One of the world’s most ancient rivers, the French Broad began pushing its way northward through what is now Marshall hundreds of millions of years ago. Flow is a gallery located right behind the river, and the gallery’s founding members first had their workspaces at Marshall High Studios on ten-acre Blannahassett Island. The name “Flow” acknowledges the atmospheric presence of the river through downtown, including its unusual course: The French Broad is one of few rivers that flows north instead of south.
The Marshall High Studios makers had already been talking among themselves about the possibility of selling their creations at a gallery when they learned about the closing of Firewalker Gallery on Main Street in Marshall. “It was an opportunity that seemed right,” says Connie Molland, who brought crucial business acumen to the endeavor. “I was the CFO of a large nonprofit, and I always joke that they asked me to join not for my woodworking — they wanted my business experience.” (The group also sought advice of a consultant from the Small Business & Technology Center.)
Preparations completed, Flow opened in July 2010 during Marshall’s Mermaid Parade & Festival. (Coincidentally, several of the gallery’s founders were also the creators of that popular annual event.) “The space itself was pretty much move-in ready,” says Molland. “It’s fabulous, with exposed brick walls and high ceilings.” The founders purchased some of the previous owner’s handmade display cases, but they needed more.
A resourceful and creative group, they began bringing in furniture from their own homes, purchasing items at yard sales and making other pieces utilizing whatever they could find lying around. “What that did,” says Molland, “was create a homey environment that’s part of the charm of our space.” Still, she adds, it took several years before they were able to afford really good lighting. “And it made a huge difference once we installed it.”
Flow currently represents more than 70 artists, approximately two-thirds of whom live in Madison County, with the remainder living elsewhere in Western North Carolina. Mediums include pottery, wood, fiber, photography, jewelry, basketry, book art, painting, encaustic, sculpture, apparel, and body care.
“We have limited space, so we cycle work that has been here for a long period of time in order to keep everything fresh. Many of our customers come in often, and we want them to be greeted with new work,” says Molland.
Pieces found in Flow follow a general theme of “handmade adornment for the body and home.” Molland, for example, under the brand Rose Hollow Connections, creates polished, functional wood pieces for stylish interiors. Her striking minimalist clocks are inlaid with her signature dots and feature smooth but unstained wood — the effect falls somewhere between Mid Century Mod and Mission. Along with photographer Lauren Rutten and fiber artist Kari Morton, Molland is one of the three current owners of Flow.
The philosophy of the Slow Craft Movement — the idea of connecting buyers not only with handmade objects but also with their makers — is evidenced here. But those who run Flow also keep busy looking for new artists to represent. “Each year at our annual meeting, we review the genres we have, and we ask ourselves what’s missing,” says Molland. (Artists interested in selling their work at the gallery can apply online, but they’re encouraged to visit the gallery first. “We don’t want to [carry new] work that is similar to that of another [Flow] artist,” Molland explains.)
Asked how the Marshall area has embraced the gallery, Molland reveals, “In 2016, we started tracking where our customers come from and were thrilled to see that between 40-49% of our sales came from folks who live in Madison County.”
Flow Handmade Adornment for Body + Home, 14 Main St., downtown Marshall. Gallery hours are 11am-5pm Tuesday through Saturday. Flow participates in Third Thursdays Marshall, along with other businesses, remaining open until 8pm and serving light refreshments. The venue typically hosts four exhibits each year, most recently Bound/Unbound: A Book Art Show, up through Saturday, Aug. 27. For more information, call 828-649-1686 or see flowmarshall.com.