It may come as a surprise - especially for a place like Savannah - but the Hostess City hosts no dedicated regional folk art galleries within the confines of the city limits.

There are an abundance of antique shops where one can find all sorts of fascinating collectibles, and a number of galleries and businesses that offer various crafts and conjurings from local and far-flung artists, but there's nowhere one can go to find true "outsider" and folk art all in one place.

Well, that's all about to change.

Francis Allen and Leslie Lovell (also newlyweds) are opening Roots Up Gallery on the corner of Liberty and Bull in the heart of the historic district, which will specialize in visionary, contemporary primitive, regional and folk art.

They've already amassed an infinitely intriguing mix of work that includes outsider and self-taught artists like Jimmy Lee Suddeth, Sam Doyle, Howard Finster, Missionary Mary Parker, Josh Cote and locals Panhandle Slim, Betsy Cain and Rudy Bostic, among many, many others. But they aren't planning on limiting themselves too strictly.

"Roots Up will be a gallery of both regional and folk art," Allen says. "We added the 'regional' because there are artists in the Lowcountry whose work we love and respect, but they are decidedly not folk artists in the way one normally thinks of the term. To the extent those artists feel comfortable taking a step or two back from 'fine art,' we want to work with them. Doing so broadens our base of appeal."

Allen and Lovell have had a passion for "non-traditional" art for some time and opening a gallery like Roots Up to fill a very obvious gap just seemed to make sense.

"Francis brought it up probably a year and a half ago," Lovell says. "And I immediately thought it was a great idea. Francis has always had an interest in educating people and letting people know that art isn't something to be afraid of and that it can be approachable - anybody can learn something about it and appreciate it."

The gallery is located in the parlor level of a mansion built in 1854 at 6 E. Liberty, just upstairs from The Book Lady, a store they hope to jointly promote events with in the future. Both Allen and Lovell envision Roots Up being not just a gallery space, but a place for community where people can feel comfortable hanging out and perusing the amazingly diverse selection of southern vernacular paintings, sculptures, pottery and jewelry they have on display.

The grand opening on May 9 will feature music, poetry readings and fortune telling by Andrew Hartzell and Erin Ferdinand, and most likely much rejoicing will be made by all and sundry for the pleasures of Savannah's own genuine, red-blooded regional and folk art gallery space.

Allen also considered having belly dancers as part of the entertainment for the opening, but he didn't want to overload everyone's senses. What they have planned should more than suffice, as Allen puts it, "... to give people a breather from the awesomeness inside the gallery."