At first glance toward her work, you think Sara Alexander is a great photographer.
At second glance, you realize that’s not a picture, but a painting. The detailed, vibrant canvas is straight from the talented hands of a rising star in the Western North Carolina art scene.
Alexander lived in Florida until her family moved to Western North Carolina when she was 11. She knew from a very young age that she not only could create art, but also that she wanted to pursue something within the field.
Artists from around the Southeast will set up their easels and ready their colors in an outdoor painting spree around Cashiers for the weeklong Arts on the Green, a plein air art festival held from July 15-21.
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 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.”
Finnegans Wake took James Joyce 17 years to write, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel consumed four years of Michelangelo’s time and Beethoven needed about five years to complete his Fifth Symphony.
But artists participating in one of Waynesville’s most popular art events, Quick Draw, will get just an hour to create and complete their works of art.
Now in its 11th year, Quick Draw challenges regional artists to create a finished piece, ready for sale, in under one hour. Some 40 artists say they are up to the challenge, though it’s just the two-dimensional artists who are actually under the time gun. Metal, fiber and clay artists bring a pre-completed work to be auctioned off, in addition to the timed works, at the end of Quick Draw to support arts education in Haywood County.
“Every year I say, ‘Never again,’” said oil painter Sarah Sneedon who travels to Waynesville to participate each year from the Caesars Head area in Upstate South Carolina. “It’s a lot of pressure. You sweat it, and you worry about it, and you try to plan down to the brush strokes and colors.”
Sneedon said she grew up in a family that was not artistic, one in which her father regarded those who were artists “as bums.” That background has made Sneedon all the more eager to support art education in the schools.
“I don’t have a lot of money to give, but I can torture myself once each year,” she said.
Some artists prepare for the competition racing the clock using kitchen timers. The practice — seeing how long their envisioned works will take them — can stave off the unfortunate problem of not quite being done when the bell goes off. That doesn’t always work, however. Real life can throw some real curves even at the most prepared of artists.
Last year, Sneedon remembered, she made the mistake of picking a technically challenging composition — two girls building a sand castle by the ocean.
“We got to five minutes to go and I didn’t have an arm on one of the girls,” she said, adding that she was forced to simply paint an arm in “fast.”
This year, Sneedon plans to paint sunflowers in the mountains. She’s yet to paint a trial run of the composition in the hour slotted for Quick Draw, but Sneedon expressed confidence that when the adrenaline kicks in she’d be able to complete the painting in the time required.
Artistic travails aside, QuickDraw has gotten so popular among area artists that the event — it’s not technically a competition — is now invitation only, said organizer Faye Wagoner.
“We have been blessed in that now we have such a following among artists and attendees we have more artists who are interested than who can actually participate,” Wagoner said.
This is the only event of its kind in the region, Wagoner said. There is a Quick Draw in the Highlands area, but that one allows artists a three-hour window instead of just 60 minutes.
Wagoner described Quick Draw in Waynesville as “an exhilarating evening. It’s just a terrific evening of fun.”
Some artists, like watercolorist Ann Vasilick, enjoys the challenge and competition of working beside other artists. She has selected a landscape in the Waynesville area to paint, which is out of this well-known artist’s bailiwick. Vasilick’s is best known for her buildings and street scenes, including those of Waynesville, and they are considered highly collectible.
She said she drove around the town until finding the particular view that attracted her, used photographic elements and did thumbnail sketches on the spot. Vasilick then returned to the studio to render a full-sized sketch of the painting. When this artist is unable to sleep, she would mentally paint the scene dozens of times.
Vasilick might be painting a landscape that is a little different than her best-known works but she plans on using the techniques that got her to the party: the meticulous and loving use of light and dark, volume and texture.
“I’ll use all the same elements I always use,” Vasilick said.
Complicating the task for Vasilick is the medium, watercolors, that she works in. She must be aware of the wetness of the painting and the necessity for it to dry within the required time. Many artists have blow-driers at the ready to hasten the process.
Oil artist Joyce Schlapkohl of Waynesville is looking forward to the competition with, perhaps, a bit of dread, too.
“I love it,” Schlapkohl said. “It’s stressful but exciting. When it’s over, it is nice.”
Schlapkohl, who has participated every year in Quick Draw, said she keeps trying to prepare a bit more each time.
“That hour really zips by,” she said in explanation, adding that she no longer says “hello” to spectators or friends milling past during the event. “I just try to stay focused.”
Schlapkohl said she believes all the artists involved are painting increasingly difficult paintings for Quick Draw. When the event started, she said, it was so new and unfamiliar everyone simply ensured they had a composition that could be completed within the required hour.
Schlapkohl’s technique is to break her anticipated painting down to basics.
“And I try to pick something I’m familiar with and that I feel that I can do in an hour,” she said.
Schlapkohl said she’s had people tell her before they actually enjoy her Quick Draw paintings more than her standard work, because it’s fresher. The artist also believes there is a value, beyond the important goal of supporting arts education, to the competition: “Anytime you push yourself as an artist that’s probably useful,” Schlapkohl said.
WHEN: 4:30-9:30 p.m. Saturday, April 28
WHERE: Laurel Ridge Country Club, 788 Eagle Nest Rd., Waynesville
HOW MUCH: $50 in advance
MORE INFO: www.wncquickdraw.com
An artistic marriage of fine gardens and fine art is on display now at Haywood County Arts Council’s Gallery 86, with “Gardens, Mountains and Streams: An Artist’s View of the Haywood County Garden Tour” showing through April 28.
This intertwining of what constitutes two of life’s great passions for many people is the brainchild of Susan Greb, a master gardener in Haywood County, and is the work of the Haywood County Arts Council and the Haywood County Master Gardener Volunteer Association. The two organizations spearheaded the effort to create this unique show.
“The call went out to different artists — in all different mediums — and it all came together,” said Greb, who serves as one of the event coordinators. “It’s a really fun kind of exhibit.”
The Haywood County Master Gardener Volunteer Association selected the 12 exhibiting artists through a competitive process. Artists’ subject matter was focused on six private gardens to be featured on a June 23 garden tour in the county. The artists, working from photographs, were challenged to incorporate gardens, mountains and streams into their works.
“We were wondering how we could promote the garden tour,” said Cynthia Morris of the Haywood County Master Gardener Volunteer Association, explaining that artists were asked “to pick some facet of the gardens they really wanted to represent.”
Last year alone, more than 500 people participated in the Haywood County garden tour.
The art and gardens partnership includes a rain barrel project with the Haywood Waterways Association. That group is supplying rain barrels and the Blue Ridge Water Media Society and local high school students are painting them. Former arts council board member and volunteer Mary Alice Lodico is spearheading the rain barrel project.
This aspect of the show emphasizes the environmental component to gardening; the painted rain barrels will be available for purchase at $150 each during the Gallery 86 show and on the day of the garden tour. Sales benefit the Haywood Waterways Association and the Arts Council. Custom orders are also available.
The multi-partnership exhibition grew organically from a simple idea to the work of many people and groups.
“We’ve always looked for opportunities to partner with other organizations,” said Kay Miller, executive director of the Haywood County Arts Council. “And I thought this was a great idea.”
Miller described the exhibit as a true showcase of artists.
“We have a wide range of skills of the folks involved in the show,” Miller said. “And everybody has done a great job.”
For the artists, the project brought some special challenges. Metalworker Teresa Sizemore created an 18-inch tall exquisitely designed and rendered butterfly resting on black-eyed susans.
Sizemore is mainly self-taught but has taken a number of courses at John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown.
The photograph she worked from did not include the blue butterfly — that she envisioned herself and added to complete the metal sculpture “and make more of a scene,” she said.
Sizemore hand-painted the butterfly’s body; the metal is recycled from a scrap metal shop in Asheville.
“I try to use as much recycled material as I can,” Sizemore said.
She first sketched out a blueprint of sorts and then used either metal shears or a plasma cutter to complete her work.
Sizemore described metal as “forgiving.”
“I really like working in metal because you can do anything you want,” she said, adding that you can cut out, grind out or add to metal as needed.
Susan Livengood, who studied art in college but took a bit of a detour for a time raising a family, worked in acrylics. She’s more used to working in oils, but time constraints solidified her decision to work in a slightly different medium. The artists picked their photographs in December. That didn’t leave a lot of time for the artists to actually compose and paint or work in whatever medium they are accustomed to working in.
“There just really wasn’t time for oils,” said Livengood, who has studio and gallery space in the old Fines Creek School.
Livengood, who has painted many flowers and botanical works, was lucky enough to have first choice of the photographs because she happened to be in town visiting on the day they were made available. One of her pieces is a close up of red flowers, the other is a more abstract composition of a stream with a Hindu-like statue at the top.
“I was more trying to catch the peacefulness of the water,” Livengood said. “It was kind of a Zen spot.”
Livengood’s pieces underscore her devotion to working in color: both pieces are vibrant expressions of garden scenes and are distinctly personal.
Nancy Blevins, silk dye painting, watercolor, mixed media; Scott Bradley, painting; Barbara Brook, painting; Rebecca Hellman, fused glass; Ansie Holman, clay; Suzanne Leclaire, painting; Susan Livengood, painting; Cheryl Megivern, painting; Lycia Murray, painting; Teresa Sizemore, metalwork; Mary Elizabeth Stith, painting; Kaaren Stoner, clay.
Who: Haywood County Arts Council
What: Gallery 86 exhibit entitled “Gardens, Mountains & Streams: An Artist’s View of the Haywood County Garden Tour.”
When: Wednesday, April 4 through Saturday, April 28. An artist’s reception will be held Friday, April 13 from 6-8 p.m.
Where: Haywood County Arts Council’s Gallery 86 at 86 North Main Street in Waynesville.
For more information about the garden tour call the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service center at 828.456.3575. Garden tour tickets are available at the Arts Council’s Gallery 86 and other outlets.
Hearing The Bascom being called a world-class facility might seem a stretch until you pay a firsthand visit to the six building, six-acre campus in Highlands. Then, however, the words seem entirely appropriate and scaled to reality.
The Bascom is a center for the visual arts created in 2009. The nonprofit doesn’t have a large private collection of works; the center instead focuses on providing top-notch exhibitions primarily garnered from across the Southeast. Six exhibitions were held last year. These included shows featuring glass artist Richard Ritter, painter and printmaker Frank Stella and ceramics maker Ben Owen.
The advantage to artists showing in this well-heeled, upscale Highlands market is huge: The Owen’s show, featuring the Seagrove potter’s signature pieces, almost completely sold out, The Bascom’s Ezra Gardiner said.
That kind of track record helps The Bascom lure a caliber of artists few other similar-sized facilities can boast of attracting.
Some of the highlights this year include an exhibition of paintings by Art Rosenbaum and the large-scale, kinetic sculpture of suspended ceramic discs that are mounted and hung from the ceiling by artist Tim Curtis. There also will be an exhibit titled “Her Impressions” featuring paintings by women during the Impressionism movement using works on loan from a number of Southeast museums and institutions.
There’s one important point about The Bascom that people working at the center are eager to make. The center takes great pride in putting what Executive Director Jane Jerry calls “The Bascom twist” on exhibits while they are displayed here.
“You can only do that with a small institution like this,” said Jerry, who has led The Bascom for about a year.
What does “The Bascom twist” entail? For his part, Gardiner described the twist as “putting a spin on it” by showing artists’ pieces in a manner that is unique and design rich — from the manner in which the pieces are placed and lighted for viewing to drawing on the attributes of the facility itself. Most of the shows are curated in-house by staff, and during the summertime are displayed for eight-week periods at a time. Big exhibitions are in the main gallery, smaller ones in a loft gallery upstairs from the primary viewing area.
Much of “The Bascom twist” is truly the setting of the facility itself: you enter the center through an 87-foot by 14-foot, 53-ton covered bridge transplanted to WNC from New Hampshire.
Once on campus, the main building is 27,500 square feet of museum-quality space made of hand-hewn, post-and-beam barn pieces accentuated with modern stone and glass. Even the floors are unstained white pine re-purposed from several historic barns. There also is a studio barn, a rebuilt rough-hewn barn complete with studio spaces for pottery and three-dimensional arts instruction.
So much of “the twist” is the fact that the paintings, ceramics, metal work and glass pieces are shown in a backdrop that is truly unique.
Setting up and running The Bascom probably wouldn’t be possible in WNC outside of a venue such as Highlands, where the residents are affluent and visibly supportive of the arts. In addition to The Bascom, this is a community that can boast of the Highlands Playhouse, the Highlands Cashiers Chamber Music concerts, the American Museum of Cut and Engraved Glass and the Instant Theater Company, featuring improvisation.
“Highlands and the whole plateau area is different from other communities,” Jerry said. “I’m so new, it has taken me a while to understand the profile of donors and funding sources here.”
The Bascom, in becoming The Bascom, has successfully tapped more than 800 sources — corporations and foundations but mainly individual — in paying about $9 million of the $13 million in its construction campaign. Fundraising continues for this new facility, and for a separate educational and exhibitions program endowment.
Jerry said The Bascom, in comparison to most galleries and art centers featuring the caliber of artist being exhibited here, is so small “we just haven’t had a lot of government support — mainly individual.”
The Bascom has a mortgage on the property that the nonprofit is in process of paying off. And with a board of directors totally committed to offering free admission to the arts, fundraising is key to the facility’s current and future wellbeing.
“I don’t want to sugarcoat the idea that this isn’t an ongoing challenge. We are raising money all of the time,” said Jerry, adding that fundraising “is the job” for any manager of a nonprofit.
Jerry was most recently the project-planning director for Exploration Station, the Republic of Ireland’s first interactive science center. Prior to her stint in Ireland, Jerry was the president and CEO of Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art in Nashville, Tenn. She’s no stranger to fundraising challenges: During her tenure at Cheekwood, Jerry led a capital campaign that resulted in an $18.5 million investment in the garden and facilities, and the Cheekwood Museum of Art attained accreditation by the American Association of Museums.
The Bascom has three main benefit events: a wine festival in May; a garden festival in July; and an art, design and craft show in October. It also has an extensive membership of 946 people, plus 300 or so volunteers who provide a veritable army of help to the 10 paid staff members.
Jerry said that she has spent this first year trying to be “a really good listener, and to understand The Bascom and its place in this community. And to work as hard as I can to begin to define a vision for the future that is a reflection of what this community wants.”
One thing the community clearly wants is a tangible connection with The Bascom. Outreach programs make that connection, plus appeal to donors, Jerry said. Among the upcoming programs this spring is a partnership with the Highlands Literacy Council’s after-school art program. This focuses on sea life and will result in an “Underwater” exhibit being installed in the fall.
The Bascom also partners with the local food pantry and with other groups as part of its outreach programs, plus provides scholarship money and free family memberships to the facility.
The Bascom exists because of artist Watson Barratt, a part-time Highlands resident who died in 1962, who wanted to establish a permanent gallery in his seasonal home to display works by regional artists. His bequest made exhibition space at the Hudson Library in Highlands possible starting in 1983. The then Hudson Library building incorporated proceeds from the estate and included a dedicated space for the Bascom-Louise Gallery.
In 1999 the two entities separated. The art center attained nonprofit status, formed a board of directors, wrote bylaws and hired staff. In 2009, The Bascom moved to its new campus.
Source: The Bascom
• “Chick’s: It’s All Gone to the Birds,” March 31-June 17.
• Alex Matisse: “Ometto,” May 12-Oct. 1.
• “Green Art:” May 17-July 8.
• “Her Impressions:” June 23-Sept. 16.
• “Bascom Members Challenge, Couples:” Aug. 18-Oct. 14.
• Art Rosenbaum: “Voices,” Sept. 1-Nov. 10.
• American Craft Today: Sept. 22-Dec. 29.
• “Giving Trees:” Nov. 17-Jan. 1.
www.thebascom.org for additional details. Admission is free.
When the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians took over the Cherokee Indian Hospital from the Indian Health Service in 2002, the hospital’s administrators faced a challenge.
They wanted the hospital to feel like it belonged to the community, but they inherited a building that was far from welcoming.
“People wanted to be surrounded by Cherokee things,” said Jody Adams, the hospital’s director of community relations.
The hospital’s motto “Ni-hi tsa-tse-li” means “It belongs to you,” but there was nothing Cherokee about the white walls and clinical feel inside the hospital.
Adams formed a culture committee comprised of hospital staff and community elders and turned to the Cherokee Preservation Foundation for grant funding. Susan Jenkins, executive director of the Foundation, said the hospital’s makeover mission was exactly the kind of project the organization wants to fund.
“When they came to us, we thought it was a great fit, because they would have to work with the elders and the community and reach out to the local artists,” Jenkins said.
The Foundation has contributed $20,000 per year to the hospital’s cultural makeover. Adams has overseen the projects, which partner with local artists to transform the interior spaces of the building into venues for displaying Cherokee art and culture.
When you walk in the main entrance, you can see the impact right away. A large mural in the waiting area combines Cherokee words written in the syllabary and their English translations. The television monitors in the waiting rooms show cultural documentaries instead of Fox News or CNN.
Look deeper in the hospital and you’ll see walls filled with the portraits of elders, or hand-painted with animal tracks.
Jenkins has been impressed with the hospital’s transformation. An enrolled member of the Choctaw tribe of Oklahoma, she has seen enough of IHS hospitals to know the difference.
“Now when you go in there you get a sense that ‘Oh gee, this is my place,’” Jenkins said.
Room by room, Adams’ committee has targeted rooms for overhauls. They started with the hospice room, a place where patients come to live their last days in comfort surrounded by family. Then they found an artist to design a traditional Road to Soco Mountain pattern, and they filled a hallway with it.
The waiting area to the dental clinic has a wall-sized mural of a mountain stream. Another room shows the process of making river cane baskets.
“One of the things we wanted to do with every room is teach something,” Adams said.
Adams said the latest project is to transform the hospital’s inpatient rooms.
“Most of the inpatient rooms still have that IHS feel,” Adams said. “The research shows the rooms are a factor in the healing process.”
Adams wanted new ideas for the rooms, so she turned to Western Carolina University’s interior design program for a partnership.
“I wanted new ideas. I wanted to show the nurses and the providers that there are a lot of options. We don’t have to be a facility full of white rooms,” Adams said.
Candace Roberts, a WCU interior design professor, along with her students created a portfolio of potential design schemes for the inpatient rooms and along the way they met with elders to learn about the Cherokee culture. The first transformed inpatient room was finished last week, but Adams said the transformation of the hospital will continue.
Filling the otherwise institutional walls of the Cherokee hospital with cultural themes is just one of many projects funded by the Cherokee Preservation Foundation. The Foundation was formed in 2000 with a mission to preserve Cherokee culture, enhance economic development and improve the environment using casino revenue. Since 2002, the Foundation has given out more than $47 million in grants throughout the region, which in turn have generated more than $100 million when combined with matching money.
By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer
When Paula McElroy is asked about the art scene in Haywood County when she moved here in 1966, she chuckles.
By Michael Beadle
Waynesville art gallery owners don’t just want to sell art. They want people to ask lots of questions about art, see how it is actually made and how all ages can create art.
It’s all about the experience of discovering art.