A league of their own

The inspiration for the Swannanoa Valley Fine Arts League — the area’s oldest group of community artists — grew out of a ladies’ luncheon back in 1967, at Black Mountain’s historic Monte Vista Hotel.

It was there that a Mrs. Guilford (a noted artist from Pennsylvania who’d retired to Black Mountain) quickly realized the abundance of creative expression blossoming in her adopted village, and lost no time in urging her fellow artists to form a league of their own.

The resulting Swannanoa Valley Fine Arts League proved an invincible artistic union — providing not only a regular displaying venue for members’ work, but also opportunities to carry the artists’ messages throughout neighboring communities. Word spread quickly, and members from Asheville, Hendersonville and even as far away as Morganton were soon added to the roster.

Long before federal funding provided sufficient support for Buncombe and Henderson County school art programs, these women — through sheer will and devotion — shepherded art education into local classrooms (the League also offered organizational assistance to Asheville’s newly budding arts community).

Today, in addition to regular, juried, seasonal shows featuring members’ work, the Swannanoa Valley Fine Arts League continues to serve the public through a regular series of art workshops and classes in oil painting, watercolor, calligraphy and photography, among other subjects. The current facility (at 1133 Old Highway 70) also provides space for a growing music program.

As Black Mountain’s retiree population has grown in recent decades, the women of the Swannanoa Valley Fine Arts League have welcomed men into the fold. The strength of the organization has been sustained by the dedication of new members, and by the energetic example of such longtime members as Mary McMurray (one of the group’s few remaining founding members), and the late Olive Grainger (who, at 100, was the league’s oldest active member when she passed away in 1998).

An awards reception (Saturday, Jan. 8, 1-4 p.m.) is open to the public. Gallery guests are encouraged to vote during the month-long exhibit, to help select the People’s Choice Award.

Winter hours for the Paint Spot Gallery are Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 10 a.m-5 p.m; Tuesday and Thursday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; and Sundays by appointment. For more info, contact gallery owner Lorelle Bacon at 669-3813.

Restaurant opens unique employee gallery in Biltmore Village

Lots of restaurants display art on their walls, but La Paz Restaurante in Biltmore Village must be the only one in town that actually has a gallery to show off employees’ creations.

Peace of La Paz, open since Thanksgiving, occupies an upper floor of the building that houses the restaurant, showcasing works in a variety of media.

Along with the stimulating assemblage of large-scale oils, mixed-media pieces, sculpture, prints and textiles now on display are the impressionistic canvases and rustic pottery of Diane Hutt, the stylized beadwork and handmade jewelry of Chris Haughey, and the subtle landscape photography of Kerryn Jane Davis. In keeping with the restaurant’s south-of-the-border theme, a number of clay masks and wooden carvings from Mexico are also on exhibit.

The gallery grew out of La Paz’s desire to show support for their employees (many of them artists) by providing extra opportunities for creative expression.

“It seemed a very natural progression,” says Manager Melanie Turner.

Another big benefit for La Paz employees who are artists is the chance to freely utilize the empty room adjacent to the gallery as a space to create — no small perk, with studio space at such a premium in Asheville, these days.

“The company is very people-oriented, and we have very talented people that work here,” Turner points out. “You see talent, and you don’t want it to go to waste. … [The gallery] gives [employees] a little something extra. Another undeniable plus: Family members of employees are also invited to submit work for placement in the gallery.

Peace of La Paz is open Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. For more info, call 277-8779.

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