Vibrant art scene flourishes in Asheville

Art museum expansion creates space for permanent collection, traveling exhibits
The Asheville Art Museum in Asheville, North Carolina, completed a $24 million renovation and expansion last year. 
Courtesy of the Asheville Art Museum.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

The Asheville Art Museum in Asheville, North Carolina, completed a $24 million renovation and expansion last year. Courtesy of the Asheville Art Museum.

Asheville, North Carolina, a progressive city flanked by the Appalachian and Blue Ridge mountains, has a storied history as an artists' enclave. As the city grows, so does its arts scene, and now there are more reasons than ever to check out this Southern hub of creativity.

A good place to start is the Asheville Art Museum, which reopened last November after completing a $24 million expansion and renovation. The cavernous, light-filled facility now boasts 54,000 square foot of space better suited to house the museum’s permanent collection.

American art from the 20th and 21st centuries unfolds on three levels with an emphasis on artists from Black Mountain College, an avant-garde institution that operated on the outskirts of Asheville from 1933 to 1957 and fostered titans of modern American art among its students and faculty, including Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly and Elaine de Kooning.

“Intersections in American Art,” a reinstallation and reinterpretation of the museum’s collection, is displayed in 10 galleries in the SECU Collection Hall.

Joseph Fiore’s 1953 “Green Landscape” is an example of how Black Mountain artists were inspired by the natural beauty of their surroundings. The abstract oil-on-canvas painting is shown next to an earlier, more traditional landscape by another artist to encourage viewers to interpret art through time and place, one of the themes explored in the exhibit.

Also striking is Ruth Asawa’s untitled iron wire sculpture, lit so that it casts whimsical shadows around the gallery.

"Question Bridge: Black Males" is a new temporary exhibition that explores what it means to be a Black Man in the United States. It runs through March 2021.
Courtesy of Asheville Art Museum.

Credit: Handout

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Credit: Handout

On view through March 2021 is the traveling installation “Question Bridge: Black Males,” a three-hour, documentary-style video presentation that explores dialogue among Black men that reaches across generational, educational and economic divides. Viewers get a fly-on-the-wall perspective on candid question-and-answer exchanges among 160 Black men from around the country as they explore deeply held beliefs and values while attempting to define for themselves what it means to be a Black man in 21st-century America.

Businessmen, artists, college professors, students and prison inmates contribute to conversations about black-on-black violence, mistrust of the police, the path to manhood and how to reclaim African American communities.

Some voices are wise. Some are wounded. Some are weary. But they are all illuminating, illustrating the multidimensionality of Black men’s lives.

Executive Director Pam Myers says the exhibit, created by Chris Johnson and Hank Willis Thomas in collaboration with Bayeté Ross Smith and Kamal Sinclair, furthers national and local conversations about the importance of equity.

“The arts are a powerful tool,” Myers said. “This moving work opens opportunities for expanding dialogue and discourse. Whether you experience ‘Question Bridge: Black Males’ for 10 minutes or three hours, you broaden your horizons.”

Before you leave the museum, be sure to take in the view from the Oculus, a 15-foot window on the third floor that overlooks the plaza where Henry Richardson’s globe-like “Reflections on Unity” sculpture stands. This public art installation, combined with the building’s arresting architectural details, seal the museum’s destiny as a new city landmark.

Lexington Glassworks is a glass blowing studio and gallery in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. 
Courtesy of Lexington Glassworks.

Credit: Handout

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Credit: Handout

Lexington Glass Works

Entering Lexington Glass Works is like walking into a larger-than-life jewelry box sparkling with emeralds, sapphires and rubies. Multi-hued glass artworks in a wide variety of shapes and sizes are displayed on every surface. Pieces on the windowsill glow like stained glass in a resplendent cathedral.

A couple of curious visitors look on transfixed as gallery co-owner and artist Billy Guilford carefully blows a red glass bubble through a blowpipe. He then snips the luminous orb off the pipe with a pair of steel tweezers called jacks.

“Glass blowing by nature is a performative medium,” says Guilford. “We’re lucky to be able to engage our audience in our craft, helping them grow an appreciation for the skill that goes into crafting each piece out of molten glass.”

As an added bonus, the galley taps into the city’s thriving beer scene with a bar that serves a variety of brews from 2-6 p.m. Friday- Sunday so you can enjoy a cold one while you shop and watch artist demonstrations.

River Arts District

Revel in the town’s bohemian vibe at the River Arts District, where 200-plus artists work in a cluster of renovated industrial buildings, some with eye-catching murals, along the French Broad River. This artists' incubator thrums with potters, painters, bookbinders, fiber artist, printmakers, photographers creating new works. Many welcome guests to their studios.

Reiko Miyagi paints hand-thrown decorative ceramics at Tabula Rasa, her studio in the River Arts District in Asheville, North Carolina. 
Courtesy of Tracey Teo

Credit: Tracey Teo

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Credit: Tracey Teo

You might catch Japanese ceramist Reiko Miyagi at her potter’s wheel at Studio Tabula Rasa, shaping formless clay into elegant teapots and other tableware. Using a small brush dipped in black underglaze, Miyagi paints stylized illustrations from nature onto bare clay. Her pieces feature exquisitely detailed birds in flight, trees with curlicued leaves and rabbits bounding through the forest. When the piece is dry, she employs a technique called sgraffito, deftly carving away some of the underglaze to reveal the white clay, creating a sharp contrast of black against white. She finishes each piece with a clear glaze.

Next, head to Mark Harmon and Tebbe Davis Art Studio. Harmon describes his oil paintings as a “window to the world.” Whether the globe-trotting artist is painting a Mediterranean seascape or the Mayan ruins in Tulum, his canvases evoke an authentic sense of place. He combines contemporary and traditional painting techniques in such a way that viewers can practically feel the sea spray on their face.

For wearable art, jewelry maker Nora Julia creates intricate pieces from tarnish-resistant sterling silver filigree and fused glass enamel at Ignite Jewelry Studios.

Wherever your Asheville arts odyssey takes you, you are sure to return home with a deeper appreciation for creative spirits past and present that help define this ever-evolving city.

Asheville museums, galleries and studios

Asheville Art Museum. $10-$15. 2 S. Pack Square, Asheville, North Carolina. 828-253-3227,

Lexington Glassworks. 81 S. Lexington Ave., Asheville, North Carolina. 828-348-8427,

Studio Tabula Rasa. Riverview Station. 191 Lyman St. Studio 160. Asheville, North Carolina, 707-315-0633,

Mark Harmon and Tebbe Davis Art Studio. Riverview Station. 191 Lyman St. Studio 268. Asheville, North Carolina. 660-460-6398,

Ignite Jewelry Studios. Riverview Station. 191 Lyman St. Studio 262. Asheville, North Carolina. 828-552-4805,

Tourist info

Asheville Visitor Center. 36 Montford Ave., Asheville, North Carolina. 828-258-6129.