Our Artists’ Creative Sparks

Everyone has an interesting story to tell.

A few of our artists share memories of how they became the creatives they are today.
Please contact any of our talented artists that spark your interest.

As a kid I loved craft, everything from coloring books to making lanyards and potholders. I started work as a secretary in the garment district but became totally enchanted when I passed by the design studio. That was it for me: colors and patterns galore. I never went to school for this, I was just led there by my strong desire to work with color. Miraculously I was hired as a colorist, working my way up to VP of Design. That job was all about colors and patterns for printed fabric. When I retired, I bought a loom so I could create colors from the inside out as weaving can do. I figured out how to weave trims for decorators, started a business over 20 years ago which I sold to one of my weavers and is still going strong. Now I primarily dye silks, cottons, linens and felt unique designs on silk.

Judy Ott

When I was 18 my grandmother gave me her enameling kiln and all her enameling supplies. I enrolled in a two-week class at Penland School of Craft for enameling and jewelry making. This class changed my life. I had never spent time so wonderfully making things, making REAL things. I knew I had found what I wanted to do forever. I thought I should finish my undergrad degree at Warren Wilson College, so I made a jewelry studio in the basement of the English building and made jewelry while earning my BA. I‘ve been making jewelry ever since.

Joanna Gollberg

Like many artists I turn to nature for inspiration as it always presents with perfect colors, movement, and sounds. As an adult I have worked and lived for stretches outdoors and even worked in Antarctica. While studying forestry in the late 1970’s, I took a class in sustainable energy production because protecting our environment has been an interest and passion since my early teens. Working with wool felt is a clear winner for me as a sustainable, non-polluting medium.

Susan Codega

Street Creature Puppet Collective started 10 years ago with a group of friends in a living room. We all loved the process of community art making and wanted to bring more parade arts to Asheville. We began making things out of cardboard, paste, and paint and developed a focus on celebrating local ecology. Early on we made a 10′ long salamander and a stilt-walking French Broad River spirit. We are all volunteers from a wide range of backgrounds and make decisions collectively. We continue to add to our menagerie of creatures: a 20′ long monarch caterpillar, a flock of crows, a school of trout, a blue heron lantern puppet. We also make mythical creatures like the huge red dragon lantern puppet that made her first flight at the May LEAF festival. We bring our creatures to public and private events year-round including the Asheville Mardi Gras, Blue Ridge Pride, the Holiday parade, WNC Nature Center, the Marshall Mermaid parade and more. During the studio tour, we will show and sell small versions of some of our big puppets and masks, made of paper mache, willow and paper, fabric, and upcycled materials.

Gail Snowdon

My artworks explore materials that reflect my perception of the world around me. The way trees react to stress in their environment is often a starting point for my work, using found bits of wood whose shapes and properties are a reaction to that stress. I use found rocks to faceted gems, silver and copper metals, and occasionally gold, bronze, brass, or steel. Themes in my small sculptures and jewelry are the relationships between value, permanence, and beauty. I highlight what might be a small natural thing and let it carry a piece, I consider where the beauty and/or value of the piece lies, an important question today.

Cathy Stryker

I spent most of my career in front of an audience, including the last 18 years as a touring, performing, and teaching artist. Before that, I ran a gallery in a very small town— a different sort of audience. And before that, there was a traveling circus in Germany, and in my younger days, I busked on the streets of Europe. I became a bit road weary after a while, and weary of the energy that’s required to hold a live audience. Still, the immediacy of interaction between performer and audience fueled, delighted, and inspired me to keep going. Studio work is different. Lately, as my artwork has gained greater attention, I have been thinking about the similarities and differences between being on stage and creating in my studio. The immediate vs the contemplative, music vs silence, applause vs solitary creation. My audience now appears after I finish a work. Creating with encaustic paint and monotype printmaking sometimes feels like improv theater with all its risk and surprises. I hope that my performative creative energy is experienced by the viewer when looking at my work. So far, nobody has burst into applause in my gallery, but perhaps they are clapping on the inside when they find a piece that resonates.

Susana Abel

I was the hobby kid of the neighborhood, building balsa wood airplanes, boats, tree forts, and bike and skateboard ramps. I always used my hands to build something. I won 1st or 2nd place in all the school art shows until 6th grade, when my school no longer offered art. Since I couldn’t draw realistically, I thought I wasn’t good at art. I stopped and never looked back until college. First year in college I walked into a friend’s dorm room and asked what that color blob was on his desk. He said glass blowing which was really cool, and I should try it. I went to Penland each summer during college to learn techniques to practice during the school year. I got an MFA and was coordinator of Penland’s glass studio for 5 years and have run my own studio for 29 years. I just lucked into glass and still find it to be challenging and fun.

Joe Nielander

I started making objects in grade school. In junior high I took wood shop and in high school wood carving. The forms I work with and the way I approach surfaces started then, with some of those intuitive forms and techniques still present in my artwork. I learned to stack clay forms in college, something I still do in my artwork. While in college I spent all my spare time in the clay studio and decided to be a ceramist instead of a lawyer, adding art studies to my philosophy degree. Over time I realized it was important for me that I could, and should, add content to my work. I continually work to see what I don’t yet see clearly.  

Robert Milnes

I have created art all my life. My career focused on education and counseling, but I have always engaged in artistic endeavors. Not many people in my artistic world know that I have a Ph.D. in Health Education and worked as health and wellness coach, consultant, and addictions counselor. I always found it interesting and helpful to encourage artistic expression when working with clients and found the response to be positive.  After moving to Asheville, I began focusing on working with clay and took classes in the River Arts District and at John C. Campbell Folk School. My interest in developing skills with other media led me to study painting, blacksmithing, wood turning, jewelry making, and “snake stick” design. I am living my dream as an evolving artist expressing and letting my imagination guide me.

Susan Query

In my late 20’s while camping, I met an elderly woman who sold ceramics at the park lodge. She was known as “Muddy Boots” because she used clay she dug from a creek near her home. That led me to take my first pottery class. I knew I was hooked. Life and career intervened, but in retirement, I was able to act on my interest in pottery. I never thought I could create art: I don’t sing, play music, paint, or write poetry, now it is my passion, creating form and color in unexpected ways, using nature as inspiration. 

Kathy Mack 

I come from a family of business people, so when I decided to switch my college major from business to fine art, it came as a shock. I got a BFA in photographic design and started a career as a commercial photographer. While my commercial work has been my livelihood, I have long created my own fine art projects in the background, working to go beyond the framed photographic print. I collaborated with an artist who works with steel to create ways to display photos with magnets and metal, learned stained glass to feature transparent images, and experimented with stop motion films and projections. When I discovered encaustics, I felt that I’d finally found the avenue of expression I’d be looking for. Encaustic wax allows me to create collages with the portraits and nature images I loved, and, somewhat to my surprise, this medium has led me to stretch myself creatively by using the wax as paint. I’ve never enjoyed “working” as much as I do now. My interest in portraiture is as strong as it’s ever been, but I now spend time in my home studio working in a new way, with the imagery that has long been so important to me.

Lynne Harty

With my father in the printing business and my aunt a portrait artist, art entered my life early. I was drawn to many art forms over the years, pastels, calligraphy, quilting, silk screen, fabric design, creating and directing plays, painting theater scenery, acting, murals, and stained glass. Today, Impressionist style with small steps towards abstract, inspire my interest in bright and bold brushstrokes, Creating with wow color, not details, and focusing on spirit of place, my marks are messy yet confident.

Pat Barratt

When I was seven, our horse stables used clay poultice for the racer’s legs. Still too young to race the Thoroughbreds that Dad trained, I was assigned ‘poultice mixer’ for our grooms. One summer, with the extra clay my younger sister and I molded figurines and small tea bowls for her dolls. Once, setting them out on the barn’s railing to sun-harden, a woman asked if they were coil and pinch pots? I had no clue about those terms, answering, “No, these are snake pots and thumb bowls.” I guess I have always had a bent for the self-taught.

George Handy

The act of creating settles my soul and brings joy. I discovered that in middle school art class, my retreat from a rocky childhood. I was the first in my family to attend college, setting set my sights on the Atlanta College of Art. I decided to continue with culinary arts, a skill learned while working during college. After 30+ years of kitchen stress, I decided to commit more time to art. Trying to live lightly upon the earth, and finding the freedom to take risks since I am not wasting material, I decided to create art digitally. My pieces are then locally printed on high quality canvas or watercolor paper.

Kim Austin

I started creating at the age of 11 when I learned how to use a sewing machine to make my own clothing. I loved the act of creation as well as the enjoyment of the final product. I dabbled in other art forms as well, but it was the discovery of Photography, that really ignited my artistic spirit. I love nature and the pleasure of photographing not just what my eyes see, but what my heart feels. I love going beyond what we call the documentary image, to the expressive image, asking myself how I can best reveal the essence of the scene I am exploring.  That essence might get expressed as a close-up image, as a multiple exposure, or as an abstract image.  It could be expressed in reflections, or in the capture of beautiful light.  The image has to have holding power- one I would want to look at, again and again. I shamelessly hope that people who see my photography will ask, not only what is this about, but how does this make me feel?

Bonnie Cooper

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