Asheville – Where Things are a Bit More Interesting

tobacco barn

I am going to Asheville, NC tomorrow and stay overnight with a friend. We try to get all the interesting things seen and done in just twenty-four hours. This is a photo I took in The Tobacco Barn on one of my trips there. There is always an effort to make things look interesting, make you want to come back and look again.

Curio cabinet interior detail

I can always find interesting things that fill empty spaces in my work.


Some of what the Tobacco Barn offers simply will not fit anywhere in the house. Like this bronze boar.

TB boar

Or this ostrich keeping company with a chicken.

TB ostrich chicken

Or this stag and bunnies combination.

TB stag and bunnies


TB heron and cow

The Biltmore Estate is an attraction in Asheville. I have been there a few times. I even dressed for the occasion of viewing the Clothes of Downton Abbey.

new hat

Just being in Asheville and you fall under the influence.


Biltmore fountain

I do like the design of this particular fountain. The way the water is cascading in the stone work and the fierceness of that fish slithering down from the perfectly formed shell. It’s very nice.

Whatever I bring home from Asheville this weekend will be small and/or useful. I need to find some tool that will make rivets, and I need a second inexpensive steaming pot to use in a workshop in St. Louis week after next. Maybe some new tongs. Steaks from Trader Joes are on the list.  I suppose what I really need is to just go there and come home with as little as possible. My house is full enough as it is with the things I couldn’t leave behind.

Living Room shelves lo res

I am just going to have a really good time with a very good friend and catch up over a single malt scotch. Perfect. Maybe I will take some pictures of more things I loved and left.

Next week I am taking a smorgasbord of printmaking techniques for five days. It is going to be a very good next two weeks between Asheville, printmaking and St. Louis.





Back to Now and Boxing Things

Inner Peace Game Box

I am working on the game box that I started at Arrowmont the weekend before last. The cubes are to be rolled by each player. Also each player has a round box with a spinning wooden arrow in the lid and a fold out game board. There is the spinning device that looks like an egg that gives a consequence. There is the little man who must be arranged into yoga positions on his platform and there are ten cards of different positions. Below is the first mock up for the game board itself. I am going to love coloring it in and decorating the cards.

Inner Peace Game board mock up

The box is now painted and waxed with the dividers glued in place. It is so much fun making these things fit and giving them a special place to housed. It is going to be a game of Finding Inner Peace. Numbers need to be added to the cubes…..some place off-center would be good. And of course I need to make the little things that will be moved along the path.

Below are some other boxes with fitted bits and pieces that I have done.


The Gardener’s Box now in the Arrowmont Permanent Collection. I even saw this last week when I was there. It was in a glass case near the painting studio.

miniature books for blog

The Small Edition Box made for BookWorks a few years ago and below the box that all these pieces fit into. That was really fun putting together.

edition house packed

And one of the boxes inspired by a postcard from an art museum. It was an image of a Chinese Puzzle Box. I needed to see if I could do it and then made two. This Chinese themed one and another Japanese one.

Chinese box doors open woman view lo res

On another note, this past week after meeting a young woman at Arrowmont and hearing she is in need of books for her art department, I am now seeing some empty spaces in my studio shelves. She has received at least one third of what I had in basketry, book and paper arts and whatever other book I was more than willing to give away.

It is time to put things where they are needed and stop thinking that place is here.  More on that later. More on a lot of things later.


Back to Things I Used to Do

Mercers outside shop

I spent a whole lot of time here in Mercer’s shop. It was an old barn building in town where the local men gathered to have coffee and fix things. There was always a needed part somewhere in the shop and someone who could fix things. It seemed that way to me.

Mercers Shop

I loved the signs he posted around. Mercer and the men who spent time here and at the corner store inspired some of my undergraduate work and all of my graduate work. It was all about knowing where you belong, feeling connected through the familiar. The men loaned me tools to make marks and let me ink their hands to mark into my artist books. They gave me rags they used in the shop and carried in their trucks to use as biographical marks of who they were in books and sculptures.

Men of Brasstown in textiles


Patriarch 2

Patriarch 3

I have kept most of the pieces that I made. The artist books especially. It is still hard to not be tempted to pick up some rusty old tool and bring it home. The history of that tool, the man who wore it out fixing things, the feel of it in the hand are hard for me to pass by.

I wrote poems, short stories, made sculptures and artist books about the men. And it was very hard to be critical of my work as an artist. Actually it was impossible. The artwork was just too much about them and I saw them in every piece, so much so that looking too closely was uncomfortable for me and objectionable if others did it. Some time later I will post other images. I will take new photos of the artist books and talk more about the men who gave me their time, tools and patience to see what I would do next.

An Inspiring Place – Expectations and Reality

Arrowmont entrance

I spent the last few days in what was called a Masters Weekend. Probably named so that we could work with instructors who were masters in their particular field of craft. I needed an “Arrowmont Fix” because it has been six years since I was there teaching and I just missed the place. There are so many good memories of my growth as an artist and I just wanted to dip into the well again.

I took one offered on surface texturing, in the wood studio. Here is the space and the instructors’ works – Dan Essig and Wyatt Severs.

wood studio

wood gallery 2

wood gallery 1

Instructors work

The Wood Studio is a visually inspiring place to work and the equipment available to the students is easy to access and use with just a quick lesson. Not until a week or so before the class did I realize that the focus would be on milk paint and how it is used to color wood. But aside from that was an introduction to wood burning and waxing. The wood turners in the class made color and texture changes to turned pieces and other students experimented on boards. I don’t work that much with wood so I took objects that I would more likely use in my own work and was very happy I did – otherwise I’d have a bunch of colored boards sitting in my studio this morning wondering what to do with them.

Milk Paint and Burning tool on nature
Among the things I took to class were pieces of davey board, pods, leaves, cubes made of box board with small wooden beads inside, cigar boxes and brie cheese boxes. Here is some of the pieces that have been milk painted, sanded or wiped, then waxed and buffed. The brie boxes also have burned in designs to catch the paint.

Brie boxes

Assessing the work

Most of the time in the three days workshop was working on our own. Good for some of us who do not want too much interference when we get on a roll but not so good for those who wanted to learn more than putting milk paint and wax on wood – or how to make work like the instructors. For me it was about the tools. The sand blaster made work more textured and defined differences between summer and winter grain in the wood which was very good for texturing and gave me a great idea for doing wood block prints. The burning tool was so much quicker and better to use than my run of the mill one in the studio – of course much more expensive, but I know I will get this new one soon.

The milk paint was problematic as my brie boxes even though burned and textured with gesso below the paint, still looked like something Martha Stewart would serve her brie in. The colors of milk paint simply look too designer or worse make your work look like Dan Essigs books. But with a bit more sloppy approach in application and the magic of Kiwi shoe wax, they begin to have possibilities.

Once the cigar box was sand blasted I knew I could turn most of my pieces (especially those Martha brie boxes) into a game box. The gessoed cubes once painted and waxed were fun to hold and shake. The brie boxes would be one for each of the two players with spinner arrows mounted inside their lids. The box itself will hold yet to be designed labyrinth maps on a search for inner peace. Ten cards were made of heavy paper stock colored, of course, with matching  milk paints. These will also have designs and play an integral part in the game. There is also a wooden egg that spins on a metal rod to determine some fate to a player. And one of the most fun pieces in the box is one of those little flexible body forms for drawing. I think one of the goals in the game will be to position him into tai chi movements that balance. Of course the best part of the whole game will be that in the search for inner peace there will be all this tension of winning and gaining ground on an opponent.

It is going to be so much fun completing this game and then finding someone to play it with! Here are some of the parts fitted into the box with my certificate of ‘staying until the end of class without being asked to go somewhere else’.  Or at least that is what I call these bits of paper.

dding to the game box

On a serious note about the weekend I would like to mention that I take this place very seriously. Arrowmont is where I met some of the most impressive artists over the years. It was here that I was sent to get college credits for my undergraduate degree and here where I came to do research in their library. Just looking at this sculpture outside the library and this fountain in the gallery makes the visitor aware that this place values craft, art and those who come here to share their knowledge and inspire others who come after.

Iconic Arrowmont

gallery fountain close up

Resource center

On the panel discussion with all the instructors being guided through questions, I was very much disappointed. The focus seemed to be how to make a living at your craft, how to schedule your time and how much of the tedious paper work to turn over to someone hired to manage that for you. There was not any discussion about what drives the work other than marketing. It was too bad too, because Jo Stealey’s work is very much content driven.

Content was much more in discussion when I started going to Arrowmont in the early 90s. Now it is less about the art making and more about the craft, technique making – and of course making a living with your medium of choice. I was personally pining for the days of John Risseuew, Lillian Elliot, Pat Hickman and so many others who asked the question “Why?” “Why are you doing this?” “What are your intentions?” And as I recall, no one answered, “Because I can make a living doing this.” All we wanted and some of us still do is to bring an idea we are passionate about into a visual form and share it with others.

Thanks for staying with me if you got this far. I needed to get this down somewhere and here is just the place.