A gathering of artistsWritten by Caitlin Bowling
Two new art galleries are opening in Bryson City this May only about a street’s width away from each other.
Blue Mountain Studios and Studio 19 both are gathering artists from various mediums to work in a studio setting and show their work in a storefront studio. The studios plan to have a collaborative relationship with the common goal of promoting the arts in Swain County.
Studio 19 is the collaboration of Debra Mills, a basket weaver; Joan Glover, who makes gourd art; Lori Anderson, a cornhusk artist; and Julie Bottorf, a jewelry maker.
“This is a studio primarily,” Mills said. “It’s all about the work and the learning and passing it on.”
The four women will consume most of 19 Everett St. with their workspace and a small teaching area. The remaining front portion of the store, formerly a yoga studio, will showcase art they have created.
“Working all by yourself, it puts you in a vacuum,” Mills said. By all working within a small space, “We can feed off each other, our excitement level.”
Mills previously owned The Cottage Craftsman, which is also in Bryson City, but said the venture became more about paperwork than art for her.
“All I did was paperwork. There was just too much administration,” Mills said.
So, Mills sold the Cottage Craftsman more than a year ago and began searching for a new place where she could focus more on weaving a basket than through mounds of paper work. She also roped in Anderson, whose work had immediately impressed her.
Anderson works with cornhusks — a skill she learned from area legend Annie Lee Bryson. Although she makes Bryson-esque cornhusk dolls, Anderson, a volunteer with the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, found her own niche. She has a deep fondness for Western North Carolina’s native wildflowers, which shows when examining her meticulously crafted cornhusk flowers.
“Rather than stealing her (Bryson’s) joy, I found my own,” Anderson said.
Anderson takes a camera and ruler on every hike. So, when she sees a particular flower that she loves, she can replicate it to scale and incorporate even the tiniest of details.
When Mills saw Anderson’s work for the first time, she was in awe.
“I went bonkers,” Mills said. “Her work was beautiful and pure and honest.”
In addition to working out of the backroom studio, the four artists plan to teach regular classes for children and adults. The tutorials will be anything from a simple cornhusk doll that can be crafted in 30 minutes to a more complex basket pattern that takes all day.
Construction on the studio/classroom portion of the business will be complete later this month. And, Mills hopes the gallery will open soon after.
Blue Mountain Studios
Blue Mountain Studios is a place “where artists can get a start,” said owner Brona Winchester.
The gallery/studio, which is located on Main Street in the heart of downtown Bryson City, officially opened for business a few days ago and is hoping to soon fill up its six separate studio spaces with working artists. Anyone can rent a work area that sits behind the storefront gallery or a larger room to host a variety of art classes.
Winchester said she plans to keep her prices reasonable so that new and young artists can afford to create there.
“I am trying to keep them very, very reasonable,” said Winchester, who charges a 30 percent commission for art sold out of the gallery.
Winchester also rents the neighboring storefront on Main Street. And, eventually, pending funds, Winchester hopes to sublease the other storefront and turn the space behind it into expanded studio space and a small venue for live music.
Winchester herself only dabbles in drawing and painting, but she wants to devote more of her time to her own artwork particularly since creative energy will be flowing throughout the building.
“There is going to be a lot of creative energy,” Winchester said.
But, the main impetus for the studio was to promote art in Bryson City, particularly up-and-coming artists.
“We can work together and really service the community more,” Winchester said. “We have so many talented people. We have to pull them out of the sheds and the barns (that they currently work out of).”
Among the artists currently featured in the gallery are painter Kathryn Hicks Tsonas, surrealist Daniel Murch, watercolorist Lenny Gemski and quilter Maddy Haughn. Blue Mountain Studios will remain open until at least 8 p.m. during the fall and summer months, Winchester said.
“For so long at 5 o’clock, it’s a ghost town,” Winchester said. “We want it to be a place where people feel welcome.”