Friday, June 26, 2009


Julie Spalla and David Lookingbill previously operated Desert Moon Designs in Asheville’s River Arts District. Their decision to move their working studios and sales gallery to a high-ceilinged historic building at 511 North Main Street in Hendersonville was done with forethought and with carefully crafted guidelines for the operation of the gallery and policy for other artists seeking representation there.

The ®evolving Arts Gallery is a welcome addition to Hendersonville, which has seen galleries closing, changing mission, retrenching, or departing Main Street far too often in recent years. Touchstone Gallery has closed, as has Divine Stained Glass Studio. Silver Fox Gallery has deemphasized their fine art and now emphasizes high quality home decor. Wickwire Gallery closed their second location, reducing the amount of wall space for large-format paintings. Conn-Artist Studios gave up their second-floor toehold on Main Street in order to move a few miles south. In the midst of all these retrenchments, a bright new gallery gladdens the heart just by its very existence and the confidence in the future that the owners have shown.

The ®evolving Arts Gallery will accept only original art created within the last two years. No work of fine art will be shown that is produced in giclĂ©e or other prints. No work of fine craft will be shown that is produced in quantity. Initial emphasis will be on local and regional artists, although artists from other parts of the country will be considered. As a matter of policy, the gallery will include emerging and mid-career as well as established contemporary artists.

Attending the June 5 opening reception, one found an inviting space that can be rented to host performing arts events for small audiences. Also planned are special events for the community’s non-profit agencies. The space is uncrowded, and the layout and decor provide good viewing of the sculptures, fine crafts and paintings that constitute the opening exhibition.

Several of the artists and crafters already in the gallery were colleagues of Spalla and Lookingbill during their days in the River Arts District. Ceramic artists include Jenny Mastin and Joey Sheehan, while Barbara L. Perez has clay and bronze sculptures on display. Paintings by Fleta Monaghan and Ralston Fox Smith of the RAD are also on display.

I enjoyed other artists whose work is new to me. Works by Michelle Davis Petelinz included “Sinuous Rhythms II,” composed through applying polymer clay to an 18” bamboo bowl and then painting with acrylic and ink. Jeff Pittman paints familiar landscapes in both acrylic and oil: “Sam’s Gap View” and “Sky over Cold Mountain” were prominently displayed near the entrance. Ila Seltzer’s work in cotton batik was a revelation. 

The owners are themselves artists. Julie Spalla’s paintings and sculpture currently on exhibit include the mixed media “Flight” illustrated on the left.

Gallery director Spalla and Assistant Director Lookingbill are intuitive, drawing upon their Native American background to build an atmosphere that promises collaboration with artists fortunate enough to be represented. A sense of spirituality and reverence guides every aspect of this venture. For example, the gallery starts each day with a thought, quote, meditation or intention to guide the actions of the owners and the staff.

The ®evolving Arts Gallery is open Monday through Saturday beginning at 11:00 a.m., closing at 6:00 p.m. except for Fridays when they will stay open until 8:00 p.m. Their website is only partially available as yet at

© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #439 
June 26, 2009

Friday, June 19, 2009


I had never thought about being a celebrity. I had thought even less about being an artist’s model. But when Connie Vlahoulis asked me to be a “celebrity model” for the portrait class that was being taught at the Conn-Artist Studio by Ruth Goldsborough, how could I refuse? I donned my Cornell University doctoral robes for the occasion. As I am not now in academia, I have little occasion to display the European style velvet cap, the rich red robe with blue chevrons and the hood with its flash of carnelian and white. Playing “dress up” was part of the attraction for me.

Ruth Goldsborough’s instructional style is an interesting mix of advice, demonstration, exhortation and example. She spent much of the class time roaming the room and giving specific advice to each of the seven students about their unique problems. I heard “If you put the eyes that far apart, you will not be able to get his shoulders on the page,” “think about the collar” and “just a bit of color in the eye,” and on my short breaks was able to see the value of her advice. She was heading off problems before they arose. Her advice is sometimes combined with demonstration, through a sketch quickly done in pencil to show a student some aspect of composition that he has missed.

Occasionally, she teaches by exhortation. She held up a drawing of a skull and inquired whether all of the students had done their homework of drawing that skull. She pointed out that it is the skull that gives the shape and character to the face, and that if you don’t thoroughly understand the bones, you can’t really paint a face.

Despite spending so much time in student interaction, Ruth was also teaching by example, with her own easel and her own portrait underway. She used pastel to produce a nearly finished work during the three-hour class. The students were allowed to use whichever medium they wished. Photographs were taken from the locations of each of the seven student easels, so that reference images of the model could be taken home in order to finish the student work.

How do I react to my first experience as an artist’s model? Some other recent “celebrity models” found holding a pose for fifteen minutes at a time for three hours to be difficult, so I planned ahead. Knowing that I would have to hold my head and eyes still, I needed something to think about that would not require frequent reading. I took with me a poem that I could ponder, a sestina that I am not satisfied with. While it is not clear that I will ever be satisfied with my efforts in this form, I made some progress: I decided to replace one of the six key words with a different word. The thought that went into the poetry kept me in an almost-meditative state, and I was complimented on my posing. Whether or not I am successful as a celebrity, at least I am successful as an artist’s model.

For more about courses at the Conn-Artist Studio, 611 Greenville Highway, Hendersonville NC, consult their website at

I should mention Goldsborough’s other credentials. A painter since her teens, she has developed a sure technique with pencil, charcoal, oil, watercolor or pastel. After supporting herself by her art for over a half century, she is still available as a portrait painter, being one of the 75 artists represented by The Portrait Source, located in “Little Rainbow Row” at 2760 Greenville Highway, Flat Rock, NC ( Ruth is probably the only artist in that lineup who is 91 years old.

© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #438 
June 19, 2009

Friday, June 12, 2009


The semi-annual Studio Stroll in Asheville's River Arts District occurs this weekend. During most of the year, many River District Artists have very limited hours or are available only by appointment. These are their working studios and they can’t drop their brushes to host casual visitors. But on the second weekends of June and November, every working studio in the area opens its doors. This year more than 110 fine artists and fine crafters will be expecting company at eight sites that were formerly warehouses.

Do not overlook Riverview Station, the furthest flung building. Numbering on Lyman Street is a little confusing. Riverview Station at 191 Lyman Street is around a right-angle corner and more than a half mile from the Warehouse Studios at 170 Lyman Street (which housed the first River District Artists). There are two parking areas at 191 Lyman, serving Riverview Station (North) and Riverview Station (South). About eight artists are in the South section, including painter Ginger Huebner and award-winning jeweler Una Barrett. In the North section there are three. This column will concentrate on the activities of one of these artists, Fleta Monaghan. At #310, 191 Lyman Street, Fleta Monaghan operates “310 ART Gallery” and “River’s Edge Studio.” The gallery displays her art, while the “River’s Edge Studio” in the same space houses instructional classes for adult painters.

If you visit this weekend, there will be no students’ easels crowding the space, just the art. Some craft pieces will be on display by her colleagues who share the building, some paintings by a few of her advanced students will be hanging, and the art of Fleta Monaghan will be there in abundance. 
Monaghan paints both abstracts such as Sky Vision and Earth Vision (each 20”x16” oil paint and oil pastel on canvas) but also landscapes such as French Broad in Early Autumn (16”x20” oil on canvas).
Monaghan sells her paintings from her studio, and also is represented by The ®evolving Art Gallery, the new gallery in Hendersonville that was recently opened by Julie Spalla and David Lookingbill, who are “alumni” of the River Arts District.

Monaghan has a passion for teaching adults. She received a BFA (magna cum laude) from UNC Asheville and a Masters’ degree in Art Education (straight A) from Western Carolina University. She offers elementary courses on oil paints, acrylics, color selection, color theory, landscape painting and abstract painting. River’s Edge Studio also hosts other instructors who teach drawing, pen and ink, watercolor, encaustic, pastel and Sumi-e (Asian ink and wash painting). The theme is university-level education for the adult learner.

Intermediate and advanced students attend studio and critique sessions, small classes that paint for four hours and then offer mutual constructive criticism. I sat in on the first hour of one of the studio sessions. I was impressed by the serious approach to art taken by her students. Each of them displayed his or her unique approach. One favored abstracts. Another was painting in a surreal style. Yet others were painting florals, large animals, imaginative realism, and traditional realism. There were many calls on their teacher to discuss details of technique or color choice. The affection they held for her was obvious.

To learn more about 310 ART and the classes offered at River’s Edge Studio, consult Monaghan’s website: For maps and directions to the River Arts District and this weekend’s Studio Stroll, consult:
© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
Illustrations © Fleta Monaghan
Arts Spectrum column #437 
June 12, 2009

Friday, June 5, 2009


Carolina artist Henry Mitchell counts eight generations in America. Tracing ancestry to Nimrod Mitchell in Washington County, NC, his forebears moved to Laurens County, SC after being granted land patents for having fought in the Revolutionary War. After receiving an undergraduate degree from Furman University, Henry has lived in the Carolinas except for military service, a year at Westminster Theological Seminary and graduate work in painting at the University of Minnesota. While employed as a furniture designer for Woodcrafters in Weaverville, he lived in Buncombe and Henderson Counties before moving back to South Carolina into a comfortable older house in Greenville.

Mitchell's work is spiritual and moving. He lives the artistic life, thinking constantly about how to communicate his deepest feelings. After receiving his MFA, he concentrated on painting for twenty years, sculpture for twenty years, and recently on constructions. All three modes of creation are always on his mind and available, depending upon the artistic insight.

Abraham and Isaac, a Henry Mitchell wood sculpture from the 1970’s on the grounds of the Snail’s Pace, Saluda NC.

After the start of the Iraq War, Mitchell created wood sculptures, each a memorial to 100 dead Iraq War service personnel, using powered tools in addition to the usual hand tools, because “the violence of the technique served as a metaphor for the violence of the times. I did not want to make a politicized statement, rather a testament of mourning for all the slain and suffering.”

Recent acrylic paintings arise from a deep concern for the environment that is being destroyed through development. Paintings such as September Cove and September Afternoon, of the Henry Tatham dairy farm before it became an office park, depict images that now exist only in the memories of long-time residents.

Mitchell sculpts, paints and draws in his back yard where his lightweight tent “studio” consists of two connected geodesic domes. His recent work is made up of “objects lost, abandoned and forgotten” by our throwaway society. After collecting the objects on his frequent mountain hikes or while walking about town, he forms these into wall-hanging collages and then paints over the artifacts.

Abide, a Henry Mitchell construction from the collection of Robin Rector Krupp, Asheville NC.

Glad, a recent Henry Mitchell construction still in the artist’s possession.

Mitchell states that his prime influence has been Raoul Hague, the 20th century American sculptor born in Turkey to a family who became refugees from the Armenian Holocaust. Hague’s carving style “juxtaposes roughly worked and polished areas on the surfaces of mostly female figures in stone or wood” according to the best sources, and that also describes Mitchell’s sculptures. His paintings are more conventional landscapes, while his constructions demonstrate a style that is uniquely his.

Despite his being one of the most significant artists of our region, Henry Mitchell has not been locally represented since Touchstone Gallery closed. His work is represented by River Gallery in Chattanooga, TN and Jeffrey Greene in New York, NY. You may contact him by phone at (864)616-8262 or email him at 

© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #436 
June 5, 2009