Molly Sawyer

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Like every other gallery and arts center, Revolve in Asheville has been closed to the public throughout the quarantine. And like many artists in these times, Molly Sawyer has holed up in her River Arts District studio, thinking, creating, creating without thinking.

A couple weeks ago, Sawyer asked Revolve director Colby Caldwell if she could use his space for a little while.

“My studio is very small and dark and, really, I was just moving things in here to photograph and work things out and finish things,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer ended up with an unplanned pop-up exhibition, the region’s first since everything shut down for the pandemic. It runs for a week and is open to the public—just three mask-wearing people at a time, by appointment, over limited gallery hours.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Ask any of the 50 artists invited into Asheville Art Museum’s “Appalachia Now!” exhibition and, to a person, they’ll tell you they were honored and elated. Many were motivated to stretch themselves artistically to create what they regard as their most ambitious works.

For good reason. “Appalachia Now!” is the flagship exhibition that reopened the Asheville Art Museum last November and few of the artists had ever experienced exposure on this level. The exhibition closes Feb. 3.

But here’s another truth: Even the museum director acknowledges the artists were largely paid with exposure. The museum raised $24 million for its renovation and only distributed stipends of $100 each to the “Appalachia Now!” artists, regardless of whether they simply loaned pieces out of their studios or created major new works at the request of the exhibition’s curator.

Colby Caldwell

Molly Sawyer used to sculpt stylized horses and human figures from clay. That changed after her battle with breast cancer.

“The work became a response to my own direct experience with life, death,” she said. “I guess the issue of mortality has always been present in my deeper thought process.”

Today, Sawyer’s work is a mashup of found objects such as driftwood, stone and metal rods with braided or balled-up wool, twine, ash and fur. She usually works large, with some installations at once clumped on the floor, leaning against a wall and hanging from the ceiling.  

The dimensions and materials make this body of work difficult to place in galleries focused on sales, but Sawyer is riding a wave of exposure in area museums and art centers. She’s among the 50 artists invited into the Asheville Art Museum’s “Appalachia Now!” exhibition, and Sawyer is soon opening solo shows at Revolve in Asheville and at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee.