Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Keeping Tradition Alive (even as digital age wafts through the mountains)

by Pasckie Pascua

SCOTT Sirkin could be one of the few Asheville residents who passionately abide by the transcendence of maintaining downtown's inherent cultural sublimity. Sirkin refuses to follow the modernization lead of most structures in this side of Western North Carolina by restoring the building's original 1938 five-and-dime architecture after F.B. Woolworth closed in 1993.

     In June 2001, Sirkin resurrected the edifice into Woolworth Walk along Haywood Street—and subsequently housed a wide array of mountain arts and crafts. An characteristic facet of the two-level gallery is an old-fashioned soda fountain, reminiscent of the 30s. For these twin restoration efforts, Sirkin received two Griffin Awards. Each year, the Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County presents the Griffin Awards to outstanding projects and individuals that further the goals of historic preservation in the community. 
     Not only does the gallery preserve WNC's past via its terra cotta architecture. Woolworth Walk also spearheads the promotion of a very diverse array of work by local artists and craftspersons. 
     “When we opened, the goal was to present a huge diversity of art and hand-crafted work in one location,” Erin Kellem, gallery manager, told The Indie recently. “We represent artists from a very large geographical area. They are generally responsible for setting up, maintaining and restocking their spaces. As years passed, we went from adding any fairly regional artist to the waiting list. We also see steady increase in customers as we raise the number of exhibiting artists—hence, an increase in sales.”
     Kellem added that Woolworth Walk's strategic location, sitting at an intersection of downtown with a very high level of foot traffic as well as vehicle traffic, “certainly helped us get started.”

 ASHEVILLE has seen a huge migration of artists from all over the country, even from overseas, who have made this city their home. The River Arts District flourished in the past few years, for instance... Such pronounced change in craft or style between past and present (ie traditional art, modern forms etc)--especially with new aesthetic attitudes brought about by computer technology and cultural diversity has seeped through local mountain work.
     This is a welcome interface, says Kellem. She cites photography, for instance—particularly the “landscape images on canvas” by Susan Stanton, the digital photography by Brenda Marks, and the “paint on paintbrush” work by Cynthia Decker. “We've seen very interesting changes in photography. Ten years ago everything was very traditional, now `traditional' photography stands out as a distinctive quality of an artist's work,” Kellem adds.

     Traditional mediums that make the region a go-to destination to seekers of past artisanship—like pottery, woodwork, jewelry and glasswork—sell well, too, boasts Kellem. “Art is extremely subjective. If someone likes it, they buy it. And with Woolworth Walk, a very small commission is taken by the gallery, which gives the artist more than 80 percent of their sale price. People love to buy something they like when they know how much they are supporting individual artists.”
Kellem adds that Woolworth Walk maintains a “nice mix of both tourist and local customers.” But locals get the store through winter... “They come in for birthday and anniversary gifts because they know they'll find something unique and original.”
Indeed, there's nothing more unique than a blend of mountain traditional pristineness and computer technology magic. Add the mysticism of Asheville, enclosed in Woolworth Walk's aura of culture and art, then you are blessed with the gift of originality.

Woolworth Walk is located at 25 Haywood St., Asheville, NC 28801. (828) 254-9234‎ 

PHOTOs courtesy of Woolworth Walk: (3rd photo: L to R)--Meredith Cook, manager; Scott Sirkin, owner; and Erin Kellem (with son Jeremy), manager. (Center painting is an original Jeff Pittman work, which was presented to Sirkin to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Woolworth Walk's opening). (Last photo)--Erin Kellem, manager.

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