Gallery 86 celebrates Appalachia

HCAC Gallery to host opening Friday night
By Stina Sieg | May 25, 2012
Photo by: Donated photo "Celebrating Appalachia," opening Thursday at Gallery 86, will feature work from artists throughout the area, including Liz Spear. Above is one of her designs.

Like so many people these days, metal smith Daniel Miller can’t claim to be native to Western North Carolina. But, like so many artists these days, he’s proud to call it home.

Miller, 57, is part of a continually growing community around Waynesville and beyond of working artists who have found a creative common ground here. Though the theme of Gallery 86’s newest show, “Celebrating Appalachia,” isn’t specifically to blend the work of natives and transplants, that is exactly what it’s done. Of its 16 fiber artists, metal smiths, wood workers and ceramists, a large percentage discovered this place as adults.

This demographic break down makes sense to Miller, who’s been crafting his high-end, European-inspired metal art and functional pieces in Waynesville for 25 years.

The area “is quite a mecca for crafts work,” he said. “It goes back to pretty much the beginning of the last century.”

Miller, who’s originally from Chapel Hill, then listed off several points of history, including images taken by well-known photographer Doris Ullman that helped cement this area as a nationally known center for handicrafts. Though Miller’s work doesn’t typify the region in style at all, in a way his pieces and this place have been inseparable for years. Because he works in wrought iron, which hasn’t been produced commercially for nearly a century, he literally has to scrounge through history to find usable material. Often, it comes from old bridges or factories being remodeled or torn down. In the past, Miller also received this black bullion from the late, well-known Asheville blacksmith Anthony Lord.

Though Miller’s work, like Lord’s, has a distinctly foreign feel, Miller knows that being in this place has helped his art flourish, especially when he was just starting out. This area’s handmade history is distinct, and inherently different from art in the state’s big cities.

Around these parts, “there was just more of a tradition of making things by hand,” Miller said.

That history has drawn people here, even from out of state, for generations. In recent decades, it has brought craftsmen like Fatie Atkinson to participate in Haywood Community College’s Professional Crafts program. A native of the Virginia mountains, Atkinson (whose first name is pronounced “faytee,” if you were wondering) has been a woodworker for seven years now. In the words of the 39-year-old former electrician, “it’s been a life changer for sure.”

Being an artist means “you can almost see your dreams come true,” he said.
While, like Miller, he doesn’t believe his work is done in an Appalachian style, he does feel that a certain mountain sensibility sinks into his handmade furniture. He described his work as having a “contemporary cabin” look, though he admits he doesn’t know if that term really exists. He explained that while his pieces have the clean lines and minimalist appeal of contemporary furniture, there are still little nuances of this area in them. Often, he even uses local wood — and always, he enjoys the “hunt” for just the right material.

While his designs are not purely Appalachian, Atkinson thinks that something about the self-reliance of being an artist inherently is. Working for himself and forging something unexpected out of known material is the kind of thing that people have done around here for years.

“You can make a plain piece of wood extraordinary,” he said.

The idea of creating work that’s fresh and yet relatable may be as old as art itself, and it’s particularly apparent in functional pieces, which straddle the line between use and beauty. Liz Spear, a fiber artist also featured in the show, has made a career out of this careful balance.

Spear, a 56-year-old Minnesota native who moved to Haywood County 20 years ago, not only designs and sews original clothes but also weaves the fabric herself. Her pieces, which somehow appear both dressy and casual, don’t have an obvious Appalachian flavor. But again, this place is in them.

“What living in this area has given me from the beginning is a community in which to find out what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it,” said Spear, who makes her home in Waynesville.

She, too, went through the HCC program, where she figured out her niche and style. Her pieces, which have a faintly striped and multi-hued appearance, come from cloth made out of several different yarns, often leftovers from the textile industry. While many of these end pieces might be North Carolinian in origin, she often doesn’t know where her colorful cotton and rayon yarns originate. What really matters is that, when combined, they create something beautiful and distinct. They make cloth, and eventually clothing, that is definitely a product of this place, even if that can’t be discerned by the naked eye.

“I firmly believe that it’s the support,” Spear said, explaining why Waynesville is the perfect spot to do what she does. “It’s the mental and physical and creative support from the community that is here.”

She may not be from here, she added, but she’s not leaving. As it does for many artists, this area just fits too well to ever want to try on someplace else.

The Haywood County Arts Council’s “Celebrating Appalachia” show will run from Thursday, May 31, through Saturday, June 30. A reception will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. this Friday during “Art After Dark” at Gallery 86, 86 N. Main St., in Waynesville. The show, which was curated by Stéphanie Troncale, includes work from woodworkers Fatie Atkinson, Chris Spoerer, Desmond Suarez, Molly McCurdy and Mike McKinney; metal artists William Rogers, Daniel Miller and David Burress; fiber artists Barbara Miller, Liz Spear, Carla and Greg Filippelli, and Peggy and Chuck Patrick; and ceramists Terance Painter, Cathey Bolton, Lori Theriault and Travis Berning. For more information, call 452-0593 or visit