If it's true that Asheville is the Paris of the South, then Marshall is more akin to a small town in the South of France, with its picturesque landscape, close-knit community,and laid-back quality of living. Over the past few years, the small historic river town of barely 900 occupants has quietly grown into a thriving arts community of cafes, galleries and artist studios.
Located just 25 minutes from downtown Asheville, Marshall is well worth visiting for the current exhibitions at the Madison Arts Council, the quaint buildings that line the Main Street and the majestic view of the French Broad River.
Most impressive is the former high school located on Blannahassett Island across the river from downtown Marshall. The building, which was constructed in 1927, was recently renovated into 28 artist studios — most of them original classrooms, plus the old auditorium and stage. Affectionately referred to by locals as "The Island," currently more than 25 artists of all different mediums occupy this remarkable building, which is open daily to the public. With its brightly lit hallways, hardwood floors, spotless bathrooms and freshly painted walls, Marshall High Studios is a distinguished example of the promise that lies in the reclamation of old institutions for the progression of new ideas and community.
For Laura Marsico, an artist who has lived in Marshall for nearly six years, community is what her most recent exhibition, 33, all about. "I couldn't have done this without the help of other people," she says. The site-specific sculptural installation is currently on display on the upper level of the Madison Arts Council on Main Street — a space that Marsico was allowed access to for nearly three months in order to prepare for her show.
33 is Marsico's first solo exhibition since 2001, and for it she has ambitiously constructed 33 12- foot spires, or what she refers to as "trees," using recycled and found materials. Walking through Marsico's trees is how one might imagine entering a Dr. Seuss forest with all its bright colors and imaginative shapes. There is playfulness to the installation, with the exaggerated height of each sculpture, but the sophistication lies in Marsico's definitive sculptural choices.
Each tree maintains a unique personality while visually complimenting the trees around it. "I was always thinking about how lines and shapes work together — I was never thinking about just one tree at a time," she says. A silver-spiked tree constructed out of yarn spindles stands next to a tree of brown wrapping paper, which stands next to a bubble-wrap tree. A column of packing peanuts, which Marsico has had friends ornament with personalized patterns, complements a spire of floppy discs and mathematical lanterns.
The materials for the project came from Marsico's own collection of dumpster finds and things people started bringing her when word got out about her project. Many of the chosen artifacts were happy accidents, like the unraveled bows of Easter baskets that looked, to Marsico, like calligraphy scribbles. "They were just so beautiful, I couldn't even stand it."
Finding inventive ways to use the materials is why she says the project reflects "the relationship between resources and resourcefulness."
Marsico's 33 trees represent the 33 years of her life (she turned 34 last Saturday – the day after the show opened). The 34th tree of her exhibition is exemplified through the window display of the Arts Council, where 17 female residents of Marshall constructed their own trees. "Many of them don't even consider themselves artists and it's really cool to see what they came up with," Marsico says.
33 is currently on display at the Madison County Arts Council along with the mixed media work of Chukk Bruursema. madisoncountyarts.com. More information on Blannahasset Island at www.marshallhighstudios.com.