“Plop!” goes the art

Plop Art: Term used to describe public art that has been placed in a public space with little consideration for its relationship to the surrounding uses, or its context in the city, or its impact on the public also using the space.

— city of Asheville Public Art Master Plan, p. 33

As reported in the July 30 Xpress, Asheville’s Public Art Board appeared before City Council on July 22 to request $18,000 toward the purchase of a sculpture by the late modernist painter Ida Kohlmeyer. Titled “Conversation piece #4,” the 8-foot-tall aluminum work has tongues wagging in Asheville’s art community.

Betty Clark (painter, Art Board member): Considers Kohlmeyer one of the most significant women artists of the 20th century. Notes that of Asheville’s 35 pieces of public art, only two — neither of them a monumental, outdoor work — were made by women. Maintains that artistic excellence is more important than a given work’s connection to Asheville.

John Cram (owner, Blue Spiral I and New Morning galleries): Feels that the first piece chosen by the Public Art Board should have celebrated creative people in this community. Fails to see how the Kohlmeyer fits with the first paragraph of the board’s mission statement. “There are artists living in the area who are being commissioned to make works all over the country,” notes Cram. “They are making site-specific pieces, and they are doing the work themselves, not just making a maquette and sending it to a fabricator.”

Dianne McGee (director OF UNCA’s Center for Craft, Creativity and Design, in Hendersonville): Previously involved with the public-art program in Phoenix and with huge public-art projects across the country. Asserts that in other cities, a public-art board never chooses a work — it puts together committees of artists, arts professionals, and community members who choose an artist to create a work for the designated space. The board then reviews the selection to be sure the city’s guidelines are being followed. Believes such works should be site-specific.

Tina McGuire (Art Board member): Likes this work because it’s lively and colorful. Hopes the Kohlmeyer will be the first step toward acquiring a wide range of pieces for people to enjoy. Says public art should enhance the life of the community, initiate conversation, and add interest to the streets. Reports that some members of the Kohlmeyer family sent their children to camp here, so there is a local connection.

Dan Milspaugh (sculptor, UNCA professor)Created the eagle sculpture at the corner of Biltmore Avenue and Eagle Street. Supervised students — including eight women — involved in the creation of nine of the sculptures on the city’s Urban Trail. Not bothered by Kohlmeyer’s lack of an Asheville connection, but dismayed that the board would consider what he calls “plop art.”

Frank Thompson (curator, Asheville Art Museum): Longtime admirer of Kohlmeyer’s work. More concerned with national reputation than with whether there’s an Asheville connection. “The hallmark of a great city is its art,” he observes. “Public art can start a dialogue. It gives us an opportunity to discuss our differences.”

Sally Rogers (WNC sculptor): Believes that site is of prime importance. “It is always best for a public artwork to be site-specific and integrated into the site,” she asserts. Believes that public opinion has a lot to do with a successful public-art project.

Ruth Sommers (director, Folk Art Center): Spent years placing public art in corporate spaces in Los Angeles. Believes that site-specific works are always superior to those purchased with no site in mind. “There are over 3,000 artists in the area,” she notes, “many with national reputations, and a commission to one of them would have the added advantage of supporting the local economy.”

Steve Steinert (director, Community Arts Council): Frustrated over the brouhaha. Has received numerous calls from both citizens and members of his board who mistakenly believed the Arts Council was responsible for the recommendation. Reports that most citizens have asked why the money isn’t going to a WNC artist and why the community was not involved. Arts Council board members, says Steinert, have mainly been concerned that the acquisition was proposed without having a site in mind.


— Cecil Bothwell (reporting by Connie Bostic)

Homeward bound

It’s not every day that I get to wear a hardhat. But on July 24 — five years to the day since the Thomas Wolfe Memorial was torched by an unknown arsonist — state officials staged a press conference that included a tour of the boarding house (still undergoing extensive restoration) where the famous novelist once lived.

Site Manager Steve Hill, who led the tour, reports that the house restoration is 85 percent complete; 75 percent of the 600 damaged artifacts have been restored; and the process of replacing the 200 original artifacts that were destroyed outright is under way.

And while Hill admits that some belligerent visitors have questioned the lengthy restoration process, he explains, “It took this amount of time to do it right.”

“A museum-quality restoration” is how Hill describes it. “Almost every component of the house that could be [reused] has been. Most of the floorboards will be the same floorboards Thomas Wolfe walked across, the same plaster walls and window frames. … We wanted this to be the house Thomas Wolfe wrote so beautifully about in Look Homeward, Angel.

The restoration process has also been an opportunity to make the house more closely resemble the one Wolfe knew as a child. If you’ve walked by it lately, you may have noticed that it’s now painted a pale yellow (instead of the former white with black trim). Other 1916-era touches will include some interior changes in wallpapering and color schemes; copper shingles and a copper, standing-seam roof; period door-and-window hardware where missing; and reinstalling operable window shutters.

The restoration of the structure itself should be completed in October, Hill reports. November will be spent getting 29 rooms’ worth of furniture back in the house, and the rest of the winter will be devoted to fine-tuning the remaining details, such as artwork and textiles. The house should be partly open for tours by the end of the year, with a grand reopening scheduled for May 28-31, 2004.

Oh yeah: After the tour, we got to take our hardhats home with us. Very cool.

For more information, call the Thomas Wolfe Memorial at 253-8304 or visit their Web site (

— Lisa Watters

New school/big vision

This is how Heidi Blozan describes the difference between a Montessori classroom and a conventional one (though she readily admits she could easily give me the 45-minute version if I were so inclined): “You know how sometimes people say that their experiences as a child in school squelched their desire to learn? Well, our goal … [is to] nurture that very desire.”

Blozan is director and co-founder (along with eight other board members, most of them parents) of the Swannanoa Valley Montessori School, due to open its doors on Sept. 2.

Although the school plans to start small (with a half-day program for 3- to 4-year-olds the first year), the long-term goals call for adding kindergartners and first-graders — and perhaps a few second-graders — next year. “Every year after that, we’ll add one more grade,” Blozan explains. “We want to go right up through high school. So we have a 10-year growing period … if we get to do it at the rate we’re hoping to.”

There’s also some talk of becoming a charter school (to make it more affordable) and eventually relocating closer to Asheville.

The school already has a Montessori-trained teacher on board and is in the process of hiring a bilingual assistant who speaks Spanish. “All the students will be exposed to a … foreign-language component,” Blozan notes excitedly.

Her own enthusiasm for the Montessori method comes from her experience as a teacher at the Montessori Learning Center in Asheville (from 1991-95), as well as a visit to a Montessori elementary school in another community. Now a mom herself, Blozan explains: “I always wished that Asheville had a Montessori elementary school. I kept saying that to Will [her husband], and he said, ‘Do it!'”

Two years after embarking on the initial research on how to launch a school — and a year after holding the first public meeting to gauge community interest — ‘doing it’ she is.

The school will hold a fund-raiser featuring David LaMotte on Friday, Aug. 8, 7 p.m. at the Carver Community Center (101 Carver Ave. in Black Mountain) A $10 donation is suggested.

For more information or to find out how you can help with the school’s startup, call Blozan at 669-8571.

— Lisa Watters

Debating WNCW’s fate

Is WNCW worth the hassle?

That seems to be the question the Isothermal Community College board of trustees (which holds the station’s license) is now poised to ponder.

This spring, the continuing behind-the-scenes drama at the popular Spindale public-radio station with the eclectic play list finally prompted the trustees to ask this fundamental question (though they didn’t phrase it quite so bluntly).

For the past three years, the station has sparked intense debate over both its management and programming. That wrangling has been marked by angry exchanges between WNCW staffers and a group of unhappy listeners and ex-employees; a tangle with the Federal Communications Commission; and the dismissal of a number of station employees (including, most recently, the program director).

And on May 13, citing the “inordinate amount of time, effort and resources” spent on addressing WNCW’s issues, the trustees asked ICC President Bill Lewis to prepare a report outlining all possible options for dealing with the station.

Lewis obliged, releasing a draft report in late July. The next step — a special meeting of the board of trustees — happens Tuesday, Aug 12 at 5 p.m. The meeting is open to the public.

In his draft report, the college president outlines eight options, though he appears to give only two of them much weight: sell the license to another nonprofit, or hold onto the license and implement a series of “operating principles” to better wed the station’s activities to the college’s own goals while addressing some of WNCW’s chronic problems.

The specter of a possible sale has generated significant interest among those coveting WNCW’s frequency. Lewis notes that WAY-FM (a group of stations playing contemporary Christian music) have proposed buying the license for $1.3 million.

Four other potential buyers also have expressed interest — one that Lewis doesn’t identify; another, based in Asheville, with ties to several businesses (including The Orange Peel nightclub) that’s rallying support through the Web site. And, ranging farther afield, noncommercial classical station WCPE (in Wake Forest, N.C.) and WRCM (which bills itself as “Charlotte’s Christian music station”) have likewise declared an interest in the frequency.

Although Lewis devotes more ink (four pages of the 10-page report) to the possibility of holding onto the station, he told Xpress that the extra attention doesn’t necessarily mean this is his preferred choice; it merely indicates that this option required a lengthier explanation. He declined to reveal what he’ll recommend to the trustees, saying only that he’ll give an opinion if they ask for one.

“I think it’s obviously an important decision,” said Lewis. “I think it will be given the examination that important decisions require.”

To read ICC President Bill Lewis’ 10-page report, check out While you’re there, you can also wade through recent media coverage of the station — including a cluster of stories published by Greenville, S.C.’s MetroBEAT. To weigh in on WNCW’s fate yourself, Lewis suggests e-mailing him at

— Tracy Rose

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