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The River Arts District – A gem in Asheville

There are performing arts, medical arts, the art of science and then what I consider the real “Arts”. The River Arts District of Asheville is such a place. A decade ago, this 50+ acre area along the banks of the French Broad River running right through the middle of Asheville was an industrial wasteland, populated by a few manufacturing companies hanging on to life and lower income housing alongside vacant warehouses spray painted with graffiti. It wasn’t the kind of place you’d go even on a sunny day, much less find a good meal.

Fast forward ten years and today you still have most of the same industrial warehouses and such, only they’re now occupied by dozens of artist studios, galleries, breweries and restaurants. New residential offerings are in the works throughout the area as The River Arts District of Asheville is now a vibrant, up and coming locale. One of the biggest single investments is New Belgium Brewery which will be the largest of Asheville’s two dozen plus breweries. But the real stars of the district are the artists.

There are more than two dozen artist studios producing everything from ceramics to glass, from sculptures to textiles, from traditional paintings to jewelry. The creativity of these artists and craftsmen is astounding. What’s even better is that you can stand alongside the artists as they work their craft and converse with them as they go about their business. We had the good fortune of visiting with one such gentlemen, Stephen St. Claire located in the Wedge Building-Broken Road Studio.

Stephen paints on metal, but with a twist. He’s created a new genre of painting called “Dailuminism” which means “light passing through”. He starts by actually applying modeling compound to the surface, then carves out the main images of the painting, much like a bas relief. He then applies layers of Italian aluminum leaf followed by layers of oil paints. Once he has the colors he likes, he alternates the layering with clear art grade resin which gives the painting a rich depth. Light then passes through the resin and actually reflects off the innermost surface, back up through the aluminum leaf with an amazing result. The bas relief of the modeling compound gives it a 3D appearance. His web site does not do it justice. You must be seen to be appreciated.

So next time you’re looking for a great way to spend a sunny day, drive over to the River Arts District, park your car and stroll the many studios, then cap it off with a delicious meal at one of ten restaurants such as White Duck Taco Shop, 12 Bones Barbeque or Cligman Café. Parking is free!