Tucked away on a scenic wooded crest adjacent to The Grove Park Inn, the Grovewood complex has “somehow remained a secret to most Asheville residents,” says bookmaker and sculptor Daniel Essig. Since the late 1990s, he’s been working at the Grovewood studios, a group of workspaces occupied by 11 artists whose mediums range from painting to woodworking to sculpture. Those residents will show their work in The In Crowd: Grovewood’s Studio Artists Exhibition, which opens on Saturday, Feb. 8. Exhibiting artists include Chris Abell, Kathleen Doyle, Melissa Engler, Russell Gale, Lisa Gluckin, Carl Powell, Helen Purdum, Thomas Reardon, Brent Skidmore, Jessica Stoddart and Essig.
The history of the Grovewood Studios and its connection to craft is important for Essig. “Knowing that I am working in a space that once held the famous Biltmore Industries is, in itself, inspiring to me,” he says. “If I forget that fact, I am instantly reminded by quotes that still line my studio walls that once inspired an earlier craft force.”
With its thick stone walls, ivy courtyards and heavy wooden doors, the Grovewood Studios building is both charming and historic. The building was constructed in 1917 by the Grove Park Inn’s architect, Fred Seely. The space once housed the Biltmore Industries, following its relocation from Biltmore Estate. That educational-program-turned-enterprise, established by Eleanor Park Vance and Charlotte Louise Yale at the end of the 1800s, trained locals in craft production. It was supported by George and Edith Vanderbilt, who not only admired mountain craft but also viewed woodcarving and weaving as means to bolster the local economy. Following’s George’s death, Seely bought the business, and Biltmore Industries flourished under his direction, gaining “worldwide recognition for its hand-loomed fabrics,” according to Grovewood Gallery’s website.
Local entrepreneur Harry Blomberg purchased the property in the 1950s, keeping the homespun fabrics business alive for another 25 years. It was his family who established the Grovewood Gallery and the artist studios in ’92.
While the studios provide him with creative stimulation, Essig’s current body of work takes inspiration from a semester of teaching in Italy. In the paintings he saw during his travels and while reviewing his photographs following the trip, he noticed the recurring appearance of a small, red-faced songbird. “An Internet search revealed the bird symbolized ‘prophecy,’” he says. “These pieces that contain the European goldfinch, a hand-bound book and lead type, are statements about the future of the book.”
Ceramicist Lisa Gluckin has been working at Grovewood Studios for about a year following the completion of her residency at the EnergyXchange, craft incubator studios in Burnsville. Her exploratory process is evident in her bold and playful works. When it comes to creating art, “there is nothing better than play, unleashed play,” she says.
Gluckin’s new work is a series of slip-cast ceramic vessels with individualized markings that reveal her joyful process through clever motifs. Meanwhile, her mainstay earthenware pieces explore texture, shape and color through one-of-a-kind, hand-built forms. “I surrender to both the clay and my subconscious,” she says. “I am by nature an over-thinker. When I am deep in the work, I can step away from my analytical head and be set free to create intuitively. I like to spend time playing with my pieces, continually visiting and revisiting — painting, carving away, drawing, adding more color and line — playing with all the possibilities until I arrive at that sweet state of knowing that the work is complete and the story has been told.”
For Russell Gale, who was named a top woodworker by Xpress readers in the annual Best of WNC poll, his story is revealed in the fine points. He started making furniture following the realization that the scale of that type of work — interior furnishings — suited him better than building houses. “I get really excited about all the little details possible in a piece of furniture,” he says. “I used to love doing really detailed drawings when I was little. I guess I was just looking for the right medium to exercise my obsessive compulsive tendencies.”
The material is a major factor behind both his process and his product. “It is so much fun to compose a piece, using certain grains or patterns to accentuate a design,” he says. “Sometimes there is a board with a unique detail that just sits around the shop until a project comes up that is right for it. Other times, there is a design I am working on, and I will spend hours going through stacks of lumber until I find a board that is just right.”
To learn more about the artists in this story, visit DanielEssig.com, LisaGluckin.com and RussellGale.com.
what: The In Crowd: Grovewood’s Studio Artists Exhibition
where: Grovewood Gallery, grovewood.com
when: Opening reception on Saturday, Feb. 8, 3-5 p.m.
The show is on exhibit through May 10.