Asheville, NC   Tuesday, May 9, 2006   10:25 AM
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published May 5, 2006 12:15 am

ASHEVILLE — Come to the triangle of Clingman, Lyman and Depot streets in Asheville’s River District and the buzz is deafening.

Not from the train that whistles by every few hours, nor from the whirring machinery in surrounding industrial buildings — but rather the steady hum of a different type of industry coming into its own.


Already known as a creative enclave for artists and their studios, Asheville’s River District goes into overdrive as a new commercial gallery opens, a new business association launches and two new eateries enable visitors and River District locals alike to gather convivially around food and drink.

Moreover, some of the artists have banded together to keep regular hours on Fridays so that people may venture down there more often than during the two studio strolls a year. The inaugural First Fridays at Five (dubbed F3) begins today.

Brain McKook, owner of the warehouse, says this is an idea whose time has come. “Sometimes it’s been a scavenger hunt for people who come down here looking for certain studios they’ve noted on the map, but they get frustrated when they find places closed,” says McCarthy.

River District painter Barb "Fish" Fisher agrees, “B&Bs would send their guests down and they’d complain when no one was open.”

Growing scene

The chatter of the people dining outdoors on a sunny day drifts into the open door of Bella Vista Gallery. Open only a few months, Bella Vista takes center court in the Odyssey building, now composed of studios, a viewing room, and its own gallery once Highwater Clays moved up the river.

Bella Vista joins a small group as fledgling galleries in the River District, known more for its large, unadulterated studio spaces rather than being a tourist attraction open daily for business.

Some artists maintain galleries within their studios, but rarely with regular hours; or they hold special events, such as the Wedge Gallery’s weekend or weeklong exhibitions.

Since the floods of 2004, the River District seems to have rebuilt bigger and better than before. This summer the River District Artists’ new brochure will list more than 50 artists and studios, a serious jump from previous years.

Katrina refugee opens new gallery there, too

Christin Zelenka knows a bit about floods. She lost her home and worldly possessions in Hurricane Katrina. Trained as a painter and framer, she managed the prestigious Carol Robinson Gallery on Magazine Street in New Orleans for 12 years.

Zelenka evacuated with three days worth of clothes and her dogs. All of her paintings slated for a solo exhibition in Alabama were lost in the floods following the hurricane.

After living with family in Maryland for a few weeks, Zelenka and partner Glenn came to the realization that starting anew would be their best plan. As with many, Asheville beckoned … more so when they saw the raw space at Odyssey in the River District.

“Realizing that no matter how sad you are and you grieve, you have to move forward,” says Zelenka, “we simply picked Asheville because we heard it had a great art community.”

The gallery, awash with soft lighting against white walls, sports stone sculpture, abstract paintings and nature pieces, photography and ceramics from artists (regional and from elsewhere in the U.S.) that the owners have met over the years.

While stylish, the gallery doesn’t move too far from its roots of River District cool — a black acrylic floor glistens below, cracks and all, and exposed metal girders and brick work lend the space a certain edginess.

“Even the idea that you can go wash your dog, have lunch, come to a gallery and go visit more artists’ studios is just a great idea — I love that eclectic mix,” says Zelenka, referring to the diversity of the River District.

Constance E. Richards writes about arts for the Citizen-Times. E-mail her at