Asheville Art Talk: A victory for Lexington Avenue

PAPER MAGIC:  Béatrice Coron's works have been featured in group shows throughout the world, including past exhibits at the Folk Art Center and the Penland Gallery. Photo by Ric Kallaher
PAPER MAGIC: Béatrice Coron's works have been featured in group shows throughout the world, including past exhibits at the Folk Art Center and the Penland Gallery. Photo by Ric Kallaher

In the mid-’70s, Béatrice Coron dropped out of Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Lyon in France, abandoning her artistic ambitions. For the next 10 years, the native of France held a series of odd jobs that ranged from truck driver to cleaning-person, from shepherdess to New York City tour guide. But in 1985, on the cusp of her 30th birthday, Coron came to a crossroads. “I was getting a little older and some friends around me were dying,” she says. “And I thought, ‘What do you really want to do with your life?’”

Since that time, Coron has rededicated herself to the arts, focusing on papercuts. She chose the medium, she says, “because paper was available and it was cheap.” Coron has since collaborated with structural engineers and fabricators, transforming some of her initial designs into a variety of large-scale projects. The New York-based artist has had her work featured in group shows throughout the world, including past exhibits at the Folk Art Center and the Penland Gallery.

Last year, the Lexington Avenue Public Art Project (a collaboration between the Asheville Downtown Association Foundation and the Public Art & Cultural Commission), called on artists to submit works for consideration. The project seeks to honor and exhibit the avenue’s history. In May, the city announced Coron’s piece, Lexington Life Column, as its winning selection. The 10-foot column will be installed at 65 N. Lexington Ave. later this summer.

LEXINGTON LIFE COLUMN: A rendering of Coron’s winning design, the column will be installed later this summer. Photo courtesy of Coron

The stainless steel structure incorporates a series of circles with intricate silhouettes inside each ring. Some pay respect to the avenue’s eclectic mix of businesses and restaurants. A high heel boot, for example, is a nod to Tops for Shoes. Meanwhile, a couple toasting pints celebrates Lexington Avenue Brewery.

Cherokee history, street performers and music festivals are among some of the other silhouettes featured in the design. But the column’s most significant and intricate ring features the silhouette of a man surrounded by a series of buildings. It is an homage to John Lantzius, who, in 1977, began purchasing properties along the avenue in an effort to revitalize the area.

By 1980, however, Lantzius’ ongoing project nearly came to a sudden and complete halt. At the time, the Philadelphia-based development firm of Strouse, Greenberg & Co. introduced plans that would entail the demolition of 85 buildings that ran 11 total blocks in the city’s downtown. In its place, the firm announced plans to build a convention hotel, shopping mall and office tower. Among the structures lost would have been those occupying the entirety of North Lexington Avenue.

According Nan Chase’s 2007 Asheville: A History, a grassroots uprising ultimately defeated the project at the polls. “Twenty years later,” Chase writes, “Asheville’s city council would designate October 10, 2001 as John Lantzius Day for his role in stimulating downtown revitalization.”

For Coron this aspect of the avenue’s history was a major factor in the structure’s overall design. Columns, she explains, are a prominent feature in her home country of France. But in France, she notes, “we call them a victory. And I really like that for this project. That it was a victory that the downtown area of Asheville was not made into another shopping mall.”

For more information on the Lexington Avenue Public Art Project, visit avl.mx/52j. For more on Coron, visit avl.mx/52k.

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist. For his weekly #tuesdayhistory tidbits on Asheville, follow him on Instagram @tcalder.

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