Of Time and the River
Thus the allusive title of a late October group show for the benefit of Riverlink, the Asheville non-profit that does so much for the health of the French Broad River. It will be hosted by Alchemy Fine Art at Walnut and Rankin Streets in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.
The French Broad is narrow, winding and unnavigable for most of its length, and therein lies its charm. Unlike its better-known and larger brethren such as the Delaware, James and Mississippi, it unites geography but divides people. You can follow the James along US 60 in Virginia from Hampton Roads to Scottsville in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the people all along your route speak with the same Tidewater accent. Centuries of reliable transport has united them.
Try the same thing from the mouth of the French Broad at Knoxville, Tennessee to its source near Rosman, North Carolina, and you’ll have a widely different experience. You’ll be in the car all day. You’ll drive on Federal, State and County roads, many of them dirt and gravel. The sweetness of East Tennessee speech gives way to the sour note of Western North Carolina. The churches go from Baptist to Pentecostal to Baptist again. And seeing the river will involve walking.
For two hundred and more years, anyone travelling any distance was concerned to get across the French Broad rather than up and down it. It was hard. That goes double for those with baggage, horses or automobiles–or, in my case, an easel, paints and lunch.
The bridge in the oil painting below is a triumph all the more impressive when one recalls that people actually died crossing this river in private ferries as late at the 1940’s. Underneath it settles the graffiti-covered tobacco warehouse in the ink drawing, itself a little monument to works and days now gone, as vice gives way to vice between watery death and sunny achievement.
Many of the better views of the river are lost to public memory or overlooked. And that’s a shame. Degas famously said, “Art isn’t what one sees; it’s what one makes others see.” Art can make you remember, too; or question a hole in your memory. The next few posts will feature some of these overlooked places, which are no less beautiful for that.
Visit Riverlink’s website here. They haven’t forgotten the river.