For years I’d not thought about the Asheville Art Museum. Years ago when the museum had a great program that paired works from their collection with our US history curriculum, I took my fifth graders. The last time I visited was in 2007 when they had an exhibition of the paper dresses made by Mars of Asheville.
But for the most part, a visit to the Asheville Art Museum was just not that exciting. They were limited to a very small space in what was originally the Pack Library (where I spent many hours during my college years in the Sondley Research Library). But several years ago the museum closed for expansion and renovation. They reopened in November and the difference is amazing.
For such an arts-aware city, the old museum felt like an afterthought, especially after visiting the museums in other comparatively-sized cities. The excellent collections at the Greenville County Museum of Art (SC) and that of the Gibbes in Charleston, SC are just two examples.
Not every museum can be the Met or the Louvre, and so it helps when a small city discovers it has a niche to fill. For instance, the Gibbes has a wonderful collection of art from the Charleston Renaissance of the early twentieth century. The Greenville County Museum of Art focuses on South Carolina artists, as well as the Wyeth family.
So what is Asheville’s niche? When a city is located in the middle of “Appalachia” it might be easy to go full on mountain culture, whatever that is. I’m happy to say that what I saw reflects what Asheville and the surrounding area are today.
One of the most beautiful works is not actually in the museum, but is outside in Pack Plaza. This is Reflections on Unity by Henry Richardson. I have to say it is a great addition to the plaza, and seems to be a counterpoint to the obelisk, the Vance Monument. Zeb Vance was North Carolina’s Civil War era governor. (And don’t get me started on that glass and concrete monstrosity in the background, whose construction in the 1980s meant the destruction of a block of historic storefronts.)
I know you all are here for the textiles and clothing, so that’s what I’ll be showing. The inaugural exhibition in the new museum is Appalachia Now! in which all the artists either are from, or work in the area designated as “Appalachia”. I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of the designation. The area of the Southern Appalachians is too large and too diverse to be defined by a single word. But it’s the word chosen, and I’ll deal with it.
In an exhibition on Appalachia you would expect quilts, but the art quilts of today are a far cry from the Sunbonnet Sue and Double Wedding Rings associated with the craft. The quilt above was made by Kelly Spell, and is titled Spotted Hawkfish. “This particular work was inspired by a fish of the same name…”
What would an exhibition on Appalachia be without an overshot woven coverlet? But this work by Danielle Burke is much smaller and more finely woven than the traditional coverlet. But the design, Carolina Star, is the same.
It is almost impossible to escape the effect of textiles in art exhibitions. These works by Amanda Brazier use her own oil-based pigments from the earth (seen in the little jars) to make paintings that look like weaving patterns.
It might be hard to tell just how small this embroidered work by Amanda Remmen is, so I’ll tell you it is about six inches across. I-81, Winter 2017, is part of a “map” series. The museum has four of these on display.
This dress is made of oak leaves dipped in beeswax. Garment for Remembering the Earth, 2010 -2017 was made by Jennifer L. Hand from leaves she gathered on walks in the woods. The garment is accompanied by a video showing her process.
Sculptor Elizabeth Brim uses traditional blacksmithing techniques to produce metal garments reminiscent of the ones made by her seamstress grandmother. From Italy with Love, 2017.
The area of the museum devoted to the permanent collection is a nice mix of works with regional connections, historical works, and contemporary works. To my delight, there is a section of the work of the teachers and students of Black Mountain College. The sculpture is by Ruth Asawa, and is made of wire. Untitled, circa 1954.
Dorothy Cole Ruddick used thread and embroidery to create the illusion of depth. She studied at Black Mountain in 1945. Untitled; undated.
There is a small section of regional works. I’ve written about Bayard Wootten and her photographs in the past, and it was good seeing her represented in Asheville’s collection.
Getting a decent photo of this Granny Donaldson Cow Blanket was impossible, but I had to show it as another example of her work. It’s not as spectacular as the one I recently posted from the Folk Art Center’s collection, nor as detailed as the one in the collection of the Mint Museum in Charlotte, but the charm of her work is readily apparent.
Asheville quilt artist Luke Haynes puts a twist on familiar works by other artists, as you can see here in [The American Context] Christina’s World, 2012. Haynes had friends strike the poses of works like Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World. The background squares are made of fabrics from old clothing, while the figure is made from new fabrics.
I’m really excited for future exhibitions at the Asheville Art Museum. It’s exactly the cultural asset Asheville needed.