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Asheville's River Arts District is in style



8/18/2011 - Asheville's River Arts District is in style
by Carol Motsinger - Asheville Citizen Times

THE NEIGHOBORHOODS and districts of Asheville maintain space for creativity and diversity here in the Mountains of Western North Carolina!  This great article about upstart business in the River Arts District is just one example of the support system for small entrepreneurs in our area.


Two exhibits highlight the works of fashion designers in Asheville's creativity-rich River Arts District

           ASHEVILLE -- The burgeoning River Arts District has been a creative hub in fashion for about a decade. But this month, two exhibits are presenting RAD as fashionable in another sense.

 Pump Gallery in the Phil Mechanic Studio Building is hosting "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden," a show featuring clothing designs from Moe Donnelly and paintings from Hannah Dansie. 

Nearby at The Artery, the Asheville Area Arts Council's space in Pink Dog Creative, designers Stina Andersen and Kristina Benshoff collaborated for the exhibit "Immersion: A Fashionable Experience."

"Immersion," featuring fashions and photography, and the Pump Gallery show will be up through Aug. 30.

These simultaneous fashion exhibits, which Donnelly described as a "planning accident," celebrate the clothing and accessory designs that are being produced every day in the River Arts District.

In this watershed and waterfront neighborhood, fashion means everything --from Elise Olson's dainty and detailed lingerie, made in the Phil Mechanic Studios, to Barbara Zaretsky's bold wearable fiber art, made in the Cotton Mills Studios on Riverside Drive.

But fashion remains more of an under-the-radar element of the River Arts studios -- at least within Asheville, said clothing designer Pattiy Torno, who founded Curve Studios and Gardens on Riverside Drive in 1989.

She sells her skirts, tops, dresses, hat and scarves out of her studio space in Curve and pioneered Asheville fashion with her Tornado Clothing Co. in 1984.

"I would say the story isn't really being told in Asheville, but it's being told elsewhere," Torno said, noting that Olson was recently featured in Southern Living magazine.

"I think the beauty of the River Arts District is that you have a community where there are people with machines, fabric and customer bases all over the place," Torno said of why fashion design is flourishing in the district.

"It's good for designers to have that critical mass. ... It makes sort of a nexus for sharing resources and having someone to talk to that speaks the same language. That's good no matter what your form is."

Inspired by Ophelia

Andersen and Benshoff have been sharing studio space in The Wedge on Roberts Street for about a year.

"I'm very inspired by everyone," she said. "Being in The Wedge, I'm inspired by the artists around me. I feel like everyone is very supportive."

In "Immersion," Benshoff was inspired by the tragic noblewoman Ophelia from Shakespeare's "Hamlet."

"I was intrigued by her and how she was very ephemeral and in love in the beginning but then went mad and was exhibiting signs of death in the end."

She references Ophelia's drowning death by incorporating printed material with digital images of water and flowers, as well as hand-sewn black leather roses added to some pieces.

Andersen also used fabric with digital prints, a technique she learned at Penland School of Crafts.

"All of the designs have some kind of print that is digitally designed," Andersen said. "They are mostly details of nature, like bark." She took pictures of the natural landscape in Tennessee early this spring.

In "Immersions," photographs also tell the story of what it takes to produce a piece, from the patterns to the final product modeled by the client in a portrait.

"I think people don't realize how much work goes into creating a collection," Benshoff said, noting some of the more complex garments will take as much as 100 hours to complete.

Rugged functionality

Donnelly's line, SewMoe, is also inspired by nature, but in a much mo re indirect way.

Her interest in the natural world originally drew her to Asheville seven years ago. A Greensboro native, she moved to this area with the hope of pursuing a career in research through her college major, environmental science.

When she needs creative inspiration, she'll go out into the woods and discover ideas for pleating design in organic shapes and patterns.

In the Pump Gallery show, her jackets, skirts and dresses are aptly surrounded by jagged pine trees on the walls and as free-standing cut-outs.

Donnelly is a self-taught seamstress who first started making clothes for herself in high school. Now, she spends most of her week making pieces known for blending fancy features with rugged functionality in the Phil Mechanic studio she shares with Dansie. These items mainly sell online and are shipped to customers as far away as Australia and Canada.

She still works two days a week at Earthfare but would like to focus on full-time designing.

Andersen and Benshoff also balance designing with other jobs: They met through their jobs at Open Hearts Art Center. Andersen also teaches sewing classes and does clothing alterations.

"It's a slow transition to doing just my own work," she said of her six-year-old career path in Asheville.

Since moving to Asheville, Andersen has noticed that fellow designers are refining their visions and hone in on a variety of styles.

"I really like making art accessible," she said, noting that her creative background is in sculpture and fiber arts.

"(Fashion) is such an easy way to express yourself. So many people have personal styles here. My motto is that every woman wants a dress that no one else has."

Original, homespun fashion, in a way, has to be one-of-a-kind, Torno said. "It's one of a kind because it's based on whatever fabric any of us can get our hands on."

"Asheville style is the opposite of cookie-cutter," she said. "It's hand-rolled."

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