Woman-Space at Heron House

| By Anya Robyak |

There are plenty of venues in Asheville for the big shows – downtown and the River Arts district locations that seat hundreds for some of the most popular acts and tours. But what about artists, writers, and activists who are just starting out, or who might not regularly command an audience of thousands? Female musicians have a notoriously harder time than male counterparts at gaining mainstream popularity, and books and documentaries created by women are also less likely to enjoy wide promotion and acceptance. Yet for women, it’s a powerful – and necessary – experience to hear each other and be supported by like-minded sisters. The Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1970’s taught us this: the power of sisterhood.

Enter Lisa Garrett and her Heron House Asheville, a retreat and gathering space for women. “Born in 1967, I arrived ‘late to the party’ of the Liberation Movement. Not until my early 30s did I find it through the channel of Feminist Women’s Spirituality and a focused, self-directed study of Lesbian Feminist writers.” Garrett’s dedication to Radical Feminism and women was the inspiration for her original concept of The Heron House. In reading about less-known corners of women’s history in books such as Lillian Faderman’s ‘To Believe in Women,’ she found precedence for the idea of women supporting each other’s callings in a tangible, meaningful way.

“There’s a long tradition of women-only collectives, dating back to the early 1900s in this country and others that are largely forgotten by history—shared households of women who wanted to pursue their own art or work independent of men. It was also a way for lesbians or women who didn’t want to marry to support each other financially and materially.” Similar to many female artists and activists today, the members of these collectives often struggled to make a living and to gain legitimacy in a wider context. The support of the larger group allowed them to devote themselves to their work, living the way they chose.

Named after the bird who makes frequent visits to the pond and land, and that is often considered a symbol of transformation with an uncanny ability to walk, wade, and fly between worlds, The Heron House and its shared land has been owned solely by women for at least two decades. A beautiful home on bucolic grounds in East Asheville, it features a stone labyrinth, pond, creek, bamboo grove, and luminous gardens. For Garrett, the vision is clear: “It’s about women making space for women as a way of preserving, supporting, and passing on women’s culture. The intent is Radically Feminist, and that’s one of the things that makes Heron House unique. There are many places in Asheville that offer workshops on a huge range of topics, but none others that are explicitly Feminist/Female-affirming in their focus. Especially in this political climate, we need space to hear ourselves and one another.”

The Heron House opened its doors last summer with a house concert by festival favorite, folk rocker Crys Matthews, and has since been a gathering place for workshops about ancient European, indigenous spiritual traditions, as well as the site for several documentary screenings, discussions, and consciousness raising groups. Women have sought out the Heron House for facilitated sounding and toning workshops due to the privacy and energy of the land. Jude Lally, a teacher, storyteller, and artist who leads workshops in and around Asheville speaks to the special feel of the land: “I held a weekend intensive retreat at the Heron House for a group of eight women. It was particularly powerful knowing that we were in dedicated women-only space, and having access to the incredible grounds with magnificent night skies!”

Garrett values these unique offerings. “I wanted a place for women to come be in community, listen to live music, hear speakers talking about issues important to us, and be able to have experiences that we aren’t able to get out in the world. There’s so much out in the world that is not about our experiences as women, or that depicts us in very stereotypical or negative ways, or that the media just gets wrong. We want to support each other and each other’s work, tell the truth about our lives, and be able to say, ‘yes, sister, I hear you.’”

Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, an art studio, and a full kitchen provide plenty of accommodations for women looking for overnight retreats, whether as part of a group or just for individual getaways. The living/dining room and covered porch provide great options for speakers or musicians to create a cozy, intimate vibe with an audience. The large, open-plan kitchen is also perfect for herbal medicine making and related workshops. The living room boasts a collection of woman-authored books, as well as contact information for many local artists, massage therapists, craftswomen, and healers to encourage support of woman-owned businesses.

The future of the Heron House is still developing, as Garrett continues to invite women to co-create this community by sharing their gifts and interests, and seeking out these one-of-a-kind offerings. On April 15th, Heron House will host its first author signing with Dr. Bonnie Morris, author of The Disappearing L (see page 24 this issue), Eden Built By Eves, and others. Garrett invites women to contact her with ideas for future events and workshops.

Current rates are $50/half a day, $100/full day. For details and information about overnight stays, visit heronhouseasheville.com.

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker