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Kaleidoscope of creativity: Haywood artisan offers her craft onstage, on the wall

The ‘Small works’ exhibit runs at HCAC through Dec. 31 Kristen Hedberg photo The ‘Small works’ exhibit runs at HCAC through Dec. 31 Kristen Hedberg photo

Performer. Writer. Director. Instructor. Photographer. 

Those are the mediums mentioned when one asks Kristen Hedberg just what creative realms she delves headlong into — in essence, all aspects of her life conjure some form of artistic pursuit, discovery and cultivation.

“This all begins in childhood for me. As a kid, I preferred to be outside — it was my playground,” Hedberg said. “So, when inside, I found ways to create the snow or making something shine. Artists are creators and problem solvers — I guess it came to me early on.” 

A North Carolina native, Hedberg has called this region home since 2006. She currently resides in Maggie Valley. While in college, Hedberg found herself at Young Harris College in North Georgia for two summers acting in the Appalachian drama “The Reach of Song.” 

“[The production] was infused with mountain music and real stories from the area — [combining] professional actors with locals who told their own stories,” Hedberg said. “I fell in the love with the show — everything about it — from the music to the dancing to the people themselves.”

At Young Harris, Hedberg felt an immediate kinship with the people and landscape of Southern Appalachia, only to circle back to Asheville after completing her Master of Music from the A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute at the UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. 

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“Asheville had grown into a thriving arts scene and even had an opera company. [With] the offer of a full-time job [in opera in] Asheville, I could not have asked for a better gift,” Hedberg said. “The mountains are my home. I cannot be without them — I think many people who live here can resonate with that simple statement.”

Beyond her extensive stage work as an actor and director — including numerous cast appearances at the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville — Hedberg also holds a genuine passion for the camera, as seen by her business CamelliaBird.

Specializing in nature photography, a selection of Hedberg’s images will be displayed at the “Small Works” exhibit, running through Dec. 31 at the Haywood County Arts Council in Waynesville.

“I was always taking pictures, even if I didn’t have a camera. I was framing them with my mind and making mental captures of things in nature that made me feel connected to this world,” Hedberg said. “[And] I’ve always had a special bond with animals, especially dogs. I grew up playing on a farm, so I always saw the farm animals — cows, pigs and such — as my friends.”

Hedberg’s interest in photography has only intensified as she’s gotten older. For her, “it allows me to catalog my life just as a I see it. It’s a memory preserver when memory becomes reliable over time.” 

In terms of her process, Hedberg does very little editing to her images, seeing as the beauty of Mother Nature can solely stand on its own in that captured moment — raw and real, vivid and vibrant.

“I love photographing birds. They are the connection to the Otherworld, to the other spiritual plane. They are the oldest vocalists, singing long before humans. As a musician, I’m fascinated with their songs and I have always wanted wings to fly,” Hedberg said. “In everything I do with art, there’s some connection to nature, even if it is not apparent to the receiver. Mother Nature teaches me the lessons that are older than human problems and sometimes corrects old assumptions about her when I commune and really listen.”

So, what is there to be said about a life spent in artistic thought and creation — this continued trajectory of curiosity, connection and collaboration? 

“Art, for some people, is about escape or diving into a place they don’t feel is real or available to them in their real lives. I don’t see it that way. I think it is a reflection of what we often don’t allow ourselves to see, to experience, to feel in this world,” Hedberg said. “It’s what’s perhaps hidden behind the veil. And when we let our creativity flow, we can peer behind it, sometimes crossing over, even allowing them to blend together for a moment — it’s the greatest expression of our inherent spirituality.” 

And Hedberg can’t help but think of her mother and how she remains a vital inspiration on any and all imaginative avenues Hedberg may duck down and explore.

“A lot of inspiration comes from having such a creative, innovative mother — she immersed me in a world of stories and crafts. She’s that beloved English high school teacher who also built up the theatre program in every school she worked [in], while building amazing music programs at church,” Hedberg said. “[Being an artist and performer] is just how I’m made. I’ve always lived dually in my imagination and the real world at the same time, so I don’t see them separately — the ideas and possibilities for creation are endless.”

Want to go? 

The Haywood County Arts Council’s (HCAC) “Small Works” exhibit will run through Dec. 31 at the HCAC Gallery & Gifts showroom in downtown Waynesville. 

The annual exhibit that expands the types of work for sale in the downtown Waynesville gallery, as well as who can display their work. Other than specially curated exhibits, which occur a couple times annually, this exhibit is the only one that allows any artist within the western mountain region to participate for a small fee. 

With dozens of artists participating, the exhibit promises to be eclectic. Although the only requirement is that the pieces be 12 inches in any dimension or smaller, HCAC challenged participants who are making holiday themed works to consider artistic expressions that are multicultural in nature and celebrate the many different holidays, ways of celebrating, and ways of experiencing holidays. 

HCAC also encouraged participants to create works that celebrate Appalachian heritage and craft. For more information, go to haywoodarts.org.

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