Deborah Lewis-Smith grew up in Asheville, and the first thought she had upon meeting John Cram, in 1971, was he wasn’t going to stay in town very long.
“John was bigger than Asheville,” Lewis-Stein recalled. “It was like, ‘Oh, he’s going to get bored and leave.’ Instead, he brought the party to Asheville.”
That party is continuing strong in the wake of Cram’s death Monday after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. He was 72.
A year after moving to Asheville from Wisconsin, Cram opened New Morning Gallery in Biltmore Village. The following year, he created the Village Art & Craft Fair, which became one of the leading events of its kind in the southeast. He opened his first women’s clothing boutique, Bellagio, in a building he purchased in Biltmore Village.
Perhaps his greatest impacts were felt downtown. By opening the doors to Blue Spiral 1 Gallery on New Year’s Eve 1990, he brought fine art to the city. Six years later, he converted a former adult movie house next door to the gallery into the art house cinema Fine Arts Theatre.
“I do credit John with really helping to galvanize the arts community here and help establish Asheville as an arts destination,” said Jordan Ahlers, who Cram hired and mentored at Blue Spiral over 18 years. “He did have vision and he invested in downtown when it was very different than it is now.”
Cram was a devoted conservationist who lived with his longtime husband Matt Chambers on five acres in Kenilworth. No public services have been announced.