If you haven't already started your Christmas shopping, your lack of enthusiasm might have more to do with distaste for mass merchandising than with the actual task. But salvation looms on Asheville's grandest street.
This weekend, ten regional artists will gather in a charming Montford Victorian home to host the Third Annual Women Artisans' Holiday Craft Show. This event, which has developed an ardent following, was intentionally designed to offer art connoisseurs an alternative shopping venue while simultaneously providing a unique "salon" experience.
"The reason for the show is to provide support for each other as artists and to let the public meet the artists whose work they purchase," explains painter Gina Canter. The concept of the all-women show originated a decade ago when another group of artists launched the prototype. "But a few years later, the organizers relinquished control of the show to an outside manager," explains Canter. "The event got really big, topping off at about 40 artists, so it was moved to the Civic Center and Broadway Arts. But the growth caused it to lose its personality and intimacy," she believes. "And because only one person was doing all the work, it became so labor-intensive that she finally decided not to have it any more."
But three years ago, local ceramicist Troy Amastar -- one of the participants in the previous incarnation -- resurrected the event, as she sorely missed hosting the annual fete. To test the waters, Amastar staged a one-woman show in 1998. Following her success, she invited five local artists to join her the next year -- and now the number of artists involved has doubled.
However, "we are going to try to limit the participants so that every year, the people who come will know what to expect," Canter says. Among other items, you can expect affordable hand-wrought crafts, contemporary artwork and holiday decorations for sale during this three-day affair.
"Gifts range in price from $2.50 upwards," notes Canter. "It's a perfect place to shop because you are getting something unique, but it won't break your pocket book."
Three of the artisans work in clay: Show founder Troy Amastar specializes in delicate porcelain pieces painted with her signature fish and dragonfly designs. Irene Semanchuck Dean's contributions include functional clocks, mirrors and light-switch plates made of synthetic polymer clay and covered in motifs of outer space, ancient cultures and technology. And Mars Hill potter Beth Herdman adds hand-stamped pottery to the ceramic choices.
In case decking the bod is your seasonal predilection, two fiber artists will be on hand to fulfill your fashion fantasies. Whimsical hats made by Julie Gaunt have a distinct vintage flair, and Sharon Gale's hand-woven batiked cotton garments would enrich any wardrobe. Herbal artist Vicki Baker of Mars Hill designs decorative wreaths crafted from the wildflowers grown on her Madison County farm. Gina Canter does acrylic paintings of Cherokee, Celtic and Appalachian folk legends and will sell prints and greeting cards of the images.
And of course, no Christmas shopping excursion would be complete without glittering baubles. Tracy Hildebrand's unusual glass and silver jewelry, Anaistaisscia Warner's traditionally designed Celtic bracelets and necklaces, and Mariah Wheeler's leather and beaded jewelry complete the medley.
Most of the exhibited artists have had their work displayed around town at venues such as Mystic Eye, Malaprop's, Appalachian Craft, Catawba Gallery in Black Mountain and Weaverville's Dry Ridge Goods. So if you get a sense of deja vu upon entering the show, it might not be coincidental. The event will be held at the home of Lonnie LePore, a transplanted New Yorker and Web-site developer with a penchant for art who likes to farm out his digs for worthy causes.
"I support art and I support women, so it was a logical thing for me to offer my home for their show," says LePore. "I like to be involved in the art world, but am not an artist myself," he explains. LePore also lends his house for other community functions, including weddings and drama classes.
And though art is the show's centerpiece, atmosphere is paramount. While you peruse the goods and chat with artists, live music will provide a festive backdrop to get you in the mood. Piano waltz music by Laurie Fisher and seasonal songs by female a cappella group Solstice are just a sampling of the musical fare; refreshments, including wine and hot cider, will complete the experience.
"Each of us has a vested interest in the show's success," says Canter, adding, for good measure, "putting on a show of this magnitude is a lot of work."