Weekly Asheville Disclaimer Page: 01/09/08

Artist-in-residency program not working out for Warren Wilson, chainsaw artist

WARREN WILSON, MONDAY — Faculty, staff and students of Warren Wilson College have complained about a rising number of wooden bears on campus as well as excessive noise levels, and many are blaming chainsaw artist Scott Dee, who was recently awarded a residency by the school’s art department.

An administrative decision, made on Friday, to prematurely end Dee’s residency may be upsetting to Dee, said one faculty member, since Dee has the “artistic temperament of a Van Gogh and the tree-trunk arms of an ambitious minor league baseball player.”

Members of the arts department say they will inform Dee of the program’s desire to end its association with him as soon as the artist “runs out of gasoline.”

Dee describes himself in an “artist’s statement of purpose” as “WNC’s premier avantgarde chainsaw performance artist” whose work “is a statement on the failures of this nation’s failed mental health care system, as well as a tactile exploration into the symbolic and real boundaries of the wooden bear.”

“Whereas you see a block of wood, I see a bear with rounded shoulders and tuckedin, rounded knees and a taciturn expression,” said Dee. “However, my bears do not simply smile. They ever so slightly frown. Really more with their eyes. Their mouths are, in fact, smiling.”

The artist-in-residency program, which provides a stipend and workspace to a selected artist twice a year, also requires the artist to guest-lecture at the Holden Visual Arts Center several times throughout the semester.

Dee’s lectures, according to complaints, cannot be heard above his open throttled chainsaw. The artist also refuses to lecture in Holden Gallery and “insists on conducting his lectures in random classrooms at unannounced times well outside of the art department,” according to one complaint.

Additionally, he concluded one such impromptu lecture in a classroom full of “stunned” political science students by turning the podium into “a little bear, with rounded shoulders, notched ears and inlay whiskers,” according to another complaint, this one made on artistic grounds.

Many students and faculty members were upset by the appearance on campus of four carved bears, “with sloping shoulders and block-like paws,” huddled around a carved Indian chief wearing a headdress. The installation sits on the previous location of what was a healthy 250-year-old white oak tree.

“I’m scouting around the River District for a nice little property to pursue my dream,” said Dee. “Downstairs, a funky but swanky little gallery. Upstairs, chainsaw artists’ colony.”


• Pritchard Park is a .3-acre urban nature preserve. Please respect the wildlife and stay on marked trails to avoid getting lost. Please do not circumvent the carefully maintained switchbacks.

• No urinating on Park Ranger Station or Park Ranger. Please be mindful of splashback.

• Absolutely no late-night shagging in Ranger Station when ranger is off duty.

• Lost and Found as well as all confiscated contraband will be kept in a large cooler inside the Station for 30 days.

• Note: Ranger Station is left unlocked overnight. Honor System strictly enforced.

• We support no-impact protesting. If you pack a cause into the Park, pack it back out with you.

• Caution: Dry and windy conditions may result in the uncontrollable spread of fire & brimstone.

• Parents must present fresh scat samples when reporting missing children.

• If no park ranger is on duty, please contact your nearest Ranger Station. If you are on the College Street side of the Park, the closest station is in Brevard. For those standing closer to Patton Avenue, please contact Hot Springs station during business hours.

• Although cute and sometimes friendly, we ask you not to feed the husky, bearded gay men.

• All drum circles must be reduced to semi-circles after 9 p.m.

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Historically Speaking…
Part 7 — The Tuberculosis Years

By the 1880s, Asheville was a favored destination for tuberculosis patients from around the world. This was, to some degree, a result not only of the area’s reputation as a mecca of sorts for health, happiness and betterment, but also of the recent arrival of doctors and bankers and builders who moved to the region for those very same reasons.

Once here, those skilled professionals soon realized that, in addition to the hectic lifestyle they had left behind in their cities of origin, left behind also were modern conveniences and moneyed clientele.

Luckily, both traveled well.

With its small town-charm fueled by bigcity promotion, Asheville soon became the place for the discriminating tuberculosis patient to go to and die. So, they came and, after a while, as people do, they died.

Area residents responded to this influx of both affluent educated interests and seekers of health from strange lands in the same way they have always traditionally responded to outsiders: with courtesy and aplomb.

Sentiments began to change, however, with the fortunes of one William McCallister, a third-generation mountain lumberjack who was proud to be a local man, as well as the first WNC native to catch tuberculosis from, either, in his mind, “exposure to colde and winde and other samelike elements, or from my moste favorite lady smile-merchant who plyes her silky wares upon Olde Lexington Avenue,” according to his diary. Also suspected, though, were the “loades and loades of sickly carpetbaggers moving to my towne.”

Amateur linguists may find interest in his use of such archaic spelling in the 1890s, when the phrasing of this diary passage suggests a written form more common to the 1870s, and will also be surprised to learn his descendants have noted that McCallister “felled trees using only Irish curses and a ploughshare.”

When McCallister became ill with TB, his spirits initially soared. A great number of similarly afflicted victims of this scourge disease were flooding into Asheville for its fabled restorative powers, and it escaped McCallister’s notice that it was in this very same supposed health-restoring environment that he caught the disease, making it seemingly improbable that staying here would also cure it. He elected to stay.

Regrettably, the tuberculosis industry in Asheville was booming, and the great number of outsiders seeking health and recovery had doubled the price of beds in local sanitariums. It was for this reason that poor old sick William McCallister, a simple local mountain man with a simple taste for Lexington Avenue’s sickly salt-of-the-earth whores, was forced to leave the town he was born and raised in to seek comfort in the unknown expanses of a big, scary world.

McCallister died one month later in New York City. In that final month of his tuberculosis- wracked life, he started several successful businesses, “married up” and, by all accounts, cut a wide swath through the city’s blue-blooded social charity scene, and was named “New Yorker of the Year” by the Asheville Citizen— not bad for a dying country boy.

Having promised an untold number of people throughout his entire life that his greatest ambition was to never, ever leave the small town he was reared in, poor McCallister’s dreams of doing so were dashed, and it was with great shame and in the arms of a famous showgirl in a city that was not his own that William McCallister died, of, some say, a broken heart. Others say it was a complete failure of his ravaged respiratory system.

When news of his death reached the mountains, the remaining members of the McCallister clan held a clan meeting and decided from that day on to forever greet newcomers with dislike and distrust, and the trend, as they say, took.

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