Friday, November 20, 2009


The freight trains didn’t park over the level crossings this year, the trolley shuttle worked and the parking areas weren’t muddy. To top it all off, the weather was summer-like in Asheville. Everything cooperated to make this November’s River Arts District Studio Stroll a joy.

With more than 130 industrious artists, crafters and instrument makers now creating on the Right Bank of the French Broad River, there are more studios than ever. I visited six of the eleven buildings in one day. It appeared to be a record turnout of potential art patrons, their children (including some really young children) and more dogs that I recall seeing at previous strolls. These take place twice a year, on the second weekends in June and November. My goal at this year’s November Stroll was to meet some recent arrivals and to revel in the company of people who prize creativity.

Alwin Wagener creates decorative and functional hand-forged iron works in his
Wagener Forge studio in the Wedge. A member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, he has taught at Warren Wilson College and the John C. Campbell Folk School.

A winner of many competitions during the years he taught art in California,
Bernie Segal retired to Fairview. He now has a sculpture studio
in the Riverview Station.

Una Barrett is a talented young jewelry maker who graduated from the highl
y regarded craft program at Haywood County Community College. Barrett was in Riverview Station when I last saw her work, but has now relocated her
Relics of a New Age workplace to the Phil Mechanic Studio.

Sally Sweetland is a painter and art teacher who has settled here, with studio space in the Riverview Station and a teaching affiliation with
Fleta Monaghan in that building.

“Strings Attached” is the title given by Madison J. Cripps to his marionette business, which has been in the River Arts District less than three months. Cripps sells handcrafted puppets and provides puppet performances.

David Kabler and Mitch Rumbelt operate
Eyesore Video in the Wedge. This guerilla filmmaker specializes in underground music cinema, and films almost exclusively in Asheville.

Acme Industrial Thinking was formerly in the Wilkie Arcade, but has gratefully moved into the Wedge. They revel in creative projects, and proudly displayed the props that they created for films by Eyesore.

I watched tw
o of Robin Rector Krupp’s hourly demonstrations in her studio in the Warehouse Studio Building. Krupp formerly illustrated (and wrote) children’s books but now concentrates on painting full sheet watercolors of “Wild! Animals.” A natural teacher, she adjusted each demonstration to be appropriate to the audience. An adult audience heard about how to paint the wild animals. who seldom hold a pose. Krupp works from thousands of photographs that she takes in the wild and at zoological parks. She will be a visiting artist during summer 2010 at the Western North Carolina Nature Center. A later audience had several young children, so the artist concentrated on describing how a children's picture book evolves from original watercolor illustrations through a long process of creation and editing.

Mary Charles Griffin, Barbara Fisher and Laurie McCarriar got a quick wave of my hand at the Warehouse. Each of these artists deserve full coverage, as do Constance Williams, Barbara C.L. Perez and so many other talented River District Artists that I dropped in on but have not yet written about. I will never run out of interesting artists and crafters so long as I hang out in the River Arts District. The next stroll will be June 12-13, but many artists accept visitors on Fridays, Saturdays or by appointment.

© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #460
November 20, 2009

Friday, November 13, 2009


The Center for Craft, Creativity and Design is one of those small jewels that make this area so special. This regional center of the University of North Carolina studies Twentieth Century Studio Craft in America, working collaboratively with UNC-Asheville, Appalachian State University and Western Carolina University. This is the appropriate location for such a center since southern Appalachia is world-renowned for its indigenous fine crafts.

In the decade since its inception, CCCD has sponsored national panels and events, achieving a reputation as the primary site where history and criticism of craft are treated with the same academic rigor that is applied to art history and criticism in universities. A major effort has used a private grant of $500,000 to fund the writing of Makers: A History of American Studio Craft, the first-ever undergraduate textbook on the subject of Studio Craft. When the University of North Carolina Press releases this peer-reviewed book in 2010, I shall have more to say about this landmark effort.

The Center has grounds and a short hiking trail with intriguing public sculptures by David Tillinghast (Earth Mound and Underground Bell), Harry McDaniel (Fiddleheads), Roger Halligan, David Nash and others. I am surprised at how few people are aware of the Center’s small public gallery and the quality of the exhibitions that are mounted there.

The current exhibition, entitled Different Tempers: Jewelry & Blacksmithing, is an intriguing exhibit curated by art historian Suzanne Ramljak, editor of Metalsmith magazine. Taken as a whole, it is a study in scale. The work of fourteen fine craftspeople from eight states is on display, running the gamut of metalsmithing. There are pieces of coldworked precious metal jewelry and there are massive forged steel pieces. “From tiny shiny to heavy metal” was the flippant description passed on to me by CCCD director Dian Magie.

Button is an imaginative piece of jewelry created by Melanie Bilenker of Philadelphia, PA using ebony, resin, Ms. Bilenker’s hair and precious metals. Massive Wrought Cuff I is a piece of blackened silver wrought by Natasha Wozniak of Brooklyn, NY.

Moving to a slightly larger scale is David Clemons of Little Rock, AR. His sculpture The Trees We Construct to Conceal our Strange Fruit is a disturbing piece composed of a silver sculpture surrounded by a steel cage with botanical details. Only upon close approach do you detect the poem Strange Fruit by Lewis Allen, made famous by Billie Holiday. The poem is written into the plastic base and only observable from above. The poem gives new significance to the silver chains and the tree motif of the sculpture: slavery and lynching.

Larger still, and entirely made of steel, is Tacitocypriose by Maegan Crowley of Dolores, CO. I liked the way in which this piece depicted the mysteries of botany: how does a plant know to grow its roots down and its flowers up? What happens at the transition between these two growth instincts?

Albert Paley of Rochester, NY is nationally known for his gates and his exterior sculptures. In the current CCCD exhibit, Paley is represented by forged steel andirons and a medium-sized (for Paley) recent sculpture. In Asheville, we already have his weathering steel sculpture Passage at the Federal Building, executed in 1995. If you can’t easily get to downtown Asheville, this grand piece (37 feet high, 23 feet wide and 16 feet in depth) can be seen at a sculpture website.

Different Tempers exhibit runs at CCCD through December 11, with gallery hours 10:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday through Friday. The Center is located on the grounds of the Kellogg Center on Broyles Road in Henderson County between Route 64 East and South Rugby Road. Consult CCCD’s website or call (828) 890-2050 for directions.

© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #459
November 13, 2009

Friday, November 6, 2009


George Bernard Shaw was born in Dublin in 1856 and moved to London in 1876. Growing up in an impoverished genteel Irish Protestant family with a drunken father, an opera singer for a mother and the Irish impresario George John Vandaleur Lee as a family friend, Shaw had been steeped in music. From his arrival in London until 1895, his major income came from music reviews. By 1890 he was the principal music critic for The World under the pseudonym Corno di Bassetto.

Shaw wrote plays prolifically but except for the American run of The Devil's Disciple (1897) without success until 1904. (His second play, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, might have succeeded but was banned during Victoria’s reign.) His major successes occurred rapidly in the Edwardian era: John Bull's Other Island in 1904, Man and Superman and Major Barbara both in 1905 and The Doctor's Dilemma in 1906. Pygmalion came in 1914 and was commercially successful. After that Bernard Shaw’s witty musical criticisms continued but in reduced volume. In July 1917 he remarked: “As I am only half a critic now, I act up to that character by going to only half an opera at a time.”

His insight into music was remarkable. Upon the centenary of Mozart’s death, he summarized: “Mozart came at the end of a development, not at the beginning of one … in art the highest success is to be the last of your race, not the first. Anybody, almost, can make a beginning: the difficulty is to make an end – to do what cannot be bettered.”

His style as a reviewer was vigorous, opinionated and frequently provocative. In March 1893 he remarked: “The concert began with Schubert’s unfinished symphony, which on this occasion ought to have been his uncommenced symphony.”

Shaw’s reviews praised Mozart, Gluck, Wagner, Richard Strauss and Edward Elgar, and heaped scorn on Mendelssohn, Brahms and all Slavic and Bohemian composers. He had a gift for operatic criticism. In 1894 he presciently stated: “Italian opera has been born again … Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Puccini and Verdi … Puccini looks to me more like the heir of Verdi than any of his rivals.”

Unlike today, when symphony concerts primarily feature the great works of dead masters, nineteenth-century concerts and operas were largely of new music. The established Brahms, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Verdi and Wagner and the under-forty Elgar and Strauss were all live composers introducing new symphonic works. The critics of England and Germany divided into two camps: those believing Johannes Brahms to be the successor to Beethoven and Richard Wagner to be a vainglorious fool, and those believing that Brahms was trivial and Wagner was the apotheosis of the romantic era. Shaw came down vigorously on the side of Wagner.


Some of his most entertaining comments bear on this contretemps. In an 1888 review of a performance of a Brahms piano concerto, he wrote: “Brahms’s music is at bottom only a prodigiously elaborated compound of incoherent reminiscences, and it is quite possible … to struggle with his music for an hour at a stretch without giving such an insight … as half a dozen bars of a sonata by Mozart.” Much later, in 1936, Shaw recognized that it was unnecessary to be anti-Brahms in order to be pro-Wagner. He footnoted that review in an anthology: “The above hasty (not to say silly) description of Brahms’s music will, I hope, be a warning to critics who know too much. … I had not yet got hold of the idiosyncratic Brahms. I apologize.”

In 1894, Shaw explained why it was incorrect to analyze Ring of the Nibelungen as an opera: “Wagner abandoned operatic composition altogether, and took to writing dramatic poems, and using all the resources of orchestral harmony and vocal tone to give them the utmost reality and intensity of expression, thereby producing … ‘music-drama,’ which is no more ‘reformed opera’ than a cathedral is a reformed stone quarry.” In 1898, Shaw published The Perfect Wagnerite, one of the classics of music criticism. The book contains commentary on both the musically revolutionary Ring and the politically revolutionary Richard Wagner (exiled for a time for his actions and sentiments).

Shaw himself was politically outspoken as a pacifist. In a 1919 article regarding the future of British music, he details the blow to the fine arts that was dealt by compulsory military service in the Great War of 1914-1918. “Consider what the state of music would have been if Sebastian Bach had been engaged in the Thirty Years War?” he asked.

The rest is history: accolades for his drama (the 1925 Nobel Prize for Literature) and vilification for his socialism and pacifism. Yet these two aspects of George Bernard Shaw’s character were inextricably entwined. We could not have had one without the other.

Wagner (Clementine Stockar-Escher, 1853)
Brahms (Carl Jagemann c. 1860)
© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #458
November 6, 2009