Craft Meets Art

Craft Meets Art


Stoney Lamar; Ice Storm Proposition, 2010; Bradford pear, steel, milk paint; 44 x 10 x 8 in. (right, left); 48 x 6 x 3 in. (center); photo: Tim Barnwell

Blue Spiral 1
38 Biltmore Ave.
Asheville, nc 28801
800-291-2513, 828-251-0202

Asheville's Blue Spiral 1 is one of four distinct galleries (and a two-screen art-film house) owned by John Cram. The 15,000-square-foot gallery opened in 1991, and its three levels house Southern fine art and studio craft by 80 to 100 regional artists. We spoke with BS1's gallery director, Jordan Ahlers, to learn more about the gallery's unique approach.

How did the name Blue Spiral 1 originate?
There was a naming party, and the elements were decided collectively by friends. The gallery's name is symbolic: "Spiral" is a circle in motion through time and a metaphor for creativity, "blue" is largely for our proximity to the Blue Ridge Mountains, and "one" was suggested by a friend into numerology, as a balancing element.

What sets Blue Spiral 1 apart from other galleries?
Our space affords us the opportunity to show a range of work that appeals to both casual and serious collectors, making us accessible to divergent aesthetics. We might exhibit traditional pottery by Ben Owen III with contemporary sculpture by Anne Lemanski. We encourage our clients to acquire pieces that inspire or move them, and we consult to pull together even the most eclectic elements.

There's long been debate about the split between art and craft, but at Blue Spiral 1 you've really worked to marry fine art with studio craft in your space. Talk about the decision to purposefully integrate the two.
There are makers today who collectively are pushing the definition of craft and in effect causing a shift in the whole craft paradigm. I see no reason to distinguish between much of it. The gallery has always tried to pair compelling paintings and other 2D work with objects. It makes for a more complete picture of the region's strengths.

Do you think there's a certain quality or aesthetic that defines American craft in the South and distinguishes it from the work of other regions?
It's difficult to qualify the South as a region; it's a sizable area. However, western North Carolina is home to a vibrant craft community. The exchange of ideas and cross-pollination evident in the work here is exciting. Innovative object makers are experimenting with new techniques and materials, propelling and redefining contemporary craft.

With more than 15 shows a year, the gallery really doubles as an exhibition space. What are you looking for as you plan your shows?
We look for harmony between concurrent exhibitions, but also variety. Themes can emerge from the synchronicity of as few as two or three artists who cross our path. John [Cram] might suggest an idea - for example, an exhibition that celebrates mentorship, [a theme] I struggled with at first; then I thought to try a different approach and invite four artists who in turn would invite someone they had mentored. This allowed the original four to give a nod to a promising emerging artist, and the works were really in tune with one another. We are enjoying doing some media-based exhibitions that feature mid-career artists peppered with a few emerging talents, such as the current "Wood Moving Forward" with Stoney Lamar, Philip Moulthrop, Bob Trotman and relative newcomer Dustin Farnsworth.


Elizabeth Ryan is American Craft's interactive editor.