For those who remember the circular building on Maryville’s East Broadway Avenue that served as home to Blount National Bank for decades, you might be a little curious as to who the new owners are.
Tim and Yvonne Smith hope so. They purchased the Maryville icon back in 2020 and reopened its doors to the public in July. No bank tellers or loan officers here though. This is a place to play.
Creative Spark Studio combines the art background of Yvonne and her mother, Polly Wenta, with the science and engineering know-how of Tim.
Yvonne is the art teacher in Blount County Schools for Townsend and Carpenters elementary schools. She earned a bachelor of arts degree in studio art from Maryville College and a master of science degree in education at the University of Tennessee.
Tim has a B.S. in computer engineering and an M.S. in electrical engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology. He also brings his talents for woodworking.
Add in Wenta’s 20 years of making jewelry and the cast is set for this community art space that is open five days a week for anyone who wants to dabble in a variety of arts and crafts.
In this 3,000-square-foot space, customers can learn and create string art, glass fusion, pottery, painted rocks, dreamcatchers, holiday crafts, wood art, spin art and alcohol ink creations. Yvonne said no appointments are needed; just come in and experiment with what this studio has to offer.
However, Creative Spark Studio also can schedule birthday parties, Ladies Night Out, bridal and baby showers and art classes. Guests are not limited to just one particular art project either. The staff here is trained to help with any of the offerings.
Luring them in
That Creative Spark is located in this space is no coincidence. Yvonne said they decided to move ahead with finding a building in February 2020. A week later, this space became available. The natural lighting, the history and uniqueness of the architecture all spoke to her.
It was not the best of times to open a new business, Tim and Yvonne agree. But, after Tim lost his job due to his company’s closure, he looked around at his options. The couple said they looked into franchise opportunities but they required the family to relocate. That wasn’t something they were willing to do, so they bought their own place and created a space they hope others will want to adopt as their community space.
These three, with the help of Yvonne’s sons, Josh Wells and Joshua Smith, and daughter, Courtney Wells, have made this a welcoming environment.
They chose to do much of the work themselves, said Josh Wells, including paving their own parking lot. Tim spent hours taking old furniture with good bones and refurbishing the pieces. This family did the interior painting as well.
They hired graphic designer John Fischbach with Visual Voice to do all of their graphics, including the vinyl mural on the mezzanine.
All under one roof
In addition to the large main studio where the creative process begins, there is also a boutique, kitchen and serving area where guests can get snacks and beverages, a kiln room where pottery can be fired, and a large party/class room.
What has become one of the favorite areas for kids of all ages is the Splatter Vault, so named because of its location: in what used to be the bank’s vault. Instead of being a storeroom for cash, it is now a place where anyone can create splatter art and not worry about the mess. Painters suit up in protective gear and go at it.
Wenta, who has been creating wire-wrapped jewelry for years, offers classes at Creative Spark Studio. Participants walk away knowing the craft but also with their own original pieces.
Yvonne said she has taught textile arts, while her artist friends do instruction in embroidery, crocheting and painting. She said she welcomes other artists who might want to offer classes in this spacious setting.
The Smiths have named the classroom area the Spark Tank.
“It literally used to be the drive-thru,” Yvonne said. “This was lane 1 and this was lane 2. You can see the posts. Here was lane 3.”
The space is now enclosed and can hold several people wanting to learn to paint or make baskets, with tables spaced for social distancing.
Yvonne stressed they are not trying to take away business from places like Studio 212, which offers pottery and other classes, or Fine Arts Blount. The pottery classes Creative Spark Studio offers is not hand-throwing on the wheel.
“I just want to bring additional arts and crafts to Maryville for our community,” she said. “I want it to be a community art place where anyone can come and create art.”
Yvonne and Tim recently made a presentation to the Blount County Arts and Crafts Guild, an organization of folks of many talents. Yvonne said she would welcome them to come and teach their gifts.
Because we are still dealing with a pandemic, masks are required and extra cleaning protocol has been put into place. Yvonne said she wants people to feel safe as they finally start to venture out. When they do, she wants them to have a positive experience to look back on.
“It’s not just about making something but making the memories to go with it,” she said. These business owners have enjoyed seeing team building taking place here or just watching a group of friends finally having some much needed time together.
There are reminders of what this place used to be. A photo of Blount National Bank is in the office area. There is also a large piece of furniture left behind. Tim said it won’t fit through any of the doors. They are glad to have it.
It has been a little rough getting a new business off the ground in the middle of a pandemic, but this family is committed to giving their best. There is nowhere else they want to be than in Maryville.
“This is where I live,” Yvonne said. “This is where I work. This is where I raised my kids. This is where I want to be.”