Though the main gallery area is small, 350 square feet, in truth all of the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Historic Biltmore Village is a gallery. Original work and limited editions, appealing to both seasoned and novice collectors, also adorn the hotel’s lobby, restaurants, hallways, guest rooms and suites, and the guest business center.
Constance Richards Bora, director and curator of the Grand Bohemian Gallery since the hotel opened in Asheville in the spring of 2009, gives the history: “The galleries were established by hotelier and art enthusiast Richard C. Kessler, and much of the permanent collection you see around the property are from his personal art collection. He is a visionary who first began placing original art throughout his hotels … decades before it became a trend.” (In the Southeast, the cities of Savannah, St. Augustine, Charleston, Orlando, and Birmingham also have Grand Bohemian Galleries in their Kessler Collection Hotels.)
Nearly three quarters of the gallery’s artists are local and regional; the balance are those of international and national renown. “Artists either show exclusively at our galleries or create a line of work [particularly jewelry artists] that is exclusive to the Grand Bohemian,” explains Richards Bora.
On display in Asheville is an eclectic collection in a variety of media and styles: Neo-French impressionistic oil paintings; contemporary palette-knife compositions; mixed media; marble, wood, and bronze sculptures; and one-of-a-kind jewelry collections. Among the gallery’s big names are expressionist-colorist Jean Claude Roy, wildlife photo-realist Stefano Cecchini, pop artist BRITTO, landscape painters John Mac Kah of Asheville and Mark Holland of Tryon, abstract painter Karen Weihs of Highlands, and, in past exhibitions, oil classicist Rebecca King Hawkinson (Black Mountain) and the Russian master sculptor and painter Vadim Bora, Richards Bora’s late husband.
Richards Bora also mentions popular limited-edition collections including vitreous enamel “Spiritiles” by Houston Llew — an exercise in vivid positivity — and wearable natural art, notably “Brackish Bow Ties,” by a Charleston company that crafts the classic accessory from repurposed game-bird feathers.
“Our owner is also very interested in discovering emerging artists. So you will find narrative and symbolist art like [the work of] Honduran artist Leticia Banegas,” she notes.
Art openings here go way beyond wine and cheese. “We are able to work across multiple platforms, enlisting our culinary and banquet departments,” says Richards Bora. “We hold art and wine dinners and workshops, including our multi-course dinners with artist Jean Claude Roy that have always sold out. We’ve also hosted collaging workshops on our Tyrolean Terrace … and in the lobby we’ve held painting demos from our resident artists.”
She continues, “If you are staying with us, we can set up an easel in the room with the art you are considering acquiring. We also offer locals the opportunity to live with a piece of art in their homes for several days before purchasing. We have access to so much more than what you see. Should you like a piece that happens to be in one of our other galleries, we have access to all those. … We also can assist with framing or reframing and in-home curation and hanging.”
Prior to working for the Grand Bohemian Gallery, Richards Bora wrote articles on travel, food, and the arts; she is the coauthor, with her father Kenneth L. Richards, of the 11th edition of the Insider’s Guide to North Carolina’s Mountains, published earlier this year.
An art collector herself from the age of 20, Richards Bora seems born for this job, having spent her childhood immersed in the arts in Germany and France, followed by her teen years in Asheville. “I practically lived in art museums as a child, when my family traveled to so many European capitals. My parents collected art, and we were always visiting or dining in someone’s studio. Art was always present — the backdrop of all my developmental experiences.”
Grand Bohemian Gallery Asheville currently represents about 70 artists. There’s a rotating collection of small works in the hotel’s Red Stag Grill and a private gallery in the Manor House across the street that maintains a rotating collection, as well as Kessler’s personal artworks. Richards Bora says, “Visitors who are not guests of the hotel can arrange to see this gallery also.”
Though the upscale factor is undeniable, Richards Bora credits the gallery’s success to its approachability.
“Sometimes we are the first art gallery someone has ever stepped foot in, given the fact that we are located right in the lobby of a hotel.” Such a discovery often means the gallery gets another new client, while the visitor “gains a new insight into art and the role it plays in their own world — and in the world at large.”
Grand Bohemian Gallery, 11 Boston Way, Historic Biltmore Village. The gallery’s hours are 10am-6pm Monday through Thursday, 10am-7pm on Friday and Saturday, and 10am-3pm on Sunday. For more information, call 828-398-5555 or see kesslercollection.com/bohemian-asheville.