by sandi tomlin-sutker
James says Dark Horse Gallery & Curiosities is only the first of
the Willful Women Enterprises.
idea for the gallery, located in Forest City, really started when Deborah
realized she couldn't even get a job at the local McDonald's. She tells
us that Rutherford County has the second highest rate of unemployment
in North Carolina. A rash of textile and other plant closings over the
past few years led to the county being declared a Historically Underutilized
Business area, so grants were available for enterprises that could employ
doesn't consider herself an artist, although she is learning, and loving,
pottery. But she does have a good business sense and she knew there
were lots of unemployed artists in the area. Two of them are her friends
Emily Matlega and Amanda Rethman. The three women, along with several
women volunteers they call the Dark Horse Angels (we met two the day
we visitedDoris Medford and Marsha Laird) have done an amazing
job in creating this gallery.
big white Victorian at 381 W. Main Street sits in the midst of seven
large white homesall empty and deteriorating over the past 15
years. Everything needed repairing in the house, from the leaking roof
to rotten floor boards, to broken plumbing. Months of dirty work, heavy
physical labor, sweat and tears later, the gallery feels homey and comfortable,
with much of the natural charm of that era restored.
the gallery contains work from 62 local artists/craftspeople. Several
of them have gallery space in Asheville and Deborah says 25% of their
artists are making a living at their craft. There are glass artists
and painters and sculptors; there are wood carvers, metal workers, beaders,
basket weavers, jewelry designers and more. Emily Matlega is a painter,
including Habersham furniture painting, as well as making jewelry and
helping run the gallery. Amanda Rethman's list of skills and talents
was longincluding pottery, beading, painting, drawing, metal work
and wood carvingand that's just the abridged list. If you've ever
seen Dawson's Creek, you'll see her work on the wall next to the stairway
in the beginning scene)...and she's only in her twenties, folks!
addition to providing a place to display and sell their work, the gallery
helps artists jury into the Southern Highlands Craft Guild, takes work
to festivals such as Asheville's Belle Chere and Charleston's Spoletto.
Deborah was also able to secure group Major Medical for the gallery's
participants (many of whom lost those benefits when they lost their
jobs) and she continues to try to find grants to help support the gallery
and the artists.
Horse Gallery is part of a real community, both of artists, craftspeople,
art lovers, tourists and residents. They believe firmly that there must
be mutual support in this venture. To that end, they have held a birdhouse
aution for Habitat for Humanity; another fundraiser for a local youth
group that helps people in need with home repairs and maintenence. On
June 5th they will host a Petting Zoo (including llamas) and bake sale
to help local animal shelters. They've gathered potters who are making
soup bowls to sell to benefit the Grace of God soup kitchen.
within the gallery community itself, there is mutual respect and egalitarianism.
For instance, an award winning painter could be displayed alongside
a local folk artistboth artists recognizing the worth of each
other's work. One well-known artist, Prudence Kohl, contributes part
of her proceeds to an organization called PATH (Preventing Abuse in
further participate in their community and as a way to increase the
income of its artists, the gallery holds classes such as the painting
course taught by Nikki Hicks. A next step in the growth of the gallery
and its community of artists will be to purchase one of the houses next
door to create a non-profit facility to teach everything from basketry
to metallurgy to pottery.
encourage you to visit Dark Horse Gallery & Curiosities, located
at 381 W. Main Street, Forest City, NC (about an hour south of Asheville
and an easy 40 minutes from historic Saluda). It is open from 10:00
am to 5 pm on Monday through Saturday, year round, though if you get
there aftere six and give a holler, one of the artists who lives upstairs
is likely to let you on in.
will whet your appetite for an expedition to Forest City on the next
Deborah James shows us just what a willful woman can do when
she puts her mind to it. Expect to hear more about these extraordinary
women in upcoming issues.