Susan Turner’s magical tract of land in the middle of the historic Grove Park Inn neighborhood begged for more than a garden — and she more than delivered. Turner, now retired, is a true Asheville original, having owned two downtown mainstay boutiques for many years.
Turner has curated an enchanting outdoor sculpture array to complement her plantings, “making my garden magical,” says the collector. It’s proven to be a balm when she needs a break, but offers special comfort now, in the midst of a pandemic. Once an avid quilter and past member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, Turner now uses her yard as her canvas. “It’s my escape,” she declares, “and the collection process has been a joy throughout the years.”
Your history here allowed you to get in on Asheville’s vibrant art scene from the very beginning.
Yes. I’ve lived in the area since 1974, and in Asheville since 1980. I saw the art scene and local entrepreneurship explode downtown, as John Cram opened New Morning Gallery and Blue Spiral, and artists set up shop, [including sculptor and found-object artist] Stefan “Steebo” Bonitz. I really don’t buy into the narrative that downtown Asheville was a dismal place then. I remember it as vibrant and filled with local energy. There were loads of funky shops, but they catered to locals, not tourists.
You were a participant in the scene, too.
Sure was. I opened Street Fair in ’85 and sold it four years ago, and I had Open Door Boutique for 17 years. I’m retired now, but I stay very busy.
How did you start collecting outdoor sculpture?
I got to know Stefan and his girlfriend when they had a shop on Lexington Avenue. He later had a place between Biltmore and Lexington where he did everything from sew fur onto furniture to create art with salvage material. I loved his work because he made ceramic, glass, and metal planters, which is exactly what I needed. I started out buying pieces from him, and as my collection grew, I began to choose art that wasn’t just functional, but decorative too.
I also happen to live close to Grovewood Gallery and am friends with their manager, so I’ve gotten pieces at their annual outdoor-sculpture shows.
What’s a trait that defines your collection?
I’d have to say variety. I’ve acquired sculptures of all shapes and sizes, representational and abstract, and made from different mediums, from metal to stone and glass.
Who are some of the exhibited artists?
My collection is primarily made up of local artists’ work, including Stefan’s items, like a metal sculpture I have with holes in it that he crafted using car parts, wheel rims, and other found objects. I also have a really huge cat sculpture, made from a found-metal object, that I adore.
I also love these woven metal-wire rabbit sculptures by Josh Coté, and a fabulous stone sculpture by Toe River artist Carl Peverall. My collection includes these larger-than-life colored flowers by Grace Cathey, a metal artist whose studio is in Waynesville, as well as a few pieces that move, like my wind spinners from New Mexico.
Do separately conceived and placed pieces work together?
I never tire of seeing the interplay between my yard’s natural elements and these works. I am consistently interested in the rich effect that a natural material like stone has on manmade materials like metal and glass.
Preserving an outdoor art collection presents wildly different challenges than an indoor one, I imagine.
These pieces are exposed to the elements all day, every day — rain, wind, snow, and beating sun. The artists generally ensure that their work can stand the test of the outdoors, but repair is sometimes necessary. Once a bear damaged a Paige Davis sculpture, but it was fixable. Also, you don’t tend to move large-scale outdoor sculpture around often once they’re placed. The spots I pick for my pieces become their homes.
What’s your latest acquisition?
A stunning sculpture by Asheville artist Alex Bernstein, of seven pieces of bright-red glass. He generously said he’d let me keep it for a year to see if I really wanted to own it. It was delivered in spring, with everyone masked and all. From the moment they came, I knew I would keep it. I feel happy every time I look at it.
No regrets about this passion, then?
None, except I’m running out of room.