2008: A look at all involved

By Christi Marsico • Staff Writer

From playing a girl with big dreams that go nowhere in Haywood Arts Repertory Theatre’s “The Last Night of Ballyhoo” to embracing my fiance’s love for Smashing Pumpkins, this past year left an artistic imprint on my life.

Artistic influence can present itself in many different forms. That’s why I interviewed numerous people involved in the arts locally, from painters to bakers to librarians to the managing editor of the Asheville Citizen-Times.

In this compilation of interviews you will also find many others who were influenced artistically in 2008.

The question I presented was, “What have been the top three artistic influences for you this past year?”

The following are the answers I received via e-mail from Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties and Asheville.

I believe the people interviewed are best described by using a Louisiana-Cajun term, lagniappe, which means “unexpected bonus,” because these individuals enrich our communities.

Mike Gillespie
Dentist and Chair of Waynesville Public Art Commission, Waynesville

My top three artistic influences for the last year were:

Stefan Bonitz. Stefan is the creator of “Old Time Music,” Waynesville’s first-commissioned public art piece. Using metal objects uncovered at local scrap yards, Stefan pieces them together to make whimsical, cartoon-like figures. Reusing discarded items and giving them a second life is also an old mountain tradition, as the settlers here wasted very little and made crafts and utensils out of leftover materials.

“Homegrown Music: A Haywood County Tradition.” This is a CD compiled for the Haywood County Library and was accepted into the Library of Congress Local Legacies Project. It contains old-time music played by artists with Haywood County ties. There are a variety of styles, from shape-note hymns and traditional fiddle tunes to hammered dulcimer and country blues. This sampler platter of styles ensures there will be something there for everyone to enjoy.

Haywood County Arts Council. Their yearly programs bring a wide variety of cultural events to the area. Gallery 86 on Waynesville’s Main Street hosted several excellent shows for visual arts, and performing arts events are held at venues across the county. One of the best exhibits this year was “It’s a Small, Small Work” which showcased area artists and limited the size to no more than 12 inches. It highlighted the variety of talent we have in the region and allowed visitors to take home original art for a minor investment. On the musical side, patrons enjoyed performances in jazz, bluegrass, Celtic and classical styles. The wide range of events provided by the HCAC brings many opportunities for our citizens to enjoy the cultural arts.

Desmond Suarez
Second-Generation Furniture Designer/Craftsman, Canton

(1) I would say one of my biggest influences was the work that I was chosen to make for the “Handmade House at the Ramble” in Biltmore farms. It was an English arts and crafts cottage, and I designed a whole new series called “East of Appalachia” mixing in many international design elements.

(2) I have always been influenced and inspired by the beauty of the mountains and the local Appalachian hardwoods, the depth of color, and grain design.

(3) Functionality is an ever-growing influence, from the original Shaker design elements to the clean lines of modernism ... form that does follow function.

Alyson Nelson & Sandy Fogarty
Owners of the Quilters Quarters, Waynesville

I would say the book The Shack by William P. Young. It is a novel about faith and self-awakening. I continue to reread this book and each time I experience more about myself and my faith through the journey of the story. It is the kind of book that must be passed on and shared with others.

As a beginner in the art of quilt making, I have been inspired by the work of Alex Anderson. She has authored many quilt books and taken her quilt skills to television. Her down-to-earth nature and her dedication to the art of quilting give a beginning quilter the confidence to try new techniques.

Over the past few years I have read the Jennifer Chiaverini series, Elm Creek Quilts about quilting and relationships of women who quilt and always wanted to provide that kind of environment for quilters. Learning how to quilt and to have a safe place to come to enjoy friendship and fellowship with other women is an important part of being a quilt shop. Teaching others is my passion and to be able to pass that on is what keeps me inspired for my own quilting. It is a joy every day to see faces light up when they come through our doors and to know that we can also inspire others to be creative.

Barbara Bates Smith
Actress, Clyde

2008! A year I did not make my usual trek to New York for the bright lights and the big stars. But, oh my, I found great stimulation in Waynesville— being a part of Athold Fugard’s “Road to Mecca” in HART’s Feichter Studio. A standout memory in its many aspects: Superb onstage partners Kane Clawson and Terry Nienhuis; Suzanne Tinsley directing me through yet another challenging endeavor; and a play about artistic expression, as so glitteringly manifested in Dave Etheridge’s set.

And where else could you find audiences so enthusiastic about a serious play? Yea Waynesville.

The prize-winning novelist Lee Smith is on my list of inspirations as I wrap up ‘08 with a tour of her “Christmas Letters.” She has given me 19 years of rich characters to bring to life! So here’s to Lee!

And 2008 brings to the fore a local writer, Bill Everett, who has influenced me to join him in some public readings from his newly published sweeping saga, Red Clay, Blood River. Lucky me.

Ron Rash
Author, Jackson County

My favorite fiction books published this year are Annie Proulx’s Just Fine the Way It Is, Tim Winton’s Breath, and Richard Price’s Lush Life. I’ve also really gotten into Malcolm Holcombe’s music; what a fantastic talent.

Gary Carden
Writer and Storyteller, Sylva

Well, since I now have a cochlear implant, I have gone back to listening to things that I had lost. The implant can’t handle music very well, but sometimes it gives me a faint echo of what things used to sound like, including Chopin, Beethoven and Merle Haggard. I have also gone back to listening to Garrison Keillor on WCQS on Saturday night and Sunday morning and I think that has had a definite impact on the way I view things like aging, folklore and my own childhood. In addition, now that I can hear, I can teach, so I have gone back to developing my old classes like Appalachian culture, Appalachian literature, Appalachian Folklore (From Grimm to Jack Tales) and Cherokee history. I have applied to Southwestern Community College for a position teaching adult education courses (continuing education) and I hope to be back in the classroom by March. I’m also “rediscovering storytelling.” Now that I can hear, I want to tell stories more often ... maybe in the schools. I’ve got a new project that I am excited about called “Folk Drama in the Schools,” and I am going to start working with high school students who want to write one-act plays about their own culture and/or tradition. I’ll be doing the first one for Foxfire down in Rabun this month.

Linda Steigleder
Executive Director, The Bascom Art Center, Highlands

In 2008, I was inspired by the American artist Helen Frankenthaler (born 1918) who recently turned 80 years old, yet continues to be considered one of the greats in the pantheon of 20th to 21st century painters. Her very large stain paintings will the subject of The Bascom’s June through July 2009 exhibition, the first special arts program that we will offer in our new architect-designed building and 6-acre campus.

Trumpet player and jazz virtuoso Wynton Marsalis continues to inspire me along with vocalists Tony Bennett and Diana Krall, all of whom interpret and celebrate our existence through music.

Poet Billy Collins (recent book is Ballistics) and a younger poetic voice, Elizabeth Alexander (teaches at Yale), give me hope for verse, humor and the written and spoken word.

Will Rogers
Blacksmith Artisan at Jackson County Green Energy Park, Sylva

The past few months I have been totally focused on studying traditional Cherokee metalwork in preparation for teaching a metals class for the Qualla Arts and Crafts co-op. There’s been some very interesting work done in both blacksmithing and in non-ferrous work, that is copper, brass, and silver.

Like the Cherokee, my work is inspired by nature, that’s probably my strongest artistic influence. I have also been looking at a lot of Mayan imagery.

Kristina Lynn
Reference Assistance and Event Coordination at the Macon County Public Library, Franklin

Billy Bragg – The English folk/punk/protest musician spent this past fall touring throughout the United States, working at voter registrations before his concerts. Asheville was lucky enough to host him on his last night in the States at the Orange Peel the first Sunday in November, just before our Election Day. While my vote was already cast in an early ballot, I’d like to believe that Billy and his rally-like concerts sent enough of my fellow audience members out that next Tuesday to help change history. And we thought we were there just to hear that sweet Essex accent.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi —Both the graphic novels and the movie struck me. Having spent the past 15 years living here in the mountains, I have an understanding of my native friends’ frustration at the persistent misunderstandings about their culture. Satrapi wishes to dispel similar confusions about her own nation’s society in her autobiography about growing up in Iran during the Revolution. Her story and her simple, stark graphics express the ideas that, when we meet and know people who are from elsewhere, we won’t be so ready to assume that they’re evil, ignorant, and wrong. We usually find we have a lot more in common than we’d expected.

David LaMotte — The Farewell Concert in the Grey Eagle was a night I’m glad I didn’t miss. David has been playing his songs in and around Asheville for close to 20 years, but recently earned a scholarship to study international relations, peace and conflict resolution in Brisbane, Australia. Listening to just a smidgen of his songs that night from his 10 CDs reminded me that this new turn isn’t really a change in his vocation; it’s something he’s been working for throughout his career. We’ll miss him, those of us who grew up hearing him at the end of the week at Camp Grier in Old Fort, or at the coffee and tea houses in Sylva, but we wish him well in the continued work for peace and understanding.

Jeffrey & Sarah Southerland
Owners, Riverblaze Bakery, Franklin

For the past three years we’ve sold artisan breads, pastries, and desserts at our small bakery off of Highway 64, and beginning in February we will be opening a new retail bakery in downtown Franklin on Palmer Street. Growing with this bakery has given us so much opportunity for creative freedom.

1.The rural aesthetic: When it comes to the design of our new bakery space, our main influence is the country character that infuses Franklin’s landscape. We see so much beauty around us, in everything from old tractor seats to barn wood, from winding grape vines to forgotten tools. And we love cheerful and over-the-top pastoral images like roosters and colorful painted landscapes, bright folk art, and anything handmade.

2.The people, both past and present: Michael Beadle from The Smoky Mountain News said about our bakery: “There’s a lot of love in these loaves.” When it comes to the craft of artisan baking, we do believe that this statement is true, and we draw a lot of our inspiration from our love for the local community.

3. Local Food makes tasty food: Our third artistic influence is the abundance of fresh, local and organic food at our fingertips! Franklin has a vibrant local foods community and an abundant weekly Farmer’s Market, and this coming year Jeff plans to expand the bakery’s garden on his family’s land. Our recipes and daily menus are sculpted by the local harvest, and we are blessed with a great supply of tasty berries, plump tomatoes, zesty garlic, fragrant herbs, colorful veggies and fresh eggs, all produced by members of our own community.

Bobbie Contino
Executive Director, Macon County Arts Council, Franklin

I enjoyed a hard-hat tour of the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts, under construction here in Franklin and set to open early July 2009. A 1,500-seat, privately owned (by local businessman Phil Drake and wife Sharon) state-of-the-art facility with every imaginable amenity, it represents a giant step forward in bringing even more quality arts programs to our community and to the region.

My high point of our council’s excellent 2008 concert series came during an amazing performance this November by guitarist Brad Richter and cellist Viktor Uzur, two internationally acclaimed artists. Their selections ranged from works by Bella Bartok to Led Zeppelin (honest), along with some original compositions. Their combination of Dick Dale’s “Miserlou” — a tune most folks remember from the movie “Pulp Fiction” — and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumble Bee” had the audience on their feet cheering. It’s the moment arts presenters dream of.

A major arts influence in my life this year, and every year, is WCQS Radio. We’re so fortunate to have this fine public radio station (I’m listening as I write this).

Elena Carlson
Rickman General Store, Cowee

This year I have been influenced by the courage and perseverance of Jerome Laurence, Atlanta painter, whose career I have closely followed since he was introduced to me in the year 2002. Jerome is a recovered schizophrenic patient who has found in painting the peace that his mind really wanted to express. This year his painting “Tulips are People II” was chosen by the Carter Center to illustrate their Christmas Card, and I was really happy when I opened the envelope and could recognized the strokes of his hand and the gentleness of his soul on the card.

I have also found myself celebrating with Meryl Streep her last movie. A musical! I have admired Streep for years for her versatility and powerful identification with her roles, but in “Mamma Mia” I saw her tal cual es (just as she is now) full of vibrance and hunger for life. Fortunately, she is very contagious!

Last but not least, I have been influenced by the creativity and willingness to share of the artisans, writers and storytellers I was lucky to meet this year at the Rickman General Store in Cowee. All of them have extended their hand in sharing their talents with our community, and I am in debt with them forever.

I am convinced that the challenges of the year 2009 will awake higher levels of creativity around us.

A peaceful 2009 to all!

Elizabeth Ellison
Artist & Teacher, Bryson City

I spent a lot of 2008 renewing my spirit, walking my dog along the Tuckasegee River and contemplating the landscape which especially in winter and early morning fog brings to mind the tao of painting and The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting. So as always I have drawn inspiration from the Eastern world of art.

I also reacquainted myself with the paintings of John Marin and Charles Burchfield, who in different ways sing to me but always renew my creative energy.

Jeff Delfield
Librarian, Marianna Black Library, Bryson City

The Coen Brothers: These days I see all my movies on DVD so I got a chance to see two Coen Brothers releases in 2008. While “No Country for Old Men” might be their modern masterpiece, I thoroughly enjoyed the return to silliness of “Burn After Reading.” Though the two movies couldn’t be more different in tone and subject matter, that Coen magic is found on each frame of both.

Banjo Blues by John White. I’m a huge fan of old delta blues recordings — the scratchier the 78, the better. This year my favorite music recording came from a modern blues player who happens to convey his musical message via fretless clawhammer banjo. John White, who lives in Jasper, Ga., has the weathered voice to match his rustic music, too. I received the disc on a Friday and by the end of the weekend I had played through the whole thing at least 20 times – incredible stuff. (http://cdbaby.com/cd/johnwhite).

While I enjoyed many books published in 2008 (Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth was a standout) I have to say that the most influential book on me this year was Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, which I am embarrassed to say I had never read until this year. Though the message of simple living and self-sufficiency was not necessarily a revelation, the urgency of the message and the clarity in which it was written struck me more deeply than I expected it to. If the current economic crisis doesn’t turn in 2009, this classic could become the “how-to manual” for us all on making due with less.

Dee Dee Triplett
Artisan, Bryson City

My intention when doing creative things has always been to make people smile and put forth joyous energy rather than angst. This past year that has seemed especially necessary! I find immense inspiration in the woods around our home — the patterns in the bark; the year’s changes in leaves from tiny delicate vulnerable green and spring to saturated color and leathery curves in the fall ... last fall when the mud-slinging just wouldn’t stop, looking outdoors was a perfect antidote. Helping others learn how to enjoy their creative side is always inspirational, and it always makes new ideas pop into my head. Robert and I have spent a lot of time this past year building a retreat where we can teach classes to small groups and hopefully offer positive experiences to help others be inspired.

Robert Triplett
Artisan, Bryson City

It is important to me to spend time thinking about the piece to be made or the task to be accomplished. If the work is a commission, extra thought and understanding are required to fulfill the recipient’s vision. Early in the process I take time to plan, brainstorm and consider alternatives and potential designs. I then step away to allow time for the idea to find its voice. Walking down seldom-traveled roads helps to solidify the thought process and firm the final design. One of the most inspiring people in my life is Tom Joyce, a blacksmith in Santa Fe who often works outside the box. Tom’s conceptual thought process is exceptional and his craftsmanship is impeccable.

Phil Fernandez
Managing Editor, Asheville Citizen-Times, Asheville

Three topics related to the arts world in 2008 that will continue to be a challenge as we move into 2009 are the impact of the economy, the growing number of entertainment options and the need to educate children more on the topic of the arts.

All three of these seem to be affecting the traditional arts venues, such as playhouses, and raising concerns that fewer will attend events. Museums, theaters and art galleries contribute to the quality of life in a community, and they are rich, cultural resources we don’t want to lose.

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