Two hours before the NoDa gallery crawl in early June, Allison Wolf Hertzler put the final daubs on a painting of trees, stepped back to look at what was on the walls of Green Rice Gallery, and felt contentment.
Threaded through the art, she thought, were the strands of her life.
The color green represented the rice patties of Sri Lanka, where she had been in the Peace Corps. Her use of patterns reflected the precise cast of mind of the young girl who dreamed of becoming a doctor.
The space itself spoke to her entrepreneurial spirit. She opened the gallery five years ago. It's become the hub of a business network with Hertzler, 34, at the center.
She paints, designs clothing, runs a gallery, designs Web sites and rents space to artists. She's also designing clothing for the men and women in her fall wedding. “I never do anything simple,” she says.
Pre-med at N.C. State, Hertzler got good grades. But when she was a senior, she looked at her fellow students applying to med school and realized she wasn't as driven in one direction as they were.
“Something clicked in my head,” she says.
Hertzler, who grew up in Greensboro, decided she needed to see more of life. Three days after graduation in 1996, the 22-year-old who had never been overseas except for a brief trip to Mexico headed for Sri Lanka.
She learned that despite their differences, people were pretty much the same. She discovered she liked running her own show.
When she moved to Charlotte in 2002, Hertzler didn't intend to open an art gallery.
During her four years post-Peace Corps, she worked for nonprofits and a childhood interest in art resurfaced. At UNC Charlotte, she took classes in art and computer design.
She opened a design business, renting an 800-square-foot space from Paul Sires and Ruth Ava Lyons, the artists/gallery owners who pioneered the NoDA arts district.
Hertzler wanted clients to feel creative energy when they came in the space. Art on the walls would work.
Then, she showed paintings by Nancy Prator of New York firehouses, work inspired by 9-11. That got a big response.
She began working with local artists and now deals with about 100, local and national. She leased a larger space that became available near 36th and North Davidson streets in '04. Her entrepreneurial instincts kicked in.
She subdivided the space and rented studios to artists. Looking for ways to increase artists' income, she printed designs from their work on scarves and dresses. She began the Milkweed Collection, designing clothing and having it manufactured.
When the building next door became available, she and a partner turned it into the Boulevard at NoDa, an urban marketplace. All this has left little time for her art.
In her use of patterning, bright colors and realism with a certain fanciful quality, Hertzler draws on influences such as Asian art from the 1700s, Gustav Klimt and French illustrator George Barbier. Moving ahead with her business, she's hired an artists representative to take her artists' work to businesses and interior designers.
Last year, she worked with developer Clay Grubb on a visual art program for Morrison, his mixed-use development near SouthPark.
Now, she wants to extend the Green Rice brand to that area. Things are moving. Hertzler is juggling. “I'm just one of those people who says, ‘Go for it,'” she says.