A “war chief” takes the reigns of troubled Handmade in America.
by Jess McCuan . photo by Matt Rose
Yes, she’s a craft artist. But in this case, she also needs to be a bit of a clean-up artist. That’s because Gwynne Rukenbrod is the new executive director of Handmade in America, an 18-year-old Asheville arts organization that has been in freefall since last January, when its executive director, Geraldine Plato, was abruptly fired. Plato had spent only two years on the job. She took over from the group’s founding director, Becky Anderson, who—with the help of some 300 other Western North Carolinians in the early ‘90s—created an organization that celebrates the making of handmade objects (and measures crafters’ economic impact) in the region.
To say that the nonprofit is at a crossroads would be an understatement. A crisis is more like it, says Rukenbrod, a petite, outspoken 39-year-old who’s a trained glassblower and moved here after a two-year stint as craft curator at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft in Texas. Handmade, like nonprofits around the country, has not had an easy time fundraising recently, as the recession has put a squeeze on state and local arts grants and donors and foundations have tightened their pursestrings. Just a few days before she became director, Rukenbrod says, the organization learned that it would lose a multi-year, $495,000 grant.
Novelists, doctors, jazz singers and banjo pickers. VERVE picks the 10 most fascinating women in WNC history.
by Katy Nelson
March is Women’s History Month. That gave us an excellent excuse to delve into Asheville-area archives for a little research project of our own. We were looking to compile a list of the most fascinating women in Western North Carolina history.
We had a few in mind at the start—like author Wilma Dykeman, considered by many to be the voice of Appalachia—or North Carolina’s first female legislator, Lillian Exum Clement Stafford. Then, after spending a few hours in the library, we found Samantha Bumgarner, one of the first people in the country to record banjo music, and Thelma Caldwell, the first African American woman to become executive director of a YWCA in the South. On our hunt, we reached out to historians, librarians and people who knew the ladies we chose. Some cheeky librarians at Western Carolina University nominated two murderers (we’re saving them for a future story).
The original plan was to honor three women, but we ended up with ten. Who’s on your list?
(*but she loves old patterns)
Kate Mathews admired Folkwear Patterns for decades. Then, she had a chance to buy it off the auction block.
by Jess McCuan . photos by Matt Rose
Folkwear Patterns is a business based on nostalgia. Kate Mathews, its owner, has no problem admitting that. First, to be able to use a Folkwear pattern, you must know how to sew—which is, in itself, old-fashioned enough. Then, you should be interested in an outfit with a degree of authenticity—not one that’s simply inspired by a costume or dress but cut from that garment’s pattern. Let’s say, for example, that you want to create a prairie dress, the kind an American pioneer woman might have worn in the 19th century. You could do it with Folkwear pattern #201, which gives you the precise template for a long, ruffly embroidered get-up that just screams Laura Ingalls Wilder. Or perhaps you want an authentic Edwardian Bridal Gown, complete with leg o’mutton sleeves and a flouncy train. That’s Folkwear pattern #227. “So much of needlework and sewing is passed down through generations,” says Mathews, whose mother made her a Folkwear prairie dress and who made one for her own daughter, Micah. “A business manager would tell me I’m crazy to keep this business open, but I have a passionately devoted, tiny little market.”
But not so gently down the stream. This spring, an Asheville artist’s vessels will appear in craft shows in Boston and Washington. With her tapestries, she “wanted to punch a visual hole in the floor.”
by Ursula Gullow . photo by Matt Rose
There was a time when Heather Allen-Swarttouw was obsessed with color. And you could spot her a mile away. Growing up in rural New Hampshire, she was known for her brightly woven rag rugs and multi-hued wardrobe (both made of items culled mostly from thrift stores). “I had the red shoes, I had the orange shoes, I had everything,” says Allen-Swarttouw, now 48.
When she moved to the Asheville area in 1995, if you didn’t spot her on the street, you’d probably spot one of her bright paintings or rugs in a gallery like Blue Spiral in downtown Asheville, where she’s been showing work for more than a decade. But her work today is so different than in the ‘90s that longtime Asheville art enthusiasts probably wouldn’t even recognize it.
A native of Wilmot, New Hampshire, Allen-Swarttouw graduated with a BFA from the University of New Hampshire and later with an MFA from University of Massachusetts. Her background in painting and sculpture informed the dimensions in her early tapestries—generally, staircases that could spiral to the bottom of the earth. “I wanted to punch a visual hole in the floor,” she says of her early works on cloth.
This time, they get to play too.
by Joanne O’Sullivan . photos by Matt Rose
For a woman who’s into swimming or running, a quick adrenaline fix is just a matter of finding the time. A tennis player? She just needs to find a partner. But for those who play team sports like soccer, it’s not so easy. How do you round up ten people for a friendly little match?
If you’re Molly McMillan, you start pick-up soccer matches. And now, 30 years after she did that, dozens of Asheville-area women are coming out to play.
Once women graduate from college, their options for team sports shrink dramatically. There’s a U.S. Women’s national soccer team and several professional women’s leagues. But even at the highest levels of play, those leagues struggle for sponsorships.
The irreverent crafter and mommy blogger takes a kitschy-cool dress for a spin.
by Mick Kelly . photo by Matt Rose
How to describe Robin Plemmons? Mostly, she takes care of that herself. Her blog is called “Balls to the wall, y’all,” which is a pretty apt summation of the way she lives her life (and normally talks). Perhaps you’ve seen her cards and painted wood blocks at shops around Asheville. If you have, you’d probably remember. Their messages range from the happy and Hallmark-ish (“Life is an occasion. Rise to it.”) to the playfully dirty, like her latest batch of Valentine’s cards. One reads: “Dry humping. Kinda fun. Mostly chafe-y.” Or, the ever-so-straightforward: “Shut up and do me.”
Truly, it seems no topic is off limits for Plemmons. The 32-year-old South Carolina native loves making fart and vagina jokes, especially on Twitter and her blog. She’s only been blogging for a couple years, but so far, the jokes are going over well. At last fall’s Blogapalooza in Asheville, she won awards for Best New Blog, Best Craft Blog and Best Overall Blog. (That last one means she gets to carry a big stick.) A few weeks ago, the Weaverville mom was promoted to Creativity Editor at a group humor site called Aiming Low.
Anita Adams runs a gutter business by day and is a shutterbug at night.
by Joanne O’Sullivan . photo by Matt Rose
As much as we’d all like to be well rounded, most of us tend to favor one side of the brain or the other. Left brainers are more organized, right brainers more creative. We all wistfully long for a little bit more of what the other side has got. Asheville native Anita Adams doesn’t have this problem. A super-organizer who once had her own administrative assistant business, she was snatched up by Gutter Helmet of WNC, a rain gutter protection business, 10 years ago. (The inventor of the Gutter Helmet, MIT grad Bob Demartini, lives in Flat Rock). As general manager, Adams oversees scheduling and gutter installation and supervises a mostly-male staff. In just her first three years, she helped take the company from $250,000 a year in sales to over $1 million.
But at heart, Adams is a creative type. Journaling since age 10, she has experimented with sewing, basket weaving, pottery and collage. “There’s always been a creative element in my life,” she says. Currently, she spends her free time writing, hiking and taking photographs. She’s traveled all over Europe photographing everything from people to landscapes to folk-art objects. At the urging of friends, she’s recently turned her photos into cards and started selling them at Flow Gallery in Marshall. “I have to keep one foot in the art world,” she says.
interview by Jess McCuan . photo by Matt Rose
Name: Cassie Coleman
Any guilty pleasures? In February—it’s only once a year—I go tanning. That is a guilty pleasure. I don’t usually admit that to people. I put on my headphones and pretend I’m at the beach.
What do you do for a living? I’m in transition between wilderness therapy and thinking of going to aesthetician school. Right now, I’m fundraising for Pisgah Center, which will be a new residential therapy center for previously adjudicated youth.
Wow. It’s a nonprofit.
What could Asheville use more of? Jobs and growth.
And less? Bluegrass.
interview by Jess McCuan . photo by Matt Rose
Name: Nancy Kukla
Where do you get your great sense of style? Miami, my hometown.
And what do you do for a living? I’m a clinical nutritionist at the Charles George VA Medical Center. It’s my patriotic duty to take sausage gravy and biscuits away from North Carolina vets—much to their chagrin.
You don’t look like a nutritionist. You look like a movie star. I love the European actresses, like Catherine Deneuve. She’s classically beautiful. My family is from Europe. I go frequently.
Are you ready for spring? Yes. I just moved into a new house in Oakley, which I love. This will be my first four seasons in the new house.
interview by Jess McCuan . photo by Rimas Zailskas
Name: Rachel Austin
What do you do for a living? I’m a social worker at Mainstay, a women’s shelter in Hendersonville. I’m also a grad student in sociology at UNC-Charlotte. I commute to Charlotte twice a week.
What do you do on that long commute? I listen to the radio and decompress from the workday. Also, I smoke a whole pack of cigarettes.
Where did you get your knit sweater? I like anything loose. It’s not even mine. I found it in my office when I moved in.
And what do you think happened in it before you picked it up? I think the person who had it before me was a children’s counselor, so probably a lot of play therapy.
Do you always find clothes and start wearing them? I hate to shop, and I don’t generally like clothes. Yeah, I wear clothes that people give me and that I find. I call it poverty chic.
Our in-house “love doctor” offers up bits of dating wisdom.
by Susan Reinhardt . photo by Rimas Zailskas
Dating in one’s 20s is pretty easy. You go out, decide he’s not for you and then dump the poor fellow as if he were an empty McDonald’s bag.
But when you reach your 30s and 40s, it’s not that simple. We analyze, ponder and think things over seriously before ditching a dude that may—if we dig deep enough—have some potential. Love at this age isn’t as disposable as a Bic lighter. We keep clicking, hoping a flame will rise.
Q: A man in Weaverville writes: At 40 years old and dating again, it has become clear we all have our wounds.You meet someone, you click, you want more and they become indifferent. So you meet someone else, and then the first person comes back with intent. What do you do?
Wondering in Weaverville
Ginger Huebner’s Roots and Wings school is one of Asheville’s only visual arts preschools.
by Janet Hurley . photo by Matt Rose
Ginger Huebner has always been the black sheep of her family. Not that she’s done anything bad. It’s just that she’s an artist. Worse, she spent five years getting a degree in architecture from Virginia Tech, had a good job in Seattle where she’d moved with husband and fellow architect, Scott Huebner, and then quit. To make art. Crazy. But for Huebner, now 35 and the owner of Roots and Wings School of Art, what’s crazy is that art isn’t infused more fully into everyone’s life. Through her two-year-old visual arts pre-school, the Orlando native has now made that her mission.
It’s a calling that has required many leaps—in confidence and locale. After leaving architecture, Huebner taught art in an after-school program, which she’d never done. She applied to teach art at a private school, despite having no certifications. After a year, Huebner says, her life path was clear.
It’s Women’s History Month. At these local events, see how history was made.
by Mick Kelly
This month, it’s time to thank our Susan B. Anthonys and Elizabeth Cady Stantons. It was those early feminists, abolitionists and suffragettes who fought for the rights women have today. And while you could sit at home and study up on women’s history alone, we say: bring history to life. Head out to one of these thought-provoking events with other women (or cool men).
Our top pick this month is a screening, on March 5, of the 2004 film Iron Jawed Angels, which examines Alice Paul’s and Lucy Burns’ contributions to the women’s suffrage movement. The movie, by German director Katja von Garnier, stars Hilary Swank, Anjelica Huston and Julia Ormond as suffragettes, and it sheds light on aspects of the movement that most of us didn’t hear about in high school history class. The League of Women Voters of Asheville and Buncombe County is hosting the free screening, to be held at the Asheville YWCA.
Next month, Kathy Millar is taking seventh and eighth graders to Cambodia.
by Janet Hurley . photo by Matt Rose
Kathy Millar can’t wait to see her students’ faces when they walk through a marketplace in Siem Reap, Cambodia, or a temple in Angkor. “The trajectory of their lives will be changed,” says Millar, who teaches language arts to seventh and eighth graders at Asheville’s Evergreen Community Charter School. “There’s so much learning about the world that just can’t come from a book.”
Next month, Millar, 44, and fellow Evergreen teacher Jason Carter will lead six of their students around Cambodia for ten days through PEPY Tours, a unique educational tour company with the motto: “adventurous living, responsible giving.” (PEPY stands for Protect the Earth, Protect Yourself.)
Evergreen has always had an expeditionary learning model and environmental education focus. That’s what inspired Millar, in 2009, to move from Utah for her current position. A Michigan native, Millar had spent the previous ten years teaching in similarly progressive schools, where she started campaigns for causes like cancer research. Last year, she started a similar program at Evergreen, Hope for Kenya. Students learn about clean water issues in the African nation and raised some $3,000 to support new well construction.
Whatever you do, don’t take Women’s History Month for granted.
Yes, it’s one of those forced calendar holidays that people often forget about. But the fact that March is Women’s History Month is remarkable for many reasons. First, the women who lobbied for the federal designation in the 1980s were an interesting bunch. Molly Murphy MacGregor, a former high school social studies teacher, rallied a group of feminists and educators in Santa Rosa, California, to talk about why less than three percent of their history textbooks were devoted to content about women. They lobbied Congress in 1980 to make one week in March National Women’s History Week. By 1987, they had convinced Congress and the Reagan administration to make it a whole month. Now, their nonprofit National Women’s History Project aims to teach as many people as possible about women’s roles in history.