HandCranking out of downtown

Another iconic Asheville landmark is exiting the scene, but it's going out with an appropriately eccentric finish.

Wonder Emporium: HandCranked Letterpress holds a moving sale that promises to be the junker event of the year. Maybe the decade. Photo by Jonathan Welch

HandCranked Studios is moving from its Tingle Alley location to a new home office in Haw Creek. But it's celebrating a five-year reign as one of the coolest unofficial hangouts in downtown Asheville with a day-long, in-office blowout. It promises to be the junker's event of the season.

"It's going to be the coolest combination yard sale and thrift sale and art sale and furniture sale," says HandCranked proprietor Lance Wille.

He's not joking. If you care about unique stuff at all, be it homespun art, craft supplies, quirky furniture, found objects of rare brilliance, and/or the world's largest Mr. T collection, you owe it to yourself to be at the HandCranked Letterpress studios sale, if only to grab a piece of underground Asheville history. Freaks of Asheville, mark your calendars.

"You wouldn't believe some of the stuff they've got in there," says long time HandCranked collaborator Jason Krekel.

Wille and his wife, Suzie Millions, are the principal caretakers of the Tingle Alley space. Although it's been co-occupied by a number of artists, filmmakers, and musicians over the years, these two are primary in making the place such a welcoming, weird and wonderful location.

"I think the magic of the space is dependent on Lance and Sue's aesthetic," says Krekel. "That and their killer record collection."

Photo by Jonathan Welch

It's true. The HandCranked business HQ has been many things — part business, part art-collective, part practice space, part hangout and crash-pad. But it's the décor that overwhelms you when you step into the large, high-ceilinged, Lexington-loft space – it's a crazy museum of amazing pop-cultural cast-offs.

Examples of HandCranked's work line the rafters. Millions' work space, the "experimental lab" for her Lark book The Complete Book of Retro-Crafts, is full of an array of professional and intuitive craft supplies: glitter, beads, google eyes, pom-poms, and other tiny items. The bathroom is full of a hilarious array of defaced record jackets. Weird homemade paintings line the walls. Stacks of 45s and LPs dominate a large portion of the room. The band practice space in the back is mocked out like a miniature nightclub, with a bamboo bar, old beer signs and several vintage tables and couches. And most of it's going up for sale.

"This space has really turned us into pack-rats," says Lance. "And this sale is giving us the opportunity to look at all the stuff we've gotten since we moved to Asheville. It's going to be like: You went to the thrift stores every week for the last five years, and you got all the cool stuff that was there, but only kept 10 percent of it, and sold the other 90 percent to your friends."

"But we're making cuts that hurt," adds Millions.

Photo by Jonathan Welch

Here's a story that illustrates the type of stuff stored at Hand-Cranked, and the serendipitous alchemy often associated with the space: When Reigning Sound recently played ActionFest at the Orange Peel, keynote speaker Chuck Norris casually mentioned his first movie, Wrecking Crew, a 1969 film featuring Dean Martin as secret agent Matt Helm. Reigning Sound guitarist Greg Cartwright turned to Wille (the drummer for the group) and said he was fairly sure that he'd seen a poster for the film at the loft.

"I ran back to the space," Millions says. "And I grabbed the poster. It was a French language version original. I ran back to the Peel and gave it to Chuck Norris to sign. He was amazed."

HankCranked Studios has been operating out of the Tingle Alley flat for the last five years, providing quick-and-dirty analog-style letterpress flyers and posters for many an art-show, band performance, CD cover, or benefit. Affectionately just called "Tingle Alley" by anyone hoping to drain a quick PBR before heading to a rock 'n' roll show downtown, it's served as practice space for bands like the Reigning Sound and the Krektones, studios for artists like Lorruh Vilhite, Tara Jensen and Tim Saunders, the meeting space for the Blue Ridge Craft Clatch, the editing space for the film We Won't Bow Down, a video and photo-shoot location for many different bands, and the locale for many "Pulitzer-prize winning" parties.

"We've worked at a loss just to have the space, because it's been so much fun," says Wille. 

The couple is taking the consolidative move as an opportunity to refocus their artistic energies. Millions hopes to shift her work methodology from an accumulative style of amassing craft supplies, to a more "find-it-as-you-need-it" method, while Wille hopes to shift the HandCranked aesthetic more towards fine art prints. And while they're visibly excited about the possibilities of the future, it's also evident that they're going to miss their Tingle Alley location.

"The collaboration in proximity is what I'm going to miss," Wille says. "All the artists who work here are really inspirational, and it wasn't always just a place to hang out and listen to records. You'd come in, and they'd be working, and you'd grab a PBR and set to doing something yourself. The creative energy was fantastic. You could really feel it."

"I'm going to miss the spontaneity of the place," says Millions. "You'd come here on the weekend and you just would never know what was going to happen. People'd come by here, and then bring friends back to share it. More than one person told me this place was inspirational, and I can't think of anything an artist would want more than to inspire other people."

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