John Cram, the cultural underwriter of Asheville’s modern-day renaissance, passed away Oct. 26, at age 72, from complications of Parkinson’s Disease. Arriving from Wisconsin in 1971 to a broken, almost entirely vacant downtown, Cram soon established New Morning Gallery, the fine-craft anchor of Biltmore Village. The next year, he launched the outdoor Village Art & Craft Fair, eventually positioning it the weekend after Bele Chere to play up the Fair’s sophistication against the rowdy street festival with the spurious name. Blue Spiral 1, a stronghold of Southeastern painting and sculpture, came next, in 1990; five years later, Cram turned a derelict movie house into the Fine Arts Theatre, a destination for independent cinema.
By then, Asheville was well on its way to the vast culture boom that landed the city on national “best” lists starting around the turn of the millennium. “It’s nearly impossible to capture the scope of John Cram’s impact,” Blue Spiral 1 Gallery Director Michael Manes tells Asheville Made. “For 50 years, he shared his passion for the arts with Asheville and beyond. He was my mentor, and a mentor to so many other artists, employees, and businesses.” (Cram also launched Bellagio Art to Wear and Bellagio Everyday.)
Nevertheless, as a vigorous environmentalist and philanthropist, “John felt his greatest accomplishments were the successes he had in helping preserve public lands for future generations,” reveals Manes.
A complex character and an original Asheville eccentric — private, generous, notoriously salty — “he was a man of few, but choice, words,” adds the gallery director. “He was not afraid to speak his mind for what he felt passionate about.”