Switching Gears

Soapmaker works up a lather leading international bike tours

By Melanie McGee Bianchi

Despite being a hardcore outdoorswoman who, in her twenties, lived for years in Alaska with no electricity or running water, flaxen-haired Kimberly Masters looks wholesome and fresh-faced. It’s the ideal look for a soapmaker, really. 

Her full-time company sells “soap by the slice” in regional and national markets, including in the gift shops of the Biltmore Estate and the N.C. Arboretum, and in various other scenic locales: Alta, Utah; Fort Collins, Colorado; Sausalito, California; and the upper peninsula of Michigan. 

Masters makes lotions, body washes, and lip balms, too. But it’s the bar soap that distinguishes her business. Vivid as sea glass, the slices are colored by cosmetic-grade natural pigments, such as ultramarine, gold and silver mica, and cobalt. Deep experimentation — what Masters calls “an awesome chemistry project” — achieves the look. 

The soap is offered in an array of 50 mixed scents: some popular ones are lavender mint, coconut verbena, white tea and ginger, and Thai lemongrass. All bars are embellished with abstract flourishes or figurative designs. Among the latter are a popular dragonfly motif inside a lavender slice, and a bar with lavishly coiled red-and-white ribbons that nails a candy-cane look for the holidays. 

Many designs actually protrude from the bar. “It’s going beyond the square,” explains Masters — actually outside the box. She has a commission agreement with the Philadelphia Museum of Art to make soaps that correspond with the venue’s exhibitions, including a recent series inspired by the famous Gee’s Bend quilters.

It all happens in one room in her heavenly-smelling West Asheville bungalow. 

Nevertheless, this double entrepreneur gets grubby on a regular basis. Masters leads multi-sport bike tours for women, everywhere from the Yukon Territory to the Himalayas of Bhutan. Martha’s Vineyard, New York State’s Finger Lakes, and Western North Carolina’s own mountains are other beautiful, if less wild, touring locales. (The groups typically bunk down in bed-and-breakfasts at night.)

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Posted on Friday, September 28, 2012 at 04:14PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment

Hot Opportunity

Local scientist will travel to Switzerland to present breaking news on climate change 

By Tracy Rose
Photography by Rimas Zailskas

Illustration by Naomi Johnson

When Ahira Sánchez-Lugo was growing up in Puerto Rico, the prospect of a hurricane approaching the island filled her not with dread — but excitement.

 “For me, being young, I always thought they were fun,” she says, recalling how she got to stay home from school and help her family prepare their home for the impending deluge. “For most kids, they live in a bubble. They are not aware … of potential destruction, how people are suffering.”

Then there were the storms themselves.

“Just listening to the power, to the rain, the wind, I just thought that was amazing. So I guess from a young age I was really interested in meteorology and weather events.” 

Now a climatologist with the Climate Monitoring Branch of The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, Sánchez-Lugo has a more seasoned perspective on hurricanes and their terrible powers of destruction — and hopes someday to use her professional training to help people better prepare for the massive storms.

Though she outgrew her teenage dream of becoming a storm chaser, her fascination with the weather remained — leading her from her hometown of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, to her adopted home in Western North Carolina, with stops in the Canary Islands, Hawaii, South Korea, and, next month, Switzerland. 

“I feel really lucky,” she says. “I feel like working here, not only have I learned so much, but I’ve been given so many opportunities. I am truly grateful for that.”


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Posted on Friday, September 28, 2012 at 04:04PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment | References5 References

Under Wraps

Local designer makes a triple debut with fine-art sweater coats

By Melanie McGee Bianchi
Photography by Matt Rose

When it comes to modern communication methods, Patte Vanden Berg dwells so far off the grid she might as well be living in a thatched-roof hut. Actually, the glass-artist-turned-fashion-designer resides in a smartly renovated ranch house on a leafy cul-de-sac in West Asheville. The lower level includes a tidy, serene sewing studio. 

But with no website, Facebook page, blog, or even an e-mail address, Vanden Berg relies on reputation alone to get the word out about her theatrical “PatteCoats” — majestic robe-like pieces sewn together from intricate arrangements of recycled sweaters, many of them vintage.

“I get easily overwhelmed by technology. Spending time on the computer would keep me from being in my studio,” she says with a shrug, talking mission and vision over tea in her sunny kitchen. Vanden Berg is measured and thoughtful, a petite woman with wide blue eyes. One gets the feeling she shores up every scrap of concentration to pour into her head-turning creations.

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Posted on Friday, September 28, 2012 at 03:58PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment | References17 References

Speaking Volumes

Bubbly archivist is in charge of goldmines of local history

Story and photos by Naomi Johnson

If you think history is boring, spend an hour on the breezy, third-floor screened porch at the new WNC Regional Archives talking with Heather South, the ebullient new archivist, and you just might change your tune. “I’m a history geek and proud!” says South, with a measure of sass you might not associate with the word “archivist.” 

“People hear archive, they think dusty, musty, tucked away somewhere. But documents can be very powerful. I’ve seen people cry when they find that one document with their ancestor’s signature on it. Our mission is to safeguard that material, preserve it, and make it accessible.”

Located in a freshly restored vintage building on the campus of the Charles George VA Medical Center in Oteen, the Archives will serve as a local home for regionally relevant documents and artifacts that you used to have to drive all the way to Raleigh to view. These include major collections on Black Mountain College, the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Appalachian National Park Association, an early precursor to the National Park Service. 

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Posted on Friday, September 28, 2012 at 03:46PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment

Frisky Business

Hardworking burlesque queen revives alternative figure-drawing classes

By Bridget Conn 
Photos by Matt Rose

On a Thursday night in downtown Asheville, 15 people have gathered on Grove Street for a live figure-drawing session. The eclectic crew includes women in their early sixties sipping red wine, students in their early twenties decked in plaid, and men of various ages industriously prepared with a wide selection of drawing media. The tattooed and dreadlocked model is not nude, as one might expect from such a drawing event, but dons vertical-striped over-the-knee socks, a bright blue corset, and many flirtatious smiles. The event’s host, dressed from head to booted toe in black, announces that this particular pose is a contest. “I am the queen and I will judge this drawing contest. This isn’t one of those democracies. And remember, I like naughty business.”

The sassy black-clad woman is Queen April, a 22-year resident of Asheville and a regional performance artist. When the opportunity to revive the Asheville branch of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School presented itself earlier in 2012, she rose to the call. (Former leader Corky Bordeaux moved out of town, leaving an empty throne.)

Having been involved in the school’s earlier incarnation in 2008 as a DJ and as an occasional model, Queen April understood the unique environment that Dr. Sketchy’s provides for both artists and the local burlesque scene. It took her months of time and research to get it going again. “But after hearing so many questions of whether it was coming back and who was going to head it up, I thought, why not?” 

The subject of naughty business does not particularly mesh with the academic life-drawing classroom. This was exactly the issue that Dr. Sketchy’s founder, Molly Crabapple, found with figure model work. “You were supposed to do it silently and just demonstrate tendons,” Crabapple states. “You weren’t supposed to have an opinion. I wanted to do a session that would celebrate the model.” Soon after she founded Dr. Sketchy’s in 2005 at a Brooklyn dive bar, the event began to spread to cities all over the U.S. It now boasts chapters in 100 cities worldwide, organized by individuals who appreciate a little bit of sexy in their drawing sessions. 

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Posted on Friday, September 28, 2012 at 03:35PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | Comments1 Comment | References14 References
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