Get Smart!

By Kelly Drake, Erin McWhorter and Jess McCuan

Why let your kids have all the fun? Now that they’re back in school, it’s time for moms (and everyone else) to hit the books. We kept working women in mind and looked for the best fall classes for non-traditional students with limited time and funds. For example, a two-month class on heroes and villains in movies or a two-week class on how to sell your house. Want to get smart quick? Read on.

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Posted on Friday, August 27, 2010 at 09:36PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment | References40 References

Field of Dreams

She founded a nonprofit at 22. Now, Anna Littman is going back to the land.

by Melanie McGee Bianchi . photos by Naomi Johnson

Anna Littman’s face is markedly heart shaped. It’s the first thing you notice, before you see her feline eyes and feel her wiry energy, and it’s fun to think that her altruism started there, as an inevitable extension of her earnest, angelic appearance.

But that would belie the decade of hard labor she poured into her nonprofit Arts For Life, a hospital-based creative outlet for seriously ill children, which she started when she was just 22. Perhaps worse, at least in Littman’s eyes, it might diminish the influence other people have had on her projects. She grew up on the Ballard Branch land trust in Weaverville, a communally-owned 90-acre nature preserve and agriculture operation. “If there’s one thing I learned, it’s that you need community to accomplish anything,” she says. “I have no illusions about having gotten anywhere without help.”

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Posted on Friday, August 27, 2010 at 09:33PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment

One for the Books

Asheville’s biggest bookmaking bash is coming up later this month.

by Ursula Gullow . photo by Matt Rose

She wanted to live by the book, and Asheville spoke volumes to Jessica White. “I was looking for a community of bookmakers,” says White, a 36-year-old book artist who moved to Asheville from Iowa last August. Even before she moved, she had heard about BookOpolis, the annual handmade book extravaganza hosted by BookWorks in West Asheville. So when she got to town, she called up BookWorks to see how she could get involved.

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Posted on Friday, August 27, 2010 at 09:31PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment | References16 References

A Fresh Face

Meet Celeste Gray, the foodie entrepreneur who’s bringing a new film fest to Asheville.

story and photo by Naomi Johnson

Five years ago, when Celeste Gray was getting into the business of renovating houses and restaurants, people asked her if she had a degree in design. “I’d tell them no, I didn’t have any experience—I just decided this was what I wanted to do and did it. That’s my personality.” These days, the 38-year-old is bringing that same brand of decisiveness to Asheville’s food scene as the driving force behind the organization Fresh Asheville. Its first big event, the Asheville Food and Environmental Film Festival, will be held later this month at UNCA and other venues around town. Its centerpiece: Fresh, a movie that changed Gray’s life.

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Posted on Friday, August 27, 2010 at 09:29PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | Comments1 Comment

Steeling the Show

Once a janitor, now an “art welder.” Catherine Murphy forged a path from construction materials to butterflies.

by Erin McWhorter . photos by Matt Rose

In her 20s, Catherine Murphy was a college dropout who learned to weld. In her 30s, she rode a Harley Davidson and sold welding supplies. In her 40s, she became a full-time copper art welder and created the Haw Creek Forge. Now, in her 50s, Murphy is forging a new path for herself and her 19-year business.

At her janitorial job with Clark Equipment Company in Skyland in 1977, where she went to work after leaving Appalachian State University, Murphy became intrigued by the sparks and smells of welding. Soon after, she attended Blue Ridge Community College, and later, Hope Arts School of Welding Technology in Troy, Ohio. The Virginia native spent part of her childhood in Hendersonville, and she moved back to the area in the late ‘80s.

But somewhere along the way, Murphy discovered welding couldn’t be her life-long pursuit. At her first construction job at a paper mill in Mansfield, Louisiana, she met an older woman worn ragged from the heat and heights of rugged welding work. She remembers thinking, “‘I love what I’m doing, but I don’t want to be her. I don’t want to be doing this when I’m 50.”

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Posted on Friday, August 27, 2010 at 09:27PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment | References11 References

Goods and Plenty

A San Francisco seamstress turns a 1940s dry goods shop into a West Asheville craft hub.

by Jess McCuan . photos by Jameykay Young

She fell in love with the building first. When Leigh Ann Hilbert moved to Asheville in 2008, she couldn’t help but peer into the big windows of an old two-story building on West Asheville’s Haywood Road. Inside, it was piled high with sneakers from the ‘60s, old clothes, buttons, fabric bolts. “It really was a mystery to me. I like dusty, dirty old places,” says Hilbert, 35. “Usually, these kinds of buildings get knocked down.”

After a few months of asking around, the mystery unraveled. The store had once been Meadow’s Dry Goods, owned and operated by a pioneering West Asheville businesswoman, Nan Thomas, starting in 1949. When Thomas died in 2006 at age 99, the shop and its contents started collecting dust. After a few years, Thomas’s daughter, Molly Braswell, decided to rent out the space, and she had plenty of interested parties. The strip of Haywood around the building has come alive in recent years, now home to hip bars, restaurants and hair salons. Hilbert was quite persistent, Braswell says, calling about once a month. Braswell also liked the fact that Hilbert’s plan for the space honored the old shop, which was a gathering place as well as a retail operation. Thomas, whose maiden name was Meadow, sold overalls to farmers who congregated there on weekend nights.

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Posted on Friday, August 27, 2010 at 09:24PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | Comments1 Comment

Her Place

A Buddhist minister transforms a city block in Downtown Hendersonville.

by Kelly Drake . photo by Brent Fleury

Spend a little time around Pannavati and you’re bound to get a nickname. Since MyPlace opened its doors in January 2009, almost all 46 kids have been rechristened with names like Big Pete, Fire Engine, Preggo or Big Skittles. Actually, everybody has two nicknames—one they like and one they don’t. “When they start acting out, we call them by the nickname that they don’t like,” says the 60-year-old Washington D.C. native, who moved to the area to open a monastery in 2004 after reading a magazine article that described Asheville as the “spiritual Mecca of the East.”

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Posted on Friday, August 27, 2010 at 09:20PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment

Pearl Vision

interview by Jess McCuan . photo by Anthony Bellemare

Name: Logan Oberhammer

Age: 23

What are you reading now? Vogue.

And what’s the ‘it’ item for this fall? Backless dresses. They’re one of my favorite things.

You have such a vintage look, with those pearls and that lace on your dress. Could you see yourself as a ‘50s housewife? It might be fun. Interesting, for sure. I guess all of it except the whole housewife thing.

What else do you like about the ‘50s? I love the hairstyles. And the high-waisted skirts and pearls. And big red lipstick. Personally, I don’t like going out of the house without bright red lipstick.

Posted on Friday, August 27, 2010 at 09:16PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment

Rushing to the Runway

interview by Kelly Drake . photo by Rimas Zailskas

Name: Meagan Scroggs

Age: 28

You work for a stylish clothing store, The Sanctuary. Who is your style icon? Sarah Jessica Parker. She’s bold. She pairs unexpected things together and makes a great statement.

If I could grant you a super power right now, what would you ask for? I would want to be able to stop time and time travel… I’m always running late, and I’m so sick of it! I’d like to stop time to get to where I needed to go and then start it up again. That would be a more practical application.

If you were famous, what would it be for? I would be a famous fashion designer.

Which one would you be? Myself! I’d want to be known for my own designs. Or maybe Vera Wang. She’s always edgy, and always pushing boundaries. I also like Nina Ricci.

Any fashion advice? Dress for your body. Always put on a wonderful, fabulous scarf and be confident to take risks with your clothing.

Posted on Friday, August 27, 2010 at 09:14PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment

Rockin' Mama

interview by Jess McCuan . photo by Anthony Bellemare

Name: Robin Black Walder

Age: 39

You’re wearing great beads. Where did you get them? I made these from hematite. It’s a healing stone. When you wear a long strand, it gives you a sensation down your back. When people put these on, they drop their shoulders and straighten their posture.

Do you always wear beads? I tend to only wear medallions. That’s where I get my power.

Even when you go into labor? Believe it or not, I really like labor and birth. I always wear my beads. Something with the breath symbol—it’s all about breathing and letting your body go.

So it seems like most of what you do is about building awareness. Yes. I like to think that the things I do put me one step closer to awakening.

Posted on Friday, August 27, 2010 at 09:13PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment | References1 Reference

Off the Cuff

Crafter Joan Morris on what to do with those old leather and pleather skirts.

by Joanne O’Sullivan . photos by Matt Rose

You know something’s really out of style when the last fashion icon seen wearing it was Jennifer Anniston’s character on Friends. Such is the fate of leather and suede skirts, which hit their heyday in the mid ‘90s and have since been relegated to the thrift stores of the world, showing up en masse, tagged at prices less than a 12-ounce latte. Crafter Joan Morris, former owner of the legendary downtown Asheville club Vincent’s Ear, saw a lot of leather skirts coming through the door back in the day. She sees more now on the racks at Goodwill and the Salvation Army. But Morris, a consummate crafter whose projects range from T-shirts to totebags, sees the ugly skirts as ready to be recycled into fashion accessories. She sells the upcycled skirts and other handmade items at her etsy store, Joaniemo.

For an expert seamstress like Morris, a single skirt can yield nearly a dozen cuffs, each of which can be made in about an hour. Beginners may need a bit more time.

To make the cuff, she cuts six-inch by nine-inch pieces of leather and hems the long sides with a leather needle. Sandwiching wax paper between the leather and the presser foot keeps the leather moving easily (tear the wax paper out later). After that, she sews length-wise rows of random lengths, gathering and sewing the short ends. Next she hand-stitches the pearls in place twice with a thin but strong needle. Then she adds snaps at each end, and voilá, an elegant but edgy fashion accessory.

To see more cuffs and DIY projects, go to


Posted on Friday, August 27, 2010 at 09:12PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment | References6 References

Chamber Trio?

For the first time, three women could represent Buncombe County in the North Carolina House.

by Jess McCuan . photos by Matt Rose

Maybe it’s something in the water. Or more likely, something longtime Representative Marie Colton kept out of the water. Either way, Buncombe County has produced an unusually high number of trailblazing women politicians, especially in the North Carolina House of Representatives. Take Lillian Exum Clement, for example. The Asheville attorney beat two male opponents for a House seat in 1920—a few months before American women had the right to vote.

Then came Marie Colton. The Ashevillean, now in her 80s, represented Buncombe County in the House for 16 years starting in 1978 and was its first female Speaker Pro Tempore. At a late-August Asheville fundraiser in her honor, Colton says she learned she couldn’t please everyone. “To heck with that,” she said of appeasing tobacco lobbyists. Instead, she backed arts funding and environmental causes. “I’ll just vote the way I want to vote.” Now, three Asheville women want a chance to vote how they please on House issues. Two incumbents, Jane Whilden and Susan Fisher, and longtime county commissioner Patsy Keever, are vying for Buncombe County’s three House seats. They’ll be campaigning together, playing up the woman-power theme. At the August Lillian’s List fundraiser, they compared themselves to Charlie’s Angels. Can they steal the spotlight this fall from Sarah Palin and her Mama Grizzlies? We’ll be on the edge of our seats.

Posted on Friday, August 27, 2010 at 09:11PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment

Sage Advice

Rosemary Gladstar, co-founder of a $40 million tea company, on why most people should just say no to ginseng.

by Jess McCuan . photo by Susan Patrice

When she opened a small herb shop in Sebastopol, California, in 1974, Rosemary Gladstar had never written a check. She admits she didn’t know much about business—and still doesn’t. “I’m really an herbalist, not so much a business person,” says the 62-year-old. Still, the operation she co-founded with her partner at the time, Drake Sadler, is now the $40 million medicinal tea and herbal products company Traditional Medicinals. The company’s teas, with names like Throat Coat and Smooth Move, are sold at health-food stores and at chains like Target and Walgreens. Gladstar left the company for Vermont in the mid-‘80s, but she’s pleasantly surprised to see her teas when she’s traveling in, say, London. She’s the keynote speaker at the upcoming Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference in Black Mountain on October 1.

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Posted on Friday, August 27, 2010 at 09:10PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | Comments2 Comments

The Dirt on "Girlilla" Gardening

An all-girl gardening crew ventures into the wilds of West Asheville.

by Kelly Drake and Jess McCuan . photo by Hannah Combs

They’re not afraid to get their hands dirty. Nor are they afraid to raise a few eyebrows. Lauri Newman, owner of the landscaping company Farm Girl in West Asheville, has been beautifying West Asheville since 2004. She does plenty of traditional plantings—often for hip businesses like Sunny Point and The Admiral. Wherever she can, Newman and three female employees use edible plants, herbs and flowers like zinnias and snapdragons.

But Newman has also been going out on a limb lately, venturing into ugly and unruly urban spaces—planting trees in Haywood Road’s traffic medians, for example, and cleaning up vacant lots near the Gas-Up and Harvest Records. She calls it “girlilla” gardening, mainly because she and a handful of female volunteers green up spaces in hopes that others will do the same. “The whole point is to make it catching,” she says. “The more people see it, the more things will get planted.”

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Posted on Friday, August 27, 2010 at 09:07PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | Comments5 Comments | References1 Reference

Editor's Note

When I win the lottery, I’m going back to school.

No beach vacations in Tahiti for me. As soon as I’m flush with cash and have unlimited time (whee!), I’m heading back for degrees in history and poetry, political science and auto mechanics. Not that I didn’t enjoy studying philosophy and writing a few years back. It’s just that they simply aren’t enough. In my job, not a week goes by that a Ph.D. in women’s studies, economics or public policy wouldn’t come in handy.

While I wait for my lucky numbers to come up, I thought it would be fun to scour local colleges and institutions for some of their best fall classes—especially those that don’t require a lot of time or cash. (See our Get Smart package, page 46) Our terrific summer interns, Kelly Drake and Erin McWhorter, helped tremendously in this project. They found classes in everything from film criticism to fungi, and I’m hoping to sneak away for a few hours this fall to take some of them. Sadly, their class research was one of their last projects for the summer, and they will be sorely missed.

But we’re happy to report that VERVE’s new format continues to be well received. (By most of you, anyway.) We’re also excited that fall election season is coming up, and there will be many interesting Asheville-area women candidates and players to watch. Stay tuned for political stories, a fabulous fall fashion spread and more in VERVE’s October issue.

Jess McCuan

Posted on Friday, August 27, 2010 at 09:05PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment