An Art Studio Experience
By Charlene & Richard Mixa
On the bluffs of the French Broad River, where former warehouses once sat abandoned, now sits Asheville’s River Arts District. Over 200 artists in a wide variety of mediums in 22 buildings, all within one mile, have found their niche in this restored warehouse riverside setting. With the growth of art studios and tourists, unique eateries are popping up. To educate ourselves on the River Arts District, we are taking the Asheville Art Studio Tour and checking out a couple of eateries.
12 Bones Smokehouse is adjacent to the new Wedge Foundation, Wedge Brewing Company’s second location. Wow, the line is out the door! An order in-line style eatery, orders are taken, numbers assigned, diners locate a table and then the order is delivered to the table. Efficiency is great as meals are quickly served! 12 Bones has been in the area for many years but at this new location only a few months. Everything is made from scratch and their meats are smoked long and slow over hardwoods. Richard selects the savory Baby Back Ribs 6-bones Plate with sides of a tangy Smoked Potato Salad and a creamy Mac ‘n Cheese. My Smoked Turkey Plate has the tastiest smoked turkey with a sweet corn pudding and a large serving of collard greens with bacon. Yep- both meals are DELICIOUS! There are different barbeque sauces to choose from including a Blueberry-Chipotle Barbecue Sauce with a bit of a kick. 12 Bones is a great venue for a hearty barbecue lunch, dinner or To Go. The décor is a bit funky and casual but fitting for the River Arts District.
Meeting John Almaguer, we begin our Asheville Art Studio Tour. An artist himself, John leads small intimate walking tours of the River Arts District, taking guests behind the scenes to vibrant and unique art studios. The River Arts District has had spiraling growth the past few years. John explains that actually there are over 300 artists, as many are not included in the official “River Art Districts Artists” booklet. At the intersection of Clingman Avenue, Roberts Street, Depot Street and Lyman Street while facing the French Broad River, we learn that from this five-point junction is all the River Arts District except behind us.
A short walk to some newer renovated buildings we meet Stephen and Joy St. Claire of St. Claire Art. A California native, Stephen has developed an extraordinary method with his oil painting technique named Dialuminish for “light passing through.” Amazing! Stephen begins with a wooden frame, covers it with canvas, creates a three dimensional form and meticulously covers it with a metal leaf, an extremely thin foil. Next he carefully paints over the metal leaf with oil then finishes with a coating of solar oil resistant resin creating a shiny finish. Dramatic and mesmerizing! The light reflects off the metal leaf as though it is “passing through.” Walking the gallery we admire the variety of paintings noting how each piece creates a dimensional painting that changes depending on the angle of viewing. Stephen and Joy are personable and passionate about their unusual painting technique.
Arriving at Daniel McClendon Fine Art Space, we are impressed with the renovation of the former National Biscuit Company factory in Asheville. Daniel has refurbished this 5,000 sq. ft. factory, while carefully maintaining much of its original structure. Chatting with Daniel, he explains how he made the transformation from a former traditional art form to his new individual highly abstract work. As Daniel tells his tale of his transition, we view his many colorful compositions that all reference abstract animal forms. Looking at his paintings we spot a cow, owls, roosters, bears and more animals in these paintings. Numerous paintings adorn the walls of this two-story gallery. Daniel shows us his first work as he transitioned to this new abstract style and a massive multi-canvas work that covers an extensive wall. Daniel’s style is impressive.
John leads us to a Studio A, an intimate shop, where Andrea Kulish, a multimedia artist demonstrates how she creates the Ukrainian pysanky eggs. A skill learned from her Ukrainian mother, Andrea begins with a white egg, then heating a stylus over a candle uses the beeswax, in the batik method, to make drawings on the egg that she wants to be white. A multi-step process, Andrea decorates the egg each time with the beeswax for the color she wants the symbol to be. The sequence begins with a white egg (in our demonstration) then dipping the egg in yellow, orange, red and blue. Each symbol she draws with the beeswax stylus maintains the color of that phase of dipping. The intricate symbols are done free hand. Each egg is designed as a wish, with symbols and colors intended to bring the person who receives it love, health, success and whatever attributes the artist selects. Andrea also creates handmade lamps, handmade paper, woodblock prints, note cards, and more.
Time to test our artist skills! At the Odyssey Center for the Ceramic Arts, Nich Daunis, a ceramic artist, greets us to begin our hands-on experience. Anxiously, we each sit at a potters wheel intently watching and listening to Nich’s instructions. There are three steps to making pottery first is to center the clay on the wheel, second is opening the clay, and third is to lift the walls. It looks simple! Nich throws the clay on the center of the wheel and we each begin to try to open and lift the walls. Carefully pushing the pedal to a steady speed, I quickly realize that applying steady pressure with the left inside palm, having my arms braced against my body, and keeping the clay wet are all critical aspects of making pottery. FUN! Slowly and carefully, I open the clay using a wet sponge in my right hand to create the opening. Next, I begin to lift the walls! Hurrah, it’s a cute bowl! Everyone is has a great time. Richard works intently over his clay making a bowl. Nich gently removes the finished pottery piece, which will be glazed and fired later. We are thrilled to do a second piece. Everyone is so excited about their experience making a pieces of clay pottery. Nich is a patient teacher and made this a fun finale to our tour.
As the tour finishes, we ask John to show us some of his own glass work. At the North Carolina Glass Center, we see the magnificent glass work of John and many other artists. Plus we take a quick peek as glass workers are making elegant glass pieces in this beautiful art studio.
It’s been a busy afternoon and time to relax. We locate The Bull and Beggar, almost under the bridge that crossing the French Broad River in the River Arts District. Don’t be fooled by its location! Touting itself with European inspired Appalachian cuisine, this restaurant truly delivers inspired dishes in its beautifully inspired former warehouse. The décor is exquisitely done with original brick walls, rough wood designed walls, mirrors and elegant stairways to other levels. The setting has a rich quality and prepares one for a very special dining experience in the casual, eclectic area of Asheville’s River Arts District. Our dining experience begins with a sharable Small Plate of a tender Charred Octopus with tasty Romesco, green sauce and large lima beans. An unusual combination that blends well together. Moving to our entrée’s of perfectly charred medium rare Filet Mignon with a rich Madiera Sauce that is so tender and accompanied by marrow. Our favorite is the Sea Bass A La Nage! The fish is so delicate with green garlic, leeks and mussels. For variety we share sides of the chilled Kohlrabi with a tangy caper and lemon dressing and the Lamb Quarter Gratin. The service is excellent! Definitely, a fine dining experience in a most cozy setting.
Our afternoon at the River Arts District just touched on the many artists and works of this mile long area. The tour gave us a wonderful introduction to the variety of art, artists, and mediums to be found here. Plus the hands-on experience made it so special. We will definitely be back to visit more studios, artists and eateries in this dynamic and growing venue of Asheville.
12 Bones Smokehouse, 5 Foundy Street, Suite 10, Asheville, NC 28801
Asheville Art Studio Tours
Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau, 36 Montford Ave., Asheville, NC 28801
The Bull and Beggar, 37 Paynes Way, Asheville, NC 28801