Moments after I sat down to chat with Ava Crabbe, owner of the Charcoal Eclectic Art Emporium and Henna Lounge (Charcoal Henna Lounge), customers began to wander in off the bright Old City streets. Located directly across from the historic St. Andrew’s United Church on Wesley St., Charcoal Henna Lounge’s warm, inviting collage of local colours, textures, and scents draw the passersby.

When asked how she arrived at the name for her shop, Crabbe said, “I really like the word charcoal for a few reasons. First, it’s a medium used in created art. Second, I remembered reading somewhere that in the Middle East there are places that put sizzling charcoal in coffee for its detoxifying principles.”

“Also, charcoal reminds me of the colour of henna, which is one of my favourite things about the shop. People wander in and are able to take a piece of art home with them on their skin.”

She also studied for a while at Camosun College in Victoria.

“I enjoyed my time there,” Crabbe said, “but it wasn’t quite what I needed.”

She spent the next few years working towards opening her own business, one that would both showcase local artists and provide a creative outlet for her own work. She worked at 4Cats Studio for a year, mainly with children, before moving onto mature artists.

Charcoal Henna Lounge boasts art from every medium. Jewelry, colouring books, clothes, prints, multi-medium art, antiques, handicrafts, pottery, and photos in frames adorn every surface of the shop.

“It’s important to me to showcase a side of Nanaimo not available in other galleries,” Crabbe said. “My featured artist from last month was told his work was too weird to be accepted at the mainstream galleries.”

Crabbe also spoke on her desire for Charcoal to be accessible for anyone and everyone regardless of their style or budget.

While sitting under brilliant tapestries on antique upholstered chairs, Crabbe freestyled a henna tattoo on my left hand. Watching her work, she made intricate designs appear effortless. One of her artists came in with their grandmother to show off her work. I overheard her tell her grandmother, “This is a place where I fit in.” During my visit, Crabbe spoke of many artists and artisans who “only put [their] work in [my] store.”  

This hard work, exclusive attitude, and local learned craft has granted Crabbe the connections and opportunity for some exciting events. On September 25, Charcoal Henna Lounge hosted the first ever Gabriola in the City. Many have tried and failed to host Gabriola Island’s artisan community, simply because the aesthetics and relationships did not align. Crabbe’s time on Gabriola, however, as well as a past professional relationship with the event’s coordinator, Alina Cerminara, helped Gabriola in the City get off the ground. The event provided much-needed exposure and networking for the hosts and artists alike.

When asked about her relationship with Cerminara, Crabbe said, “We met in Victoria at a coffee shop while I was living there. She has always been there for me and sparked my ideas and encouraged me on my artist’s path.” Crabbe credited Cerminara with encouraging her to pursue henna professionally, a decision that has proven fortuitous.

To learn more about the Charcoal Henna Lounge, and maybe have your art showcased, visit their website <>, find them on Facebook at <>, or contact Ava Crabbe at or 250-591-2552.