Strolling for dollars

The concept of open studio tours seems to be highly contagious. The idea first came to Asheville some 14 years ago with the River District Studio Stroll, a small gathering that now involves more than 60 artists, most of whom have workspaces in walking distance of each other. The strolls have been a boon for local artists and crafters, and River District-based fabric artist Pattiy Torno reports that this year’s income to the artists exceeded $150,000.

Well worth the drive: This untitled piece by veterinarian-turned-photographer Rob Morrill is just one of many works that will be on display at the Come to Leicester studio tour.

With that kind of success to aim for, there are now similar events all over the region.

For instance, the Toe River Studio Tour encompasses Celo, Burnsville, Spruce Pine, Little Switzerland, Burnsville and Bakersville. Likewise, Rutherford County has its Art Hop, Haywood County has Open Studio Tour, West Asheville has West Walk, Weaverville has the Art Safari and Black Mountain has the East Art Tour.

But what about Leicester? Long overlooked by those seeking more fashionable addresses, Leicester has a growing community of talented artists who have only recently banded together to create the “Come to Leicester” studio tour. And their efforts seem to be paying off.

According to Doc Welty, a potter who serves as Come to Leicester’s organizer, the original group of 10 artists collected a cool 40,000 bucks from last year’s tour. Not surprisingly, the number of participating artists has doubled for the 2007 tour.

Although the Come to Leicester organizers are still catching up with some of the more organized studio tours, they’ve made efforts to close the gap. Their Web site is a simple, colorful affair with a map to the participating studios and a page of profiles about the artists and their work.

Of course, not all artists are comfortable with the idea of welcoming the general public into their studios. To some, a workspace is a private spot where they want no distractions, in spite of potential financial gain. In fact, that’s one reason why some artists have placed their studios in areas that are relatively isolated, such as Leicester.

For potential buyers and collectors, driving from one isolated studio to another can be a chore, something that can take away from the relaxed image of a “stroll.”

Fortunately for those who choose to make the trip to Leicester, the area’s landscape is as pretty as any around. The group has thoughtfully arranged an exhibition at the Wildberry Lodge (135 Potato Branch Road), allowing patrons to see examples of all the artists’ works and pick and choose which studios to visit.

But Welty seems to believe that taking in all of the art will be worth the effort, cheerfully noting that “to really see everything, it will take both days.”

[Connie Bostic is a painter and writer based in Asheville.]

Come to Leicester Studio Tour happens Saturday, Aug. 18, and Sunday, Aug. 19. or 683-2459.

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