Welcome to the July/August Issue of Verve
A record crowd of some 625 women—many of them carrying fabulous purses—turned out in June for the Power of the Purse, the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina’s annual fundraising luncheon at the Grove Park Inn. Human rights activist Nontombi Naomi Tutu, who grew up in South Africa and whose father, archbishop Desmond Tutu, famously battled apartheid there, spoke about women’s roles in societies around the world. Tutu, a single mother of three who lives in Nashville, recently taught courses on modern Africa and gender at Brevard College. At the luncheon, the Community Foundation auctioned off 34 art objects, including works by local artists. Asheville artist Wendy Whitson’s painting, Among Flowers, sold for $5,200, putting the foundation over the $1 million mark in raising funds for women’s causes in Western North Carolina. The foundation’s Women for Women fund announced $280,000 in new grants to Children First, Planned Parenthood and the Western North Carolina AIDS Project.
by Jess McCuan / portrait by Steve Mann
To get hired, they carry a 45-pound pack three miles, hoist chainsaws and other heavy tools off a truck, climb a 75-foot ladder, and drag a dummy that weighs 170 pounds—more than most women on the force weigh themselves.
On the Asheville Fire and Rescue Department force of 227, there are 13 women, so they rarely get a chance to work together. “The [women] have to have a little bit tougher skin,” says public information officer Kelley Webb. “You’re basically living with a bunch of guys.”
The department is recruiting women, but the gig can be a tough sell: try starting a job working dangerous 24-hour shifts and riding on the back of a speeding truck. Sure, you get days off, but childcare can be difficult. “Being away from my kid that long—it’s hard when he gets in from school. He knows I have to be here until the next day,” says Joy Ponder, a 35-year-old North Asheville lieutenant. Engineer Charley Cox, 33, says she loves being a firefighter but misses her four-month-old daughter, Soren. “I had no complaints until I had a daughter,” she says.
Still, the rewards are many. How cool is it to save lives and ride (or drive) a big powerful truck? Ruth Olson, a 45-year-old engineer, says her daughters love it. “They like it that I’m a fireman. They tell me it makes them feel really safe.”
photos by Hannah Huff
Laura Ann Edmonds spends her days telling stories to children in the quiet surroundings of an Asheville public library. But come darkness, another character emerges, one that might live in a gothic novel on the library’s bookshelves: Lulu, a wild and dramatic performer who spins a fire baton and whirls a flaming hula hoop.
by Joanne O’Sullivan
photos by Steve Mann
Artists tend to get poetic when describing works in encaustic, a technique that combines heated beeswax and pigment to create a surface that simultaneously filters and reflects light. “Encaustic doesn’t need to be lit,” says River Arts District painter and sculptor Constance Williams. “It creates its own light source.”
“Encaustic pieces glow with an inner radiance,” she continues. “The sheen of the surface begs to be explored by hand.” Williams and fellow Asheville artists Celia Gray and Nicole McConville are among a growing number of artists who have worked in a variety of media and are experimenting with encaustic to brilliant effect.
by Laura Miklowitz
Ready to steam up your reading glasses? These summertime diversions, works of fiction and fantasy by Western North Carolina authors, will no doubt entice and engage. It all boils down to love: passionate love, lost love, unrequited love, love of the land, the love sisters share, love from the beyond, interspecies love (yikes) and the ever-elusive Perfect Love. If you’ve got love on your mind—or would like to—read on.
by Kirsten Getz
photo by Brent Fleury
It’s one of Asheville’s oldest clubs, which seems appropriate for a club about ancient things. In 1945, two Asheville women, Beulah Harrison and Ava Keener, took a train to the New York City Winter Antiques Show. They decided afterwards that Asheville’s antiques scene could use some serious spicing up, mainly through serious study. Harrison and Keener gathered ten friends and formed the Vetust Study Club (“vetust” means “ancient”) to learn about and appreciate antiques. “A lot of people don’t know what an antique is,” says the club’s current vice-president, Mary Anne Warlick. “They don’t know that it has to be 100 years old.” After 63 years, the club still meets once a month for tea and study.
by Janet Hurley
photos by Brent Fleury
The fire just wouldn’t catch, though it was a blazing hot July day. Nancy Brown, then 44, and her teenage son, Joel, had just gathered fallen apple tree branches into a pile on her 17 acres, now known as Full Moon Farm, outside Black Mountain. They just wanted to be done with the chore so they could move on to others, like caring for the 12 neglected wolfdogs Brown had recently taken in. Brown fetched a can of kerosene and soaked the branches. It seemed like a good idea. But the humidity hung in the air like a rug, trapping the kerosene fumes. Just the hint of a spark caused an explosion that left Brown with second- and third-degree burns all over her body. While her son biked to the end of the drive to get help, Brown says, “I was trying to keep from going into shock. I got in the shower, I had skin and hair falling off me and I heard my mother’s voice: Nancy, you’re stronger than the pain and you don’t have time for bullshit.”
by Margaret Williams
photo by Matt Rose
You might never guess that Anne Ponder, a tall, poised woman who seems ageless (but is actually 58), wrote her dissertation on film adaptations of detective fiction. The Asheville native spent hours lost in the classics of the genre, such as Chandler’s The Maltese Falcon and Hammett’s The Big Sleep. These days, she hasn’t been to a movie for at least a year. “I’m challenged in the fun department,” Ponder jokes. “Being chancellor…can take the entirety of one’s energy.”
Around 23 percent of university presidents were female in 2006, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. In the 200-year history of the North Carolina public university system, Ponder is just the seventh female chancellor in the state and the second to take the helm at UNC-Asheville (former UNCA Chancellor Patsy Reed was the fourth in the state). Known for her dedication to liberal arts programs and her ability to fundraise and find other valuable resources, Ponder, previously the president of Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire, took office in the fall of 2005. Criticized by some for staff changes in her first year, she has been working on UNC-Asheville’s long-range plans and its place in the community at large.
by Margaret Williams
photos by Maggie West
Kelly Davis makes people cry. She claims it’s the volatile oils in the seeds she grinds for Lusty Monk mustard. Friends and customers, with tears in their eyes, sometimes plead mercy and ask her to mix a milder mustard. But mild simply isn’t in her mustard-making repertoire.
The 46-year-old sends everyone home with jars of mustard, along with bumper stickers that read, “Spread the lust” and “Party like it’s 999.” Davis is a self-described “Navy brat” who lived all over the place, earned a bachelor’s degree in history at Western Carolina University, studies Latin for fun so she can translate the first-ever beer book (De Cerivisia) from its medieval Latin to English and plays single mom to two teenagers.