By Miranda Allan – 2014
Let me preface this profile by saying that we happened upon Hendersonville’s 55th Annual Art on Main Festival unintentionally. That’s not to say that we didn’t do our research before donning our backpacks and slinging our cameras around our necks, because we did. Sometimes things fall through the cracks, but in this case it was a happy accident that we turned a corner onto the right street on the right day and found the fair. In that way it seemed all the more lovely, as if Hendersonville had given us a gift.
It was a cold, bright Saturday morning that we explored the town. On either side of Main Street artists had set up white canvas tents, hunkered together to block the wind like penguins. Over seventy artists had gathered from all over the southeast region to display their work. The tents had three sides, with the open fronts facing the sidewalk. I took a certain pleasure from approaching a new tent, not knowing what type of art it might contain. The artists specialize in materials ranging from glass, ceramics, wood, fiber, paint, photography, jewelry, and mixed media. It was a treat to see a tent filled with supple wooden kitchen utensils next to one that sells glass planters shaped like diamonds. More than a few items caught my eye as possible holiday gifts (wouldn’t my mom be pleased with a left-handed spatula?) but I resisted. In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t.
Scattered among the tents were fiberglass sculptures of bears standing six feet tall. Each bear is molded and painted differently by the individual organizations that designed them. The bears are part of a public art display called “Bearfootin’ in Hendersonville.” Each year, locals and visitors alike enjoy the hunt for that cherished hokey photo with their preferred bear. Hendersonville radiates creativity, from the gorgeous murals on brick walls to the colorful displays in shop windows (such as a skeleton bride riding a wicker motorcycle).
After ducking into a few tents, I found a favorite in the work of Joey Sheehan. Joey is a ceramics artist. I have to say, I’m a sucker for homemade pottery. I live for the day that I will fill my perfectly up-cycled farmhouse with locally made tableware and vases. Joey’s pieces fit perfectly with this vision. On a simple wood shelf he had laid out his mugs, bowls, plates, jars, pitchers, crocks, teapots, serving plates, and vases – each more impossibly beautiful than the last. I find ceramic art so appealing because every piece is organic in both form and design. You can’t replicate the same cup twice, but a set of four cups is consistent in their inconsistencies. Joey’s pieces feature two motifs: a spiral much like a nautilus shell, or a tapering zig-zag which is sometimes incorporated into the rings of the spiral design. He displays complete control of his glazing, and sometimes allows different hues within a color family to drip and meld together until the viewer cannot discern where the colors and patterns diverge. The effect is stunning.
I spoke with his wife, Mandy, about his process. Joey uses high-fire clay and stoneware. Typically, he throws onto a wheel but does venture in hand building methods on occasion. After constructing the form of the item, he paints on a white porcelain slip for the first firing. The slip allows him to build designs into the clay that will later be pulled forward with colored glazes. After the initial wood fire, he applies five to ten coats of glaze using a spray-gun. For the second firing, he uses a gas-fired reduction kiln that makes the glaze melt faster. Joey has been creating pottery full-time for about eight years. He graduated Magna Cum Laude in Ceramics at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, with accolades to spare. In XX he renovated and founded a co-operative art gallery. The Asheville Ceramics Gallery co-operative consists of local artists in the River Arts District of North Carolina. Joey’s own shop is called Melting Mountain Pottery.
Though I was reluctant to leave Joey’s art behind, I ventured onward to a tent manned by George Getty, a retired seventh grade math teacher turned woodworker. He told me that he got into woodworking because he was worried about “dying of boredom.” His shop, Mountain Creek Woodworks, is certainly creative. Like most wood shops, he sells tables, chairs, and cutting boards, but he also has a few specialty projects like lollipop trees, wine racks, and “the world’s most comfortable Adirondack.” George boasts that he has found the perfect proportions in his Adirondack chair – neither too low nor too wide.
I’m a tactile shopper – I run my fingertips over surfaces and around edges as if to get an understanding of the object’s physical essence. George’s art was no exception. I was drawn to his tent by the way the morning light was reflected so evenly on the matte surface of the unstained wood. His pieces felt as soft and warm as they looked. I can easily understand why George was compelled to take up woodcraft in his retirement. He listens to the aromas, colors, and textures of the wood to hear what it wants to become.
“Some want to become a table, some want to become chairs. You have to feel and listen to what the wood wants to do.”
Last, I spoke with Paula Marksbury of Buckhorn Ridge Studios in Athens, Tennessee. Paula specializes in kiln-formed glass works. She started in blown glass in her 20s, and began working as a glass artist fulltime in 2000. Like Joey, her process requires several firings. She uses dichroic glass that is particularly eye-catching in the way it scatters light using two or more colors. She achieves this result by layering the glass three times. The first fire melds hand-cut pieces of glass together; the second fire is used to create texture and expand on the depth started in the first; and the last fire gives the glass its final shape. After the glass has cooled, Paula typically frames the piece in wood or copper of an organic shape.
I was fascinated to learn that the dichroic glass Paula uses was originally developed by NASA. Apparently, this glass is the most reflective type of glass because it uses gold and silver flakes, as well as other metalloids. NASA used the glass in its space shuttle programs to make reflective shields, but eventually switched media because the glass is very expensive. Paula used to go to a manufacturer for her materials but now has her supplies trucked in wholesale from Denver.
Each artist I spoke with differed wildly in their trade but together they shared a common bond: their art and philosophies are influenced directly by nature. Against the backdrop of the mountains, Hendersonville felt invigorated by the crisp air and the vitality of people whose life centers on creation.