Artist celebrates Asheville in new exhibit

Artist celebrates Asheville’s images, influence in new exhibit

Fiber artist and clothing designer Kathleen Lewis has her first solo show at the Woolworth Walk, beginning with a free reception Friday.

May 3, 2012

What: Kathleen Lewis Designs “Asheville: 50 Years” exhibit.
When: Opening from 5-7 tonight.
Where: Woolworth Walk Gallery, 25 Haywood St.

ASHEVILLE — Tonight marks the first solo show at Woolworth Walk for clothing designer and fiber artist Kathleen Lewis. But in a way, the city that’s been her home for 50 years deserves major credit for the collection of her pieces.

Lewis, who owns and operates SewLink/Southern Decor, honors Asheville’s contribution to her life and work in the title of her show, “Asheville: 50 years,” opening tonight from 5-7 p.m.

The process of creating the show really been like going “back in time,” Lewis said. “I’ve always worked with my hands. I’ve really gone back to where it all started from. I’ve been amazed and there’s been some tears.”

The show’s signature piece literally combines her past and future. A dress form displays the first item she made with a sewing machine — an apron for her 9-year-old self — under a sheer long dress.

That apron, as well as long lost potholder, won Lewis, now 57, first place in a 4-H dress revue. The Citizen-Times covered the award ceremony in 1965; Lewis’s late mother kept a clipping, as well that prized blue ribbon. Those items are now framed and displayed below her newest work, wall hangings, in “Asheville: 50 years.”

“When I found all of this, I knew that this was what was going to bring the show all together,” she said. “And anything can go in that (Woolworth) window because all of my pieces represent me and my business.”

The exhibit features some of her fiber pigs and owls, as well as scarves and shirts; bags and hats.

The first items this lifelong artist created were for her dolls. Her mother encouraged her creative endeavors, which also included singing and set design, and taught her how to use a sewing machine once Lewis decided to make clothes for herself.

Her father moved her family to West Asheville from Cocoa Beach, Fla., when she was seven.

“My daddy decided he wanted to grow apples,” she said, noting that he planted 500 apple trees in Leicester. “He was working for NASA as an electronics technician and was working with the unmanned space flights. They were transitioning from the unmanned to the manned flights at that time. My father was just playing cards at work; that’s all they were doing because they were waiting. So he decided to move up to North Carolina.”

Lewis remembers stepping off a bus to her new home, and opening the door to their Brevard Road home and spotting a wagging tail poking out from below the sofa. It was Christmas, and her father got her puppy.

She possesses a marvelous memory: Lewis even uncovered that 50-year-old apron in the first box she opened in her father’s basement.

“I remembered that at some point, when my children were little, I wrapped one of the music boxes they had in their room in the apron to store it in a box,” she said.

Lewis also documents memories and experience with her camera. “I have been collecting pictures, ton of pictures of Asheville and other things I thought I could manipulate to create messages in my work,” she said. “The message here that I am giving with the pictures is pretty much my experience with Asheville.”

The cloth wall hanging feature images from her youth: The long-gone Imperial Theater were she spent her quarters on the latest flick with her friends. There’s images of her schooling; one of St. Genevieve-of-the-Pines, an all-girls school that’s now Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College’s Decorative Arts School and Asheville High School, where she “wanted to be unique” so she made her own clothes. Another features several images of the city’s graffiti.

“Graffiti is one of the biggest changes I’ve seen in Asheville in 50 years,” she said.

“I’ve come to terms with changes,” she said of the loss of landmarks of her youth, such as the Imperial Theater. “I’ve come to peace with stuff like that. Asheville has done a lot of changing. I have to realize that things have to change to make way for the new. You can’t always hold on to the old building.”

Asheville has always inspired Lewis to change creatively.

“You can do so much here; anything goes in Asheville,” she said. “I’m more of a conservative-type seamstress. I learned from tradition and what Asheville has done for me is let me cut loose … I think that’s why Asheville is so successful that way because there are so many different types of people there (to support different types of art).”