Coty and I decided that since commercial outlets for craft art are what makes much of craft art possible, that they merited discussion. Luckily, we were in the right spot to look at galleries. Asheville has long enjoyed status as a tourist destination, for its natural surroundings, historical sites, and its vibrant downtown. These factors combine to create what I would characterize as a distinctly southern, statedly unpretentious, yet elegantly metropolitan experience, an almost perfect combination for an arts scene to take rise in. Asheville’s tourism has enabled Asheville to become an ‘art town’, giving rise to almost innumerable art galleries for just about every type of art imaginable. With the tourism that Asheville enjoys, a greater audience is constantly bringing itself to see this art, and often paying a lot of money for it. Asheville is not a large town, with a population of only about 80,000, but its tourist attractions allowed for a disproportionate amount of artists and art galleries that can be found essentially anywhere in Asheville, especially downtown. This is a process that builds upon itself, as well – with more art galleries, Asheville has attracted more artists, more distinction as an art friendly town, and more tourists to sell the art to. Asheville now gets many ‘art tourists’, those who come to visit primarily to see and experience Asheville’s arts culture. After my dad’s residency at Penland, these galleries and Asheville’s art friendliness were ultimately the reason that my family moved here at all, and we haven’t left since.
I had a fairly cynical slant on these galleries before visiting. Though I’ve lived in Asheville for my whole life and had an artist for a parent, I never took a lot of interest in going to see the art inside. I saw them more as tourist destinations, like the Biltmore House (never been there, either), instead of outlets for the truly wonderful art that gets made in my area. After Coty and I visited as many as we could (it would take days to visit them all), I am admitting wrong. These galleries do not offer a Disney World version of the region’s craft art, but instead have absolutely incredible work that is done exclusively by local artists. Talking to some people working in the galleries, I gathered that while the clientele who frequent these galleries is largely from out of town, galleries’ strongest local connections are with their artists, and many galleries are artist-owned as well. Gallery owners, more often than not, have more than a purely business-oriented relationship with their artists. These strong ties were the most often cited reason that I was given for why Asheville galleries are able to obtain such varied and high quality work. Every gallery that we went to was owned locally, and I am not aware of a gallery in Asheville that is not.
The craft art that we saw in these galleries encompassed every medium (glass, clay, etc.) but also illuminated two different types of craft art: functional and artistic. At the Grovewood Gallery, we saw handmade furniture made from local and imported woods and fabrics. Their extensive collection of furniture is art every bit as much as anything else we saw, but is also made to be a functional part of everyday life for its owner. As you take a look, note the more subtle ways that these pieces function as art. It’s a different game altogether, and subtleties are the main vehicle for artistic expression in these pieces. Things like wood grain patterns and are what are important here, and every detail is just as pointed and determined as in fine art. Some pieces of furniture were more ‘normal’ looking and some used more modern design aesthetics, but this is truly the thread connecting all of the furniture. Pictures cannot do justice to the level of detail that are evident in every single piece. Please enjoy!