John Cram was a pretty great guy, from my experience [see “John Cram Remembered for his Numerous Contributions to Asheville,” Oct. 29, Xpress]. His gallery always provided some of the best, gloriously free shows in town, and his free wine and hors d’oeuvres were some of the best free food and spirits around.
In this way, he was the ultimate busker, offering free art from sidewalks, but a busker not wanting contributions. He let those rich enough to buy an expensive painting pay for our, and John’s, play dates. How many Blue Spiral openings was I high off John’s wine and grooving off of his cool art and cooler art-groupies? What a gas. Or just needing a pick-me-up on an uninspired early afternoon, staggering into his gallery oh so low, and emerging almost skipping and exhilarated.
Once I showed him a chapter from my book Asheville NC, Circa 2000 AD, saying I’d modify anything he found too offensive. It was about a Blue Spiral opening and a group of Asheville artists who were angry because they weren’t shown in the gallery and calling John’s stable of artists gimmicky frauds. John just sighed and said he could only show so many artists. He didn’t request any edits.
In the book, I called his gallery the Green Helix, while Asheville writer David Hopes, in his recent book Night, Sleep and the Dreams of Lovers, has his climactic scene at the Blue Spiral, calling it the Green Cube. I bet you could write another book only consisting of other scenes written by other writers about John’s galleries and stores.
John firmly believed in the avant-garde art while keeping a solid foot in representational and classical renderings. I often got a laugh out of much of the art, and always an ooooo, and an occasional ahhhh. And partly because he was a proudly gay man himself, John ensured that everyone was welcome at his parties, routinely making them the diversity social events of that year, of almost every year, several times a year, for about 40 years.
I always envied him and Xpress publisher Jeff Fobes the most of anyone in Asheville, short of our mayors and congressional reps. In a way, John churned out two stories’ worth of stunning, original art every two or three months with each fascinating new show, and Jeff churned out an amazing book a week with each Xpress issue. Both offerings were free and perused by a large number of Asheville’s and Western North Carolina’s progressive communities — as well as the passing hordes of tourists — and both helped ensure the intellectual, artistic and political tenor of our region was on a lofty plane.
And! the free tours of John’s garden behind his Kenilworth home were additional evidence of his amazing taste. And! his Fine Arts Theatre (subsidized by Julian Price) was a much-needed break from the Marvel Comic movies of more standard theaters. And! his clothing and craft stores were galleries of local genius in themselves.
And! Here’s to you, John! What a resource for us to have had you. You were a major reason we can sometimes proclaim, without too much dripping disdain: “Asheville is the Paris of the South.”
— Bill Branyon