A studio stroll through Asheville’s River Arts District
By Hazel Freeman
Spring is a great time to stroll the streets and artist studios of the mile-long West Asheville River Arts District (RAD). Located about a mile from downtown, you can visit almost 200 artists studios any time of the year, but the RAD really comes alive during the bi-annual Studio Stroll weekends in May and November. You’ll find not just amazing art studios and galleries, but antiques, culinary delights in the many fine cafés and restaurants, and vibrant music venues.
Situated in amongst some 25 refurbished historic, industrial buildings nestled along the French Broad River, the RAD offers more than just galleries. The working studios along the RAD give visitors the opportunity to meet, observe and interact with the artists at work, ask questions and be immersed in the creative process as it happens. Visitors also have access to hands-on activities throughout the weekends, including trying glass blowing or spinning a bowl on a potter’s wheel.
Asheville’s industrial district along the French Broad River once housed warehouses, and businesses such as a livestock slaughterhouse for Armour Packing Co, cotton, textile and flour mills, a chicken hatchery, icehouse and a tannery, to name a few. Around 1985 the buildings began being repurposed as working artist studios.
“It wasn’t that long ago that this was an industrial area with the railroads coming right through the center of it,” says Fleta Monaghan, artist and owner of 310 ART. The Norfolk Southern railroad still operates through the heart of the RAD. Monaghan opened her working studio gallery in 2006 in the Riverview Station, built c. 1900, which once housed a local tannery.
Monaghan’s studio is filled with original contemporary fine art and features the work of 24 local, talented artists. The studio holds paintings, sculpture, mixed media, Giclee (“zhee-klay” fine art digital prints), jewelry, encaustic and photography. 310 ART also offers one of the oldest and most comprehensive adult classes in fine arts. You can even take a class in Painting with Beer, from prominent watercolor artist Nadine Charlsen.
Helping to put the RAD on the map is the newly opened 5,000-square-foot Riverview Station studio/gallery of nationally known abstract artist Jonas Gerard. Gerard is known for his large, vibrant, colorful paintings that grace the walls of hospitals, corporate buildings, hotels and individual art collections.
Asheville is becoming well known for its many excellent craft breweries. The RAD will also be home to the soon-to-be-open New Belgium east coast brewery. New Belgium is an employee-owned craft brewery, crafting Belgian-inspired brews. This new, $140 million brewery complex is located at the site of the old Asheville stockyard. New Belgium joins two other national craft breweries in the area, Sierra Nevada, and Oskar Blues.
Almost any artist’s medium can be found being created in the RAD. Exquisite sculptural art baskets are crafted by basket maker Matt Tommey, who uses local, sustainably gathered barks, vines and branches to craft his one-of-a-kind sculptural baskets. At the Village Potters, six renowned potters form clay into durable, functional and beautiful works of art. The Village Potters also has a teaching center and is expanding to include an Independent Study & Mentoring program.
The Studio Stroll is free and self-guided. This spring’s Studio Stroll Weekend is May 14–15. The RAD is open all year and the best days to meet artists is Thursday through Saturday. For more info, including a studio guide with map, on Asheville’s River Arts District, visit riverartsdistrict.com.