The Arts in Asheville
Art, Crafts, Galleries, Theatre, Music and Dance
“To do a dangerous thing with style is what I call art.”
The arts in Asheville have a rich past, a vibrant present and a promising future. Whether it’s the visual arts, crafts, music, dance or theatre, Asheville is magnetic and dynamic. Especially notable examples are highlighted in RED.
Black Mountain College
It is only in retrospect that it became clear that Black Mountain College, the small, radical, experimental college a little east of Asheville, was a major force in American arts and culture of the 20th century.
There’s little point in going into the details here of the founding and the struggles of the college from 1933, when it was established by disgruntled former faculty members of Rollins College in Florida. It started in rented quarters at Blue Ridge Assembly southeast of the town of Black Mountain and lasted until 1957, when it whimpered to its end at Lake Eden northwest of Black Mountain. Many of the depressing details are mired in the college’s financial morass, academic politics and intellectual backbiting.
Even at its peak at Lake Eden in the 1940s, Black Mountain never had more than 90 students at one time. Perhaps 300 people taught at the college over the course of its 34 years.
There were two distinct and separate impacts of the college, impacts that eventually reverberated nationally. One was in the visual arts. Through its faculty and students, Black Mountain College helped develop some of the major art movements of the 20th century, including abstract impressionism and performance art. The other impact was more diffuse, and more about personal freedom, lifestyle and pop culture. It led directly to the Beat Movement and then indirectly to the watershed years of the 1960s – hippies, drugs and rock n’ roll.
In the 1930s and 40s, many refugees from Nazi Europe and from America’s Babbittvilles came to Black Mountain College, attracted by its free spirit and experimental environment. The faculty and student body (sometimes it was difficult to tell one from the other) included some who would become the great abstract artists of the century such as Robert Motherwell, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Jacob Lawrence, Franz Kline, Robert Rauschenberg, Kenneth Noland (an Asheville native), M.C. Richards, Robert DeNiro Sr. and Josef and Anni Albers. Avant-garde composer and musician John Cage and dancer Merce Cunningham collaborated on the first “happenings,” the beginning of performance art. Buckminster Fuller, who taught engineering at Black Mountain, created his first geodesic dome at the college. Albert Einstein was on the school’s board and lectured at the college. Max Dehn, the noted German-American mathematician, taught at the college for seven years.
Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus school of architecture (Josef Albers had been a Bauhaus instructor in Germany), designed buildings for the Lake Eden campus, though the college never had the money to construct them. Another prominent architect and architectural historian, Lawrence Kocher, did design and manage the construction, in great part by students and faculty, of the Studies Building, called “the Ship.” It is still a striking building today.
In its later years, Black Mountain became better known for its poets and writers than for painters, musicians and performers. Charles Olson, the intellectual (and physical) giant taught at the college, founding the so-called Black Mountain School of poets. Among his students were poets Robert Creeley, Fielding Dawson, Jonathan Williams and Ed Dorn and Village Voice columnist Joel Oppenheimer. Openly gay novelists James Leo Hirlihy and Michael Rumaker attended Black Mountain, as did filmmaker Arthur Penn. Critic Alfred Kazin, poet William Carlos Williams and novelist Henry Miller lectured there.
Through the little magazine founded by Robert Creeley, Black Mountain Review, which early on published Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, the college developed a connection with the Beat poets in San Francisco, and with the larger Beat movement in the 1950s. The college’s radical approach to education inspired a number of experimental colleges, including New College in Sarasota, Fla., Goddard College, Bennington, Warren Wilson College (located in Swannanoa near Black Mountain) and Shimer in Chicago.
The communal lifestyle, sexual freedom and experimental approach to education and life at Black Mountain College undoubtedly, if not always admittedly, contributed to the radical changes that took place in American culture in the 1960s.
For an in-depth look at Black Mountain College, read Martin Duberman’s Black Mountain, An Exploration in Community. First published in 1972, it remains by far the best book on Black Mountain. See Books in the Resources section.
EXPERIENCING BLACK MOUNTAIN COLLEGE TODAY
Today, with some planning, you can visit the two campuses of Black Mountain College and imagine what it was like to be a student there. Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center in Downtown Asheville has exhibits on the college, puts on lectures and presentations and publishes monographs and books on Black Mountain. Pack Library in Asheville and an archives section of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources near Asheville have collections of Black Mountain College materials and art.
Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center (56 Broadway St., with an additional space at 69 Broadway, Downtown Asheville, 828-350-8484, www.blackmountaincollege.org, open Mon & Wed – Sat 11 – 5 pm, admission fees vary depending on event, exhibition or conference) has the mission of preserving and continuing the unique legacy of educational and artistic innovation of Black Mountain College. In small spaces, it does a big job with programs, publications, oral histories and exhibits. The museum has 3,000+ pieces of BMC artwork and ephemera in its collection. BMCM+AC is moving to a larger space on College Street in 2018.
Blue Ridge Assembly (84 Blue Ridge Assembly Rd., Black Mountain, 828-669-8422, www.blueridgeassembly.org), now operated by the YMCA, was the original home of Black Mountain College. The college occupied Robert E. Lee Hall and some other buildings on the religious retreat’s 1,200-acre grounds for about eight years. The YMCA hosts many programs at the Assembly, but normally you can visit the Assembly grounds without charge. Directions: Blue Ridge Assembly is about 14 miles east of Asheville. From Asheville, take I-40 East to Exit 64, Black Mountain/Montreat and turn south on Highway 9. Proceed about .5 mile and go straight on Blue Ridge Rd. Travel .9 mile and turn left at small Blue Ridge Assembly sign, then proceed to Assembly entrance.
In 1941, Black Mountain College moved across the valley to Lake Eden , which is now a summer camp, Camp Rockmont (375 Lake Eden Rd., 828-686-3885, www.rockmont.com). Rockmont operates as a 550-acre Christian camp for boys from early June to mid-August and at other times rents parts of the camp to organizations and groups. Permission should be sought in advance to visit the grounds of the private camp.
Among the original buildings from the college’s time are the Studies Building (“the Ship”), the dining hall with a large meeting room, the Round House (where musicians practiced) and two residential lodges. The Ship and other buildings are visible from Lake Eden Rd. Twice a year, in mid-May and mid-October, the Lake Eden Arts Festival or LEAF (377 Lake Eden Rd., 828-686-8742, www.theleaf.org) stages a weekend music and arts festival on the grounds of Camp Rockmont. Buy your tickets in advance as they always sell out. Directions to Lake Eden: From Asheville take I-40 East and exit at Swannanoa, Exit 59, to US Hwy. 70. Turn right toward Swannanoa/Black Mountain. Turn left at the first traffic light in Swannanoa to cross a bridge, then right on Old US 70. It is 1.9 miles to Lake Eden Rd., where you turn left at the traffic light. Go 1.5 miles and you will see Rockmont’s front gate on the left.
Asheville Art Museum (2 S. Pack Square, 828-253-3227, www.ashevilleart.org) has a collection of about 500 works on Black Mountain College and by artists associated with the college. Some of these are available for viewing in digital form on the museum’s website at www.ashevilleart.org/collection/black-mountain-college. Note: the museum currently is closed, undergoing a major expansion and renovation.
Western Regional Archives (170 Riceville Rd., East Asheville, 828-296-7230, www.history.ncdcr.gov/wo; open to the public Mon. 1-4, Tue.-Fri. 9-noon, other times by appointment, free) in a building formerly used by the VA Hospital, is a branch of the Office of Archives and History, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. It houses various archives related to Western North Carolina history and culture, and currently about three-fourths of the archives focus on Black Mountain College. There are boxes and boxes of old photos, original BMC art work and college academic records.
River Arts District
What is now the amazing River Arts District, a thriving and always-growing collection of art studios and galleries, plus business offices, restaurants, clubs, beer breweries and residential condos along the east side of the French Broad River near Downtown was once one of the region’s main industrial zones. Anchored by the river and Southern Railway, the Riverside industrial area developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a center for tanneries, livestock sales, cotton and other mills, ice and coalhouses, grain storage facilities and warehouses.
The worst flood in Asheville history in 1916 damaged many buildings in the low-lying river plain, but gradually the area recovered. Other serious flooding has occurred once every 10 or 15 years, including bad floods in 1928 and 2004 that damaged buildings in the Riverside area and Biltmore Village.
The Riverside industrial area thrived for several decades, but with changing economic conditions by the 1950s and 1960s many of the warehouses and businesses in the district had closed and were abandoned.
Wilma Dykeman in her classic 1955 book, The French Broad, called by one critic “a love poem” to the river, laid out the history and importance of the 117-mile long French Broad, which flows north from its headwaters in Rosman, N.C., through Asheville to Tennessee, eventually draining into the Mississippi. She presented a vision of what the then-polluted river could become again for the region.
In 1989, RiverLink, then known as the French Broad Riverfront Planning Committee, a group of volunteers interested in the preservation and enhancement of the French Broad River came together under the auspices of the Asheville Chamber of Commerce to develop a plan for the Asheville riverfront. Among the driving forces were Jean Webb, an Asheville native who became the first chair of the Riverfront Planning Committee (an Asheville riverside park has been named for her) and Karen Kragnolin, a lawyer who move to Asheville in the 1990s, now executive director of RiverLink (a park is also named for her).
Volunteers, including experts from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and Warren Wilson College, plus interested local organizations such as Quality Forward (now Asheville Greenworks), an environmental organization, and the Preservation Society of Asheville, in association with American Institute of Architects consultants, developed The Riverfront Plan. This plan outlined ideas for greenways and responsible riverfront development, mainly on the west side of the river. The plan is now called the Wilma Dykeman RiverWay Plan, honoring the author and conservationist.
In 1991, Carolina Power & Light Company (today Duke Energy) helped jumpstart redevelopment along the riverfront by donating to RiverLink a 1.9 mile-section of riverfront property on the west bank of the river for use as the first link in the urban riverfront greenway. The former Asheville Speedway stock car racetrack became a part of Carrier Park, now a popular site for walkers, joggers and bikers. Carrier Park is named for Edwin Carrier, a Pennsylvania entrepreneur who started Sulpher Springs resort near what today is Malvern Hills in West Asheville.
Also in the 1990s, Mountain Housing Opportunities, a community organization dedicated to affordable housing, became involved in what would become the River Arts District, helping fund renovations in the district and eventually redeveloping the old Glen Rock Hotel property across from what had been the Southern Railway Passenger Depot (see below).
In the 1980s and 1990s, artists and craftspeople rediscovered the former Riverside industrial zone, drawn by inexpensive rents for large industrial and loft spaces, perfect for studios. In an unusual development, some artists and craftspeople bought buildings and renovated them for their own studios, renting out space to other artists. Currently more than a dozen artists in the River Arts District own the buildings where they have studios.
Pioneers in the River Arts District include Brian and Gail McCarthy who moved their Highwater Clays business to the district in 1985 (they later bought a section of buildings on Clingman Avenue for their Odyssey Center for the Ceramic Arts, now Odyssey Clayworks, and Odyssey Gallery). Other pioneers included Lewis and Porge Buck, who bought an old warehouse and opened Warehouse Studios in 1987, and Pattiy Torno, who bought three buildings on Riverside Drive and opened CURVE Studios in 1989.
Today the River Arts District is home to more than 160 art and craft studios, most of which are open to the public. There also are art and craft galleries and at least a dozen restaurants, coffee shops and bars. A number of creative businesses such as ad agencies and design studios also have relocated to the area. Residential apartments are also available in the district.
The boundaries of the River Arts District are not strictly fixed, but generally the district is an area of about one mile by one-half mile bounded by the French Broad River on the west and Clingman Avenue and the Depot Street corridor on the east. The north and south ends of the district are somewhat fluid.
Among the notable structures in the industrial area was the Han Rees Tannery on 22 acres at Lyman Street. The group of about 30 brick buildings, built around 1898-1902, housed massive tannery operations once among the largest in the country. At one point Hans Rees employed some 3,000 workers and processed 30,000 pounds of cattle hides a day. You can imagine the stench! As the 20th century progressed, tanneries went into decline and by the 1940s Hans Rees and other Asheville tanneries were out of business. Several of the tannery buildings still stand, and the brick buildings with distinctive saw-tooth roof lines now are home to Riverview Station, at 191 Lyman Street, a community of about 50 artists and businesses.
Farmers Federation, a cooperative organization with the goal of improving agriculture in Western North Carolina, was established in 1920 by James G.K. McClure, whose family now runs Hickory Nut Gap Farm. Local farmers bought shares in the Federation, which purchased feed and seed and farm supplies and equipment at wholesale, selling them to members at discounted prices. The co-op also hatched and sold chicks and poults (baby turkeys). The Farmers Federation building on Roberts Street, one of several warehouses and stores operated in WNC by the organization, is now home to Wedge Brewing Co. and Wedge Studios. The original six-story Farmers Federation building at 125 Roberts Street, considered fire proof, was destroyed in a fire in December 1925. James McClure’s wife’s painting and many McClure heirlooms, stored in the warehouse, were consumed by the blaze, in which several carloads of beans and hundreds of turkeys were also lost.
The Asheville Cotton Mill was the industrial district’s most prominent building. Its towering smokestacks, visible from the Smoky Park Bridge (recently renamed the Captain Bowen Memorial Bridge after a firefighter who died in a fire on Biltmore Avenue) on the west side of Downtown, were symbols of the district. The 122,000 square foot building, occupying over 3 acres, was destroyed in a fire in 1995. It was arson, but the culprit or culprits were never found. (Another suspicious fire burned an empty part of the Cotton Mill in April 2013.) The 1995 fire, however, seemed to act as a catalyst for further revitalization of the River Arts District. One part of the Cotton Mill that was not destroyed in the fire was bought and renovated by Eileen Black, a potter from Greensboro, and her husband, Marty Black, turning the building into the Cotton Mill Studios.
Asheville Stockyards were a fixture of the region’s agricultural life from the 1930s to 1980s. New Belgium, a leading national crafts beer brewer, is building its East Coast brewery and distribution center at the site of the old stockyards.
The Southern Railway Roundhouse, built around 1926, is among the few surviving railroad roundhouses in the South. Southern Railway was the successor to the Western North Carolina Railroad, the original railroad in the region. In 1982, Southern merged with the Norfolk Railroad to form the Norfolk Southern Railway. The Roundhouse at 70 Meadow Road is still in operation.
The Southern Railway Passenger Depot on Depot Street was one of two hubs of railroad passenger service in the region, the other being the Biltmore Depot on Brook Street in Biltmore Village. (During the Vietnam War days, this writer took a train between Fort Riley, Kan., and Asheville, arriving and departing from Depot Street).
Across from Southern Railway Passenger Depot was the Glen Rock Hotel, built of wood around 1890 in the Queen Anne style. It was condemned as unsafe in 1929 and rebuilt in 1930. The newer building was designed by Asheville architect Henry Irven Gaines, later to become one of the founders of the Six Associates architectural firm. By the early 1970s the Glen Rock had become a home mostly for derelicts and then for a time was occupied by a food canning business.
Passenger service to Asheville ended in 1975, and the Depot Street passenger terminal was, sadly, torn down by Southern Railway.
Today, Glen Rock Depot is a multi-used development with residential, commercial and office space. It consists of the 372 Depot Building, a 90,000 square-foot building with 60 affordable housing apartments and 9,000 square feet of commercial space. The Glen Rock Depot development is also redeveloping the 1930 Glen Rock Hotel into commercial and residential space. The Corner Market is a 6,400 square foot renovation of the old Southern Railway company store.
In October 2013 Asheville City Council approved a large multi-use project in the River Arts District at the 3.3-acre site of the former Dave Steel complex between Clingman Avenue and Roberts Street, directly across from what is now Odyssey. The plans calls for seven buildings, ranging from two to seven stories, with 209 market-rent apartments, 43,000 sq. ft. of retail space and 12,000 sq. ft. of office space. The buildings will sit atop a 338-space, two-level parking deck that will be mostly underground. The project has been delayed several times and as of late 2017 has not broken ground.
STUDIOS AND GALLERIES IN THE RIVER ARTS DISTRICT
Here are some of the largest and best studios and galleries in the River Arts District. For more information, visit www.riverartsdistrict.com where you can download a 40-page booklet on the district. District-wide “Studio Strolls” are held twice yearly, in mid-June and mid-November, when nearly all studios are open, many with special sales, free refreshments, entertainment and demonstrations. “Second Saturday” events are held on the second Saturday of each month, April through December, with artist demos and free refreshments. Many studios are open year-round, in some cases daily and in others only on weekends or a few days a week. Admission is free, so you can see the artists and craftspeople at work and buy art and crafts direct from the source.
Cotton Mill Studios (122 Riverside Dr., 828-252-9122, www.cottonmillstudiosnc.com) houses about 20 artists in textiles, pottery, weaving, jewelry and painting.
Curve Studios (6, 9 and 12 Riverside Dr., 828-388-3526, www.curvestudiosnc.com) is home to more than a dozen artists in fabric, jewelry, clay and metal.
Hatchery Studios (1 Roberts St., www.hatcherystudios.com) features more than a half dozen painters, sculptors and clay artists, plus a gallery, Bluerain Fine Art.
Northlight Studios (357 Depot St., www.northlightstudiosasheville.com) is home to five artists in photography, painting, jewelry and other media.
Odyssey Clayworks (236 Clingman Ave., 828-285-0210, www.odysseyceramicarts.com), also called Odyssey Center for Ceramic Arts, is one of the pioneering studios in the River Arts District. It focuses on pottery and ceramic arts, with a large number of clay classes and workshops, plus studio rentals. More than 60 ceramic artists work at Odyssey, the largest concentration in one place in the region. It has a top gallery, the Odyssey Co-op Gallery, (www.odysseycoopgallery.com) featuring 25 juried clay artists. Under the same family ownership is Highwater Clays (600 Riverside Dr., 828-252-6033, www.highwaterclays.com), the largest clay and pottery equipment and supply company in the region.
Phil Mechanic Studios (109 Roberts St., 828-254-2126, www.philmechanicstudios) is home to about 16 local artists working with paint, metal, mixed media, ceramics, glass and wood. Also here are two galleries, Pump Gallery and Flood Gallery Fine Art Center.
Pink Dog Creative (342-348 Depot St., 828-216-1311, www.pinkdog-creative.com) is home to around eight artists, mostly painters. The Gallery at Pink Dog Creative, Asheville Area Arts Council and The Junction restaurant also are located here.
Riverview Station (191 Lyman St., 828-231-7120, www.riverviewartists.com) is a community of artists in painting, sculpture, mixed media, jewelry, photography, ceramics, and wood, along with a number of businesses. 310 Art Gallery is also located here.
Roberts Street Studios (140 Roberts St.) has several artists in paint, glass and wood.
Wedge Studios (111-129 Roberts St.) has nearly 30 artists working in paint, fabrics, mixed media, sculpture, clay and wood, although a recent change in ownership has put the artist studio in flux.
This is only a partial listing of the studios and galleries in the River Arts District. Also check out the studios of individual artists such as Jonas Gerard (240 Clingman Ave., www.jonasgerard.com) and Daniel McClendon (349 Depot St., www.theliftstudios.com).
See the Asheville Dining section of AMAZING ASHEVILLE for information and reviews on The Junction, 12 Bones, White Duck Taco and other restaurants in the River Arts District. Also see the Beer City and Clubs and Nightlife sections.
Grayline Tours (red trolleys) and Historic Asheville’s Trolley Tours (white trolleys) include the River Arts District on their hop-on/hop-off trolley tours. See Tours section.
Asheville Area Art and Crafts
Asheville was named the number one small city in America for art by AmericanStyle Magazine in 2011 and tied for number two in 2012. Other top five small cities included Sarasota, Key West and Bradenton, Fla., and Santa Fe, N.M.
At least a thousand artists and craft artists live in the Asheville area.
Crafts Schools and Organizations
With a tradition of hand-made crafts going back hundreds of years, the presence of several nationally known crafts schools and crafts organizations, a huge influx of talented craftspeople to Asheville and the region and the opening of many first-rate crafts galleries, Asheville and the mountains have become one of the top crafts centers in the United States. The area has particular strength in pottery and ceramic arts, glass, fabric arts and wood.
Folk Art Center (Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 382, 828-298-7928, www.southernhighlandguild.org, Jan.-Mar. 9-5 daily; Apr.-Dec. 9-6 daily, free), headquarters of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, is a terrific place to see historical and contemporary mountain crafts. There are three crafts galleries, craft demonstrations and an Allanstand Craft Shop, which sells quality local and regional craft items.
Handmade in America (125 S. Lexington Ave, 828-252-0121, www.handmadeinamerica.org), established in 1993, is dedicated to helping support craftspeople in Western North Carolina. The community organization has published a popular guide, The Craft Heritage Trails of Western North Carolina. Its online Craft Registry is the region’s most comprehensive directory of craft artists, galleries, craft resources and craft events.
North Carolina Homespun Museum (111 Grovewood Rd., 828-253-7651, www.grovewood.com, Apr.-Dec. Mon.-Sat. 10-6, Sun. 11-5, closed Jan.-Mar., free), a part of the Grovewood Gallery adjacent to the Grove Park Inn, focuses on the history of Biltmore Industries and its wool cloth. Biltmore Industries originally was a weaving and woodworking education program started by Edith Vanderbilt of the Biltmore Estate.
Southern Highland Craft Guild (Folk Art Center, Milepost 382, Blue Ridge Parkway, 828-298-7928, www.southernhighlandguild.org). Begun in Asheville in 1930, and second in age only to the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts, the Southern Highland Craft Guide is one of the preeminent craft organizations in the country. It represents more than 900 craftspeople in nine Southeastern states. Guild membership is based on a juried process. The Guild operates the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway (see above) along with several other first-rate crafts shops. Twice a year it puts on the Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands, with 200 craftspeople exhibiting in the U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville (see Festivals section).
Crossnore Weavers (Crossnore, 828-733-4660, www.crossnoreweavers.org; open Mon.-Sat. 9-5, free) near Linville is a “working museum” of weaving. It is an outgrowth of a boarding school for impoverished children established in 1913. Today, local women still weave blankets, scarves, napkins and other items. The Crossnore Fine Arts Gallery, located in what formerly was the weaving room, sells regional art and crafts to support the school, which is now a day school. Miracle Grounds, a specialty coffee shop selling organic coffees, is nearby, with profits also going to the school. Directions: From Asheville, take I-40 East to Exit 105 Morganton. Go north on Hwy. 181 about 30 miles to Pineola at the intersection of Hwy. 181 and US Hwy. 221. At Pineola, turn left on US Hwy 221 S and go 1.5 miles, then turn right onto Crossnore Dr. Go .6 miles and turn right onto Johnson Ln. at the Blair Fraley Sales Store. Crossnore Gallery is third building on the left.
John C. Campbell Folk School (1 Folk School Rd., Brasstown, 828-837-2775 or 800-365-5724, www.folkschool.org; campus open daily during daylight hours, Craft Shop and History Center open Mon.-Sat. 8-5, Sun. 1-5, free) dates to 1925. The school, in the far western part of the state near Murphy about two hours from Asheville, over the course of a year offers more than 800 weekend and weeklong classes for adults in everything from blacksmithing and basketry to cooking, quilting and woodworking. Students can live in school housing and take meals at the school. The Craft Shop has items from some 300 local and regional craft artists, and the History Center is a small museum of mountain crafts with information on the school’s history. The work of school co-founder Olive Dame Campbell is celebrated in the 2000 film Songcatcher. The campus is a Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors are welcome to explore the 300-acre campus on a self-guided tour during daylight hours. Directions: From Asheville take I-40 West to exit 27, US Hwy. 19/23/74. Take 23/74 to Waynesville/Sylva. At Exit 81 take US Hwy. 23/441 south to Franklin. In Franklin, the US Hwy. 441 Bypass merges with US Hwy. 64 west. Follow US Hwy. 64 West from Franklin towards Hayesville. Eight miles west of Hayesville, turn left on Settawig Rd. (a brown Folk School sign points in that direction). Follow the signs to the Folk School.
Museum of North Carolina Handicrafts (49 Shelton St. at US Hwy. 276, Waynesville, 828-452-1551, www.sheltonhouse.org; open May-Oct. Tue.-Sat. 10-4, admission $5, seniors $4, children $3) is located in Shelton House, a two-story white Charleston-style farmhouse built in 1875 and now on the National Register of Historic Places. The house alone is worth a visit. The museum has exhibits of regional folk art, pottery, baskets, quilts, weaving and other crafts.
Penland School of Crafts (67 Doras Trail, Penland, 828-765-2359, Gallery 828-765-6211, www.penland.org; campus open daily March-early Dec., Gallery open March-early Dec., Tue.-Sat. 10-5, Sun. noon-5, free admission) is arguably the best crafts school in the country. Penland, on 460 acres in a beautiful rural area near Spruce Pine about an hour from Asheville, offers one- and two-week adult workshops in the summer and eight-week classes in spring and fall, in clay, books & paper, metals, glass, photography, printmaking, textiles and wood. Students live on campus in simple, rustic dormitory facilities. Around 1,400 students take classes at Penland each year. Most classes are oversubscribed, with waiting lists. The school has no standing faculty; instructors are rotating full-time studio artists and college professors.
Visitors are welcome on the Penland campus, although teaching studios usually are closed to the public during classes. The Penland School Gallery, which exhibits and sells the work of present and former students and faculty, most of it of very high quality and some of it extraordinary, is open to visitors from March to early December. Visitors are welcome to walk through the grounds. Note especially Craft House, one of the largest log structures in North Carolina. You can also visit The Barns, which houses the studios of the Penland's resident artists, fulltime craftspeople who live and work at the school. There also is a café (which sells Asheville’s Mountain City Coffee Roasters coffee) and gift shop. Free guided tours of the campus are offered March-early December Tuesday at 10:30 and Thursday at 1:30, reservations necessary – call 828-765-6211. If you’re visiting Penland, you may want to stop at some of the nearby craft studios. The area around Penland is home to about 100 craft artists. Watch for signs of open studios and galleries. An annual auction in August to support the school usually raises about a half million dollars. Directions to Penland: Take US Hwy. 19/23 (future I-26) North past Mars Hill, then take Exit 9. Stay on US Hwy. 19 towards Burnsville. This road will become US 19E (do NOT take US Hwy. 19W). Go through Burnsville and continue about 10 miles. Turn left at the green Penland School sign onto Penland Rd. (a BP gas station is on the right). Follow Penland Rd. for 3 miles, when you will cross a bridge and railroad tracks. One mile past the railroad tracks, bear left at the big curve onto Conley Ridge Rd. Go all the way up the hill to Penland.
Qualla Arts and Crafts (645 Tsali Blvd., Cherokee, 828-497-3103, www.quallaartsandcrafts.com; Jun.-Aug. Mon.-Sat. 8-7 and Sun. 9-5 pm, Sep.-May daily 8- 5 except closed Sun. Jan. and Feb.) is the nation’s oldest Native American cooperative, dating to 1946. The mutual co-op has more than 300 members. This is not a souvenir junk stand but a gallery of mostly high-quality crafts by master Cherokee crafts artists. The Qualla showroom displays and sells only locally handmade Cherokee crafts, including baskets, pottery, dolls, masks and woodcarvings. There also are exhibits of crafts that are not for sale.
ASHEVILLE AREA ARTS AND CRAFTS GALLERIES
Asheville and environs has around 40 art galleries, plus another 25 or more galleries that focus primarily on crafts. The 65+ art and crafts galleries and studios are concentrated in the Downtown and River Arts District areas, with some in Biltmore Village (www.biltmorevillage.com), West Asheville and Kenilworth (www.kenilworthartists.org) and a few in surrounding towns including Black Mountain, Hendersonville, Highlands, Weaverville and Brevard.
Here is a selection of some of the larger and better galleries:
Downtown Art Walks are held five or six Fridays a year at around two dozen Downtown galleries, with many exhibit openings and appearances by artists. A brochure on art galleries is published by the Art Galleries Association, and copy can be downloaded from their website at www.ashevilledowntowngalleries.org. Most studios and galleries in the River Arts District are open to the public, with varying hours. Visit www.riverartsdistrict.com where you can download a booklet and map on the district.
Asheville Art Museum (2 S. Pack Square, 828-253-3227, www.ashevilleart.org. currently closed for a major renovation and expansion -- during the expansion, the museum is opening small pop-up museum spaces around the city) focuses on American art in the 20th and 21st centuries. The permanent collection has more than 3,500 works in all media, plus another 5,000 architectural drawings. It includes a collection of about 500 works on Black Mountain College and by artists and photographers associated with the college. See Black Mountain College above.
Most Asheville galleries are clustered on and near Biltmore Avenue Downtown, in the River Arts District and in Biltmore Village. Hours vary, but most galleries are closed on Sundays and many don’t open until late morning on weekdays and Saturdays. Many sell art crafts as well as paintings and other art. The following is a comprehensive but not complete list of galleries:
Aesthetic Gallery (6 College St., 828-398-0219, www.aestheticgallery.com) represents about a half dozen artists in photography, painting and fiber arts. In addition it imports fabric and ceramics and other items from Africa, Asia and Australia.
American Folk Art and Framing (64 Biltmore Ave., 828-281-2134, www.amerifolk.com) is a small gallery devoted to the work of about two dozen contemporary folk artists, plus the work of potters, jewelers and sculptors. It also has a wide selection of frames.
Ariel Gallery (19 Biltmore Ave. 828-236-2660, www.arielcraftgallery.com) is an artist-owned and run gallery next to Mast General Store with about a dozen member artists in ceramics, wood, glass and jewelry.
ArtEtude Gallery (89 Patton Ave., 828-252-1466, www.artetudegallery.com), new in 2012, represents about 10 contemporary artists from around the country.
Asheville Gallery of Art (16 College St., 828-251-5796, www.ashevillegallery-of-art.com) has more than two dozen artist members who exhibit and sell their work at this gallery. Most are local residents.
Bella Vista Art Gallery (14 Lodge St., 828-768-0246, www.bellavistaart.com) in Biltmore Village represents more than three dozen contemporary painters, sculptors and ceramic artists.
Bellagio (5 Biltmore Plaza, 828-277-8100, www.bellagioarttowear.com) in Biltmore Village, a part of the John Krum arts empire, showcases what it calls “art to wear” in women’s clothing, jewelry and accessories. A sister gallery, Bellagio Everyday at 40 Biltmore Avenue, features somewhat less expensive designer clothing and accessories.
Bender Gallery (12 S. Lexington, 828-505-8341, www.thebendergallery.com) is devoted entirely to high-quality art glass, exhibiting the work of about 80 nationally known glass artists in what the gallery calls the largest collection of museum-quality art glass in the region.
Blue Spiral 1 (38 Biltmore Ave., 828-251-0202, www.bluespiral1.com), owned by Asheville arts magnate John Krum, Blue Spiral usually is considered the premier gallery in Asheville and is one of the largest. It exhibits the work of leading contemporary artists and craftspeople from Asheville and all over the South.
The Compleat Naturalist Wildlife Art Gallery (2 Brook St., 828-274-5430, www.compleatnaturalist.com) in The Compleat Naturalist Natural History Store in Biltmore Village has a gallery with limited edition wildlife prints by local and national artists.
Desert Moon Designs (372 Depot St., 828-575-2227, www.desertmoondesigns-studios.com) in the River Arts District has an eclectic gallery with jewelry, fabric art, sculpture and paintings by around a dozen mostly local artists.
Edge Gallery (58 College St., 828-257-3065, www.edgeofasheville.com) has functional but artistically designed furniture of wood and metal.
Flood Fine Art Center (109 Roberts St., 828-254-2166, www.floodgallery.org), on the second floor of the Phil Mechanics Building in the River Arts District, is run by a non-profit arts organization. It exhibits contemporary artists from around the U.S. and the world and also exhibits some local artists. In the same building, on the first floor, Pump Gallery has frequent exhibits by local artists, and on display also is the private collection of Mitch and Jolene Mechanic.
Gallery Minerva (8 Biltmore Ave., 828-255-8850, www.galleryminerva.com) represents about 30 contemporary world and local artists.
Grand Bohemian Hotel Art Gallery (11 Boston Way, 828-398-5555, www.grandbohemiangallery.com) in the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Biltmore Village is one of a group of seven galleries operating at hotels in this small upscale chain. Among the items for sale are representational art works, jewelry and photographs.
Grovewood Gallery (111 Grovewood Rd., 828-253-7651 or 877-622-7238, www.grovewood.com) on grounds adjoining the Grove Park Inn is a large (9,000 square feet) high-quality crafts gallery showcasing furniture, jewelry, fiber, glass and ceramics by about 500 craftspeople from around the country.
The Haen Gallery (52 Biltmore Ave., 828-254-8577, www.thehaengallery.com) has works by about 20 contemporary national and international artists.
Henco Reprographics (54 Broadway St., 828-253-0449, www.hencrorepro.com) is not really an art gallery, but it does use its window on Broadway to display photos and art on a rotating basis. Dawn Roe is the artist and educator behind the window display project. Roe divides her time between Asheville and Winter Park, Fla., where she teaches at Rollins College.
Jonas Gerard Fine Art (240 Clingman Ave., 828-350-7711, www.jonasgerard.com) is a gallery in the River Arts District devoted to the bold, colorful abstract and representational art of Jonas Gerard. You’ll see his work also displayed in several restaurants, hotels and shops in Asheville.
Kress Emporium (19 Patton Ave., 828-281-2252, www.thekressemporium.com) features the work of around 80 local and regional craftspeople and artists who rent sales space in the 1928 terra cotta-faced, colorful Renaissance style building that one housed a five-and-dime store. (As a child, this writer used to have lunch at the Kress lunch counter on the lower level.) Also in Kress are some antique and collectibles stalls. Kress is not air-conditioned, so it can be warm in summer.
Momentum Gallery (24 N. Lexington Ave., 828-505-8550, www.momentumgallery.com), new in fall 2017, is owned by the former gallery director at Blue Spiral 1. Currently, Momentum is featuring 16 artists.
New Morning Gallery (7 Boston Way, 828-274-2831 or 800-933-4438, www.newmorninggallerync.com) another John Krum venture in Biltmore Village, has garden art, jewelry, ceramics, glass and other crafts, all carefully selected and nicely presented. Many items are moderately priced. There’s limited covered free parking next to the gallery.
Odyssey Co-Op Gallery (238 Clingman Ave., 828-285-0210, www.odysseycoopgallery.com) is a ceramics gallery at the Odyssey complex. It features the work of 25 juried clay artists including Sheila Lambert (www.ashevillepots.com).
Overström Studio (35 Wall St., 828-258-1761, www.overstrom.com) is a jewelry design studio and jewelry store.
The Potter’s Mark (122 Riverside Dr., 828-252-9122, www.pottersmark.com) is a pottery studio and gallery in the Cotton Mill Studios in the River Arts District. It has operated in the Cotton Mill since 2003.
Sassafrass Studio (191 Lyman St., www.sassafrassstudio.net) in the River Arts District displays work of artist owners Bet Kindley (encaustic or hot wax painting, photography and mixed media) and Mary Alice Ramsey (painting, drawings and mixed media works).
Seven Sisters Craft Gallery(117 Cherry St., Black Mountain, 828-669-5107, www.sevensistersgallery.com), in downtown Black Mountain since 1981, has work by about 250 local and national craft artists in ceramics, wood, glass and other media.
Stuart Nye Handwrought Jewelry (940 Tunnel Rd., 828-298-7988 or 800-456-1933, www.stuartnye.com) has been a fixture in East Asheville since 1933. The distinctive Stuart Nye and affordable jewelry, made from silver, copper and brass, often features designs based on local flora such as dogwood blossoms, oak and maple leaves and pine cones. Nye jewelry also is sold in other stores.
Thomas Kincade Gallery (10 Biltmore Plaza, 828-277-0850, www.thomaskincadeasheville.com) in Biltmore Village sells prints and other merchandise developed by the late mass merchandiser of kitsch, using his trademarked glowing highlights. One of every 20 American households is said to own a Kincade print.
310 Art Gallery (191 Lyman St., 828-776-2716, www.310art.com) in Riverview Station in RAD represents about 20 Western North Carolina artists.
The Village Potters (191 Lyman St., 828-253-2424, www.thevillagepotters.com) is a collective of seven potters in the River Arts District with a gallery, studios and a clay teaching center.
Woolworth Walk (25 Haywood St., 828-254-9234, www.woolworthwalk.com) is billed as the largest crafts gallery in the area, with work by about 160 craft artists in 20,000 square feet of air-conditioned and heated space. The former five-and-dime store, with terra cotta facing and Art Deco motifs, originally opened in 1939. Inside Woolworth Walk is a functioning old-fashioned soda fountain, heavy on the stainless steel.
Zapow! (21 Battery Park Ave., 828-575-2024, www.zapow.net) says it is the only gallery in the Southeast specializing in Pop Art.
Theatre and Drama
Live theatre is going on somewhere in the Asheville area all the time. For and up-to-date calendar of theatre, music and other arts events, check out the weekly newspaper Mountain Xpress (www.mountainx.com).
Here are some of the drama companies and venues:
Asheville Community Theatre (35 E. Walnut St., 828-254-1320, www.ashevilletheatre.org), founded at the end of World War II (Charlton Heston was a manager of the theatre in 1947) is one of the oldest community theatres in the country. It puts on about a dozen productions annually, some on the Main Stage and some at its smaller black box theatre, 35 Below. Main Stage tickets are around $20-$25, with discounts for seniors and students.
Asheville Puppetry Alliance (73 Dye Leaf Rd., Fairview, 828-628-9576, www.ashevillepuppetry.org) produces puppetry shows for both adult and children’s audiences. The group hosts festivals, workshops, “puppetry slams” and a puppet club and stages shows at Diana Wortham Theatre and other venues.
Diana Wortham Theatre (2 N. Pack Square, 828-257-4530, www.dwtheatre.com) is an intimate 500-seat venue for music, drama and dance, with orchestra and balcony seating. The farthest seat is only 60 feet from the stage. A private parking deck is attached to the theatre.
Flat Rock Playhouse (2661 Greenville Hwy., Flat Rock, 828-693-0731 or 866-732-8008, www.flatrockplayhouse.org) is the official State Theatre of North Carolina, though the state provides only 2% of funding. The theatre draws nearly 100,000 patrons to its original Main Stage, a barn-like (but now air-conditioned and comfortable) theatre in Flat Rock, dating to 1952, and to its 250-seat Playhouse Downtown location in Hendersonville. Flat Rock puts on 10 productions a year in Flat Rock and another eight or nine in Hendersonville, plus occasional productions in Asheville, all highly professional and featuring many Equity actors and often elaborate sets. Many of the Main Stage productions are musicals or comedies. In 2012, Flat Rock debuted an original play on Zelda Fitzgerald, who died in a fire at a psychiatric hospital in Asheville. The theatre also operates a college apprentice and intern residence program in the summer and fall. Tickets for Main Stage productions are around $35-$40, with a variety of discounts available.
Haywood Arts Regional Theatre (Performing Arts Center at Shelton House, 250 Pigeon St., Waynesville, 828-456-6322, www.harttheatre.com) is a community theatre in Waynesville that stages about a half dozen productions each year. Tickets are around $20-24, with discounts available.
Masonic Temple (80 Broadway St., 828-252-3924, www.masonic18.com), though still a functioning Masonic temple, in recent years has been opened to the public as a venue for plays, music and other performances. The exterior of 1915 four-story brick building at the intersection of Broadway and Woodfin, designed by the firm of Smith & Carrier, is something of a conglomeration of styles – Romanesque and Beaux-Arts with Greek Revival classical touches in the Ionic columns over the entrance. Inside, there’s a charming 270-seat horseshoe-shaped theatre with balcony and orchestra seating.
Montford Park Players (92 Gay St., 828-254-5146, www.montfordparkplayers.org) is known for its Shakespeare in the Park productions. The Players have a 20-week summer season, staging about a half-dozen productions at the outdoor Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre behind the Montford Recreation Center off Pearson Ave., plus a 10-week winter season at the Masonic Temple. In summer, many patrons bring a picnic to enjoy before the play. All actors are volunteers. Summer productions are free, but a hat is passed at intermission, and a donation of $5 is suggested. Winter season productions cost around $12 to $15.
North Carolina Stage Company (15 Stage Lane, 828-239-0263, www.ncstage.org) puts on professional-level productions in an intimate 99-seat theatre. NC Stage tends to do edgier, more innovative productions than most other local theatres. An example in 2012 was the staging of a new play about Buckminster Fuller, who was associated for a time with Black Mountain College. Tickets usually are around $25-$28, with discounts on Wednesdays and for students. The first night of each production is “pay what you can” with a minimum of $6.
Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre (Owen Theatre, 44 College St., Mars Hill University, Mars Hill, 828-689-1384, www.sartplays.org) stages about a half-dozen professional-quality productions annually. Some SART productions are classic Broadway and off-Broadway shows, but others have a connection with Appalachian culture. In most years at least one of the productions is a world premiere. Tickets are around $25-$28.
UNC-Asheville Theatre (Carol Belk Theatre, UNC-Asheville, 1 University Heights, 828-251-6610, www.drama.unca.edu) and its drama department stages several productions annually. Long-time department chair and noted theatre director Arnold Wengrow, now retired, made a name for drama at the university. General admission is usually $10.
Warren Wilson Theatre (Kettridge Theatre, 701 Warren Wilson Rd., Warren Wilson College, 828-771-3040, www.warren-wilson.edu) stages two or three productions each year. General admission is $10.
Music and Dance
Beginning in the 18th century Scots-Irish settlers brought their folk songs, reels and Elizabethan ballads to the mountains, and “old-timey mountain music” with fiddles, mandolins, banjos and guitars is still heard in the hills today. Traditional songs such as “Barbara Allen,” “Wayfaring Stranger” and “Pretty Saro” were preserved by the isolated mountaineers. Today, a number of festivals including the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in Asheville (see Festivals section) celebrate the heritage of Appalachian mountain music.
In some ways, the 1920s and 1930s were the heyday of “hillbilly” music in the region. Radio stations such as Asheville’s WWNC (the call letters stood for “Wonderful Western North Carolina”), which went on the air in 1927, broadcast live the music of Jimmie Rodgers, often called the father of country music. WWNC also was one of stations carrying the “Crazy Water Crystals” program, which featured some 100 amateur country musicians from North and South Carolina.
Banjo picker Earl Scruggs (from Shelby, N.C.) and Doc Watson (born in Deep Gap, N.C., near Boone) with his flat-picking guitar style were among the pioneers of bluegrass music. WWNC Radio broadcast the first live session of Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys in 1939.
While far less popular than country and bluegrass, avant-garde and art music also have a history in the Asheville area. In 1952, at Black Mountain College, radical composer John Cage put on what was considered to be the first "happening." During the Black Mountain Piece, as it has come to be known, Cage was on a ladder at the side of the room reading various texts, Robert Rauschenberg's now-famous white paintings hung from the ceiling, composer and pianist David Tudor played the piano and radio and Merce Cunningham danced around the room. This was a precursor to “4’33,” one of the most important avant-garde pieces of the 20th century. It was written by Cage and performed by Tudor. At a performance in Woodstock, N.Y., Tudor sat without playing in front of a piano for four minutes and thirty-three seconds.
Noted Hungarian composer Béla Bartók spent the winter of 1943-44 in Asheville. Bartók completed his “Third Concerto for Piano,” also known as the “Asheville Concerto,” while residing at what is now the Albemarle Inn B&B (86 Edgewood Rd., North Asheville). More recently, Robert Moog, the inventor of the Moog synthesizer and electronic music pioneer, moved to Asheville where he spent his final years. His company is still in business in Asheville, and MoogFest, a festival of electronic music, is held in Asheville. See Festivals section.
Asheville Ballet (4 Weaverville Hwy., 828- 252-4761, www.ashevilleballet.com) headed by choreographer Ann Dunn has a ballet school and puts on many performances in the Asheville area.
Asheville Chamber Music Series (performances held at Asheville Unitarian Universalist Congregation at 1 Edwin Place, 828-575-7427, www.ashevillechambermusic.org), founded in 1952, has put on more than 240 classical music performances in Asheville by leading chamber ensembles including the Amadeus, Budapest, Julliard, Jupiter and Emerson Quartets, duos such as Janos Starker and Jean-Pierre Rampal and David Finckel and Wu Han, and other ensembles. Tickets are around $35.
Asheville Choral Society (1 Battery Park Ave., 828-232-2060, www.ashevillechoralsociety.org), founded in 1977, is a volunteer choral group with about 100 singers. It usually puts on three concert events a year.
Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre (20 Commerce St., 828-254-2621, www.acdt.org) is a professional contemporary dance company and dance school that puts on up to 80 dance performances a year, in Asheville and elsewhere. ACDT owns the BeBe Theatre, a 69-seat black box theatre at 20 Commerce Street where most of the dance group’s productions are staged.
Asheville Lyric Opera (39 S. Market St., 828-236-0670, www.ashevillelyric.com) puts on three or four operas and other musical performances each year at the Diana Wortham Theatre. Most productions feature nationally known singers. Tickets are $30 to $53, with discounts for students.
Asheville Symphony Orchestra (U.S. Cellular Center, 87 Haywood St., 828-254-7046, www.ashevillesymphony.org), founded in 1960, is a community orchestra of 80 to 100 musicians, depending on the concert. Robert Hart Baker, the Symphony’s first full-time conductor, led the ASO from 1981 to 2004, and during his tenure the Symphony grew in size and reputation. His successor as conductor and music director, Daniel Meyer, formerly conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony resigned as of 2017, and the Symphony is conducting a search for a new conductor. The Asheville Symphony presents about seven concerts a year, each with a nationally known guest artist. Concerts are held in the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium at U.S. Cellular Center. Single-concert tickets are $20 to $68, with discounts for students.
Brevard Music Center (349 Andante Lane, Brevard, 828-862-2100, www.brevardmusic.org), on a 180-acre campus near Brevard, is a summer music institute for high school and college students, and it puts on a nationally known summer music festival. Each summer, from mid-June to early August, the Center puts on about 80 musical performances for an audience totaling more than 30,000. Artistic director is Keith Lockhart, conductor of the Boston Pops, principal conductor of the BMC Concert Orchestra and a Brevard Music Center alumnus.
Thomas Wolfe Auditorium (U.S. Cellular Center, 87 Haywood St., 828-259-5544, www.ashevillenc.gov/Departments/CivicCenter.aspx) in the U.S. Cellular Center (formerly Asheville Civic Center) with 2,400 seats is the venue for mid-size musical events and also for the Asheville Symphony Orchestra. Larger country and rock music concerts are held in the Arena of the U.S. Cellular Center. Although this is an old auditorium, after an update acoustics in Thomas Wolfe are surprisingly good, even if the seats aren’t as comfortable as they could be. The original Municipal Auditorium opened in 1940 and was renovated and renamed for the Asheville author in 1974, the same year the main Civic Center Arena opened. Despite the recent upgrades and renovations, it’s not up to top regional standards, and Asheville loses many concerts and other events to facilities in Knoxville, Charlotte, Greenville, S.C., and elsewhere. The total modernization or rebuilding of the entire complex would cost $200 million or more, and the City of Asheville has been unwilling to commit to that kind of money to a new convention and civic center.
WCQS Radio/Blue Ridge Public Radio (73 Broadway St., Downtown Asheville, 828-210-4800 or 800-768-6698, www.bpr.org) at 88.1 FM is Asheville’s National Public Radio classical music station, programming classical music and NPR news. Its sister station (BPR News, WYQS, 90.5 FM) programs news and talk shows. Blue Ridge Public Radio is a good friend to many arts and cultural organizations in the region.
All content copyright © Lan Sluder except selected photographs used by permission and brief quotations or other fair use text, which are owned by the copyright holder.
We have made every effort to confirm the accuracy of information on this website, and in the Amazing Asheville book and ebooks, but travel information is subject to frequent change, and no warranty is made, express or implied. Please notify us of any errors or omissions, and we will attempt to correct them as soon as possible. All opinions expressed are those of the author, Lan Sluder, unless otherwise noted.