“Come on in, welcome to the museum.”
And with that, at 11am Thursday morning, the Asheville Art Museum reopened to the general public. David and Olivia Franklin, in town from Atlanta on their honeymoon, stepped in from the cold to become the museum’s first general-admission patrons.
“We always make it a point to go to the art museum wherever we go, and we felt like we needed to be able to be a part of history,” David Franklin said. “It seemed like a wonderful little bit of serendipity.”
Closed for more than three years of major renovations, the museum saw a steady trickle of traffic during the first couple hours after its rebirth. The ribbon-cutting fanfare continues in downtown Asheville on Saturday with the reopening of the Center for Craft.
Michael Granados of Weaverville strapped his 10-month-old son Oliver to his chest and stashed a diaper bag behind the museum’s front counter. Granados’ wife sent him here to kill time, but he felt inspired to become the museum’s first new member. And then there were locals such as Raj Bowers Racine, who remembers coming to the Asheville Art Museum as a teenager.
“The layout and the building was kind of (awkward) as a museum as before. It felt like a library still,” Racine said. “It didn’t have the openness of an art museum. But from what I can see so far, it looks fantastic. I can’t wait to explore a little bit.”
Tamia Dame studies the environment at UNC-Asheville but said she has felt the museum’s absence throughout her more than three years in this city.
“I had spent my first year here wondering if I was missing something, and I was ‘You know, I’d like to go to a museum, and there wasn’t one around here,’” Dame said. “So this is quite a big deal.”
Elizabeth Sauls and Ellen Guthrie are older local artists—Sauls said this museum showed some of her work many years ago—and they said Asheville’s arts scene sorely needed a centerpiece institution.
“It’s a reason to come downtown. There’s a lot of galleries, but this is a draw,” Sauls said. “You know, one of the reasons you’d want to live in a metropolis is for the arts. Otherwise, I’d go live in a beautiful log cabin on a mountain.”
On the second floor, Sauls and Guthrie spent time in front of a mixed-media woodcut by London artist Judy Plaff.
“I don’t know how they did it,” Guthrie said to Sauls.
“I guess it’s an inkjet on film with a painting behind it. It almost looks like stencil-painted on the back layer,” Sauls responded. “I love it when you look at a piece and you go ‘I don’t know how they did it.’”
On the way out the door, David Franklin cited “Arise” by Asheville artist Teresa Pace as a personal favorite.
“It’s a beautiful museum, really just a lovely space and the ‘Appalachia Now’ collection is really moving,” he said.
Mary Martin owns a gallery in Charleston, and she compared the renewed Asheville Art Museum favorably to that city’s comparable institution, the Gibbs Museum of Art.
“What I like about this one is it’s very contemporary, very innovative, refreshing,” she said. “I like (the Gibbs) too, but it emphasizes the historic, which has a different vibe altogether. (This museum) takes me out of my mundane world and inspires me. When I walk into this, I feel my spirit is lifted.”