expressing their support of artists they have always considered friends are spread throughout the building, many in the conference rooms that will help the nonprofit Foundation's goal of bringing community groups together to talk and plan.
The first-floor gallery open to the public has three spectacular prints by Chuck Close, including a self-portrait; hyper-realist paintings by Lewis Jones of Asheboro, and colorful abstractions by Davidson artist Herb Jackson.
The glass, however, is the star of the show.
The Luskis were pioneers when they began collecting glass more than 40 years ago after a trip to the Penland School of Crafts near Spruce Pine.
Pieces by several artists associated with the nationally known school are here: vases with painted nature scenes by Mark Peiser; oval forms splitting to reveal floral designs by Richard Ritter, floppy-eared dogs in molded glass by Richard Jolley.
Dates telling when works were made would improve the visitor's experience.
N.C. artist Harvey Littleton is called the father of the studio glass movement. His three chunks of glass, flowing with shape and color, are breathtaking.
Consultants hired by the Foundation visited the Luskis' home, where art fills not only walls but closets, to select what to display. "We gave them carte blanche, and they started looking and doing the show in their heads," said Sonia Luski.
Wisely, they set aside an area at the back of the gallery for Lino Tagliapietra. Internationally known, he exemplifies the great Venetian glass tradition. His work has variety and depth - a vase of the deepest blue, wrapped with a coil of delicate red.
Of Polish and Russian ancestry, Isaac and Sonia Luski were born in Cuba. They fled in 1960 after communist Fidel Castro's takeover of the government.
Pretending they were going on vacation, they carried suitcases to the Havana airport and left everything else behind - except for a painting by Cuban artist Rene Portocarrero. Sonia carried it under her arm.
After arriving in Charlotte in 1961, they prospered. And they continued a family tradition of philanthropy. They have donated art to museums in Rock Hill and Hickory, among others, and to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library for all of its branches.
Sitting in the gallery as visitors offered thanks at the opening recently, Isaac Luski said he wished he "could invite Castro here to see what a free society can produce."
Also making Charlotte home were Abraham Luski, Isaac's brother, and his wife, Rose. Their Charlotte relatives, Bill and Patty Gorelick and Sheldon and Carol Gorelick, also are philanthropists.
As for touching the glass, Isaac said he favored what most museums forbid because it "doubles the pleasure," adding the tactile to the visual.
Feeling at home
A Charlotte firm, Jenkins-Peer Architects, designed the renovation. Taking down walls, they opened up the ground floor, adding a handsome black walnut floor and wave-like ceiling of perforated white metal.
Art glass needs light to come alive. An unobtrusive but precise lighting system designed by Steven Hefferan does just that. His Colorado firm also did the lighting at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art.
The Luskis, who enjoy gathering friends around their table, wanted the gallery to feel like home. They stipulated coffee and wine should be served in the gallery (it will when the space is rented for events) and that it have comfortable seating.
Two areas, front and back, have chairs and tables.
The only thing missing is Sonia cooking a Cuban dish and Isaac turning the music up and offering his visitors a cigar.
Otherwise, you can feel the love.