Art & Craft Exhibition highlights black history and culture in Henderson County

INHERITANCE: Crystal Cauley, pictured, the producer of the upcoming Black Art & Craft Exhibition, is working with artist Diamond Cash to document Henderson County's black history through visual art. Photo courtesy of Cauley

When Crystal Cauley hosted the first Black Art & Craft Exhibition in Hendersonville this spring, she was confident about the value of the event but wondered if there would be a receptive audience for it. Her concerns were unfounded: The exhibition was a success, with an overwhelmingly positive response from the community and requests not to wait too long to hold another. Happy to build on what she started, Cauley has scheduled a second Black Art & Craft Exhibition for Saturday, Aug. 10, at Emanuel’s Corner in Hendersonville. It will showcase art and craft, highlight local African American history and celebrate Jamaicans living in the area.

Before the exhibition came to fruition, Cauley’s initial idea was to have the stories she’d heard from her family about black history in Henderson County interpreted in artwork “because it’s something people can see,” she says. “The history is dynamic, and it should be covered more.”

Cauley sees art as a powerful way to illuminate black achievements. While African American people have played a significant role in Henderson County for centuries, their stories have been hidden in the margins. “From what I’ve been told, it has been a struggle to have a voice,” she says.

Cauley took her idea to visual artist Diamond Cash, who, like Cauley, is a Hendersonville native. Cash agreed to create a series of paintings about this history. The first, revealed at the exhibition in March, is titled “Legacy.” As Cauley describes it, the painting “shows the shape of Henderson County being uplifted with black hands. That signifies that African Americans, or black Americans, in Henderson County, have always uplifted this area and [strove] for excellence. There is a kente border on both sides to celebrate ethnic pride, and the background is the Blue Ridge Mountains.” The second painting, to be unveiled at the exhibition on Aug. 10, is called “Glory” and will honor historical black churches in Hendersonville.

With “Legacy” as a centerpiece, the first exhibition featured black vendors, with Cauley selling clothes and handmade items from Africa. The significance of the event, the first of its kind, was recognized by Hendersonville Mayor Barbara Volk, who presented certificates of commendation to Cauley and Cash in May. The two were also invited to make a display for the Henderson County Public Library. Media outlets including Blue Ridge Now, Black Southern Belle and Urban News picked up on the story. “People are very excited; they are very receptive to this, that’s what’s driving the whole thing,” Cauley says. “It’s not just black people, but white people, too. It’s a wonderful experience.”

The upcoming exhibition will have similar components — an array of black vendors and the display of Cash’s latest painting. A new addition will be the recognition of the Jamaican influence locally.

“Their culture has made an impact here … especially in Edneyville, Dana and Flat Rock,” says Cauley, who has Jamaican family members. She grew up around their “stories of happiness, reggae house parties and friendships that span over 50 years.” She has encouraged cultural pride in her children, who have Jamaican roots on their father’s side as well.

As in the case of many immigrants, there’s little documentation of their initial move to the area. According to local elder Ronnie Pepper, Jamaicans began settling in Henderson County in the 1950s and ’60s to work in agriculture. Cauley’s mother says they established camps off Asheville Highway and in the Clear Creek community. Today, you can find them living and working throughout the county.

For the Black Art & Craft Exhibition, Cauley is coordinating a display with pictures of people with Jamaican heritage who live in Henderson County. The goal is for Jamaicans who attend “to be honored and celebrated and feel appreciated,” says Cauley. There will be Jamaican food at the event as well.

The Black Business Network of WNC, which Cauley founded in 2016, helps raise visibility for black-owned businesses and has a similar mission to the exhibition in terms of increasing the profile of blacks in this part of the state. “I created that network and these events because they are needed,” she says. With entrepreneurship and art, Cauley is increasing awareness of black contributions that have long been absent in dominant narratives. She particularly hopes to reach young people, explaining, “Because children, they need exposure to African culture, and also to our own history.”

Cauley plans on continuing to grow this work and invites others to participate. “This is an ongoing project, telling the black history of Henderson County through artwork and craft,” she says, “and I’m always looking for people to join me.”

WHAT: Black Art & Craft Exhibition
WHERE: Emanuel’s Corner, 726 First Ave., Hendersonville
WHEN: Saturday, Aug. 10, 1 p.m. Free

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