New Day, New Muse

Gallery models a fresh dynamic in the River Arts District
Sandra Bottinelli, left, and Pearl Renken transformed a big ground-floor chunk of Riverview Station.
Photo by Colby Rabon

“Pearl [Renken] thought up the name ‘Modern Muse’ out of the blue one day,” says Renken’s gallery partner Sandra Bottinelli. “The second it came out of her mouth, we knew it was perfect: ‘Modern’ because we are choosing works that have a contemporary, up-and-coming feel, and ‘Muse’ as it refers to anything or anyone that spawns inspiration.” (The latter word was coined in the late 1300s.)

The gallery officially opened December 1, 2022, after several months of renovations to the space that was previously occupied by Antiques at Riverview Station in the River Arts District. Modern Muse occupies 2,900 square feet on the first floor at the southern corner of Riverview Station.

Bottinelli and Renken met several years ago and have long shared the dream of opening their own gallery. “I had literally been waiting for a ground-floor space for ten years when I was notified by the owner of Riverview that something was going to come available soon,” says Bottinelli. She immediately called Renken and they set a date to see it. 

“We were sold the second we walked in,” says Bottinelli.

A chic neutral palette makes the artwork pop.
Photo by Colby Rabon

Both contemporary artists, the two had long worked out of buildings in the River Arts District and been actively involved in the arts scene there. Bottinelli has been a member of the River Arts District Artists (RADA) organization, and Renken is starting her third year on RADA’s board of directors.

In addition to now running a gallery, both continue to create their own art. They have studio space within the gallery and welcome visitors there. “I have always painted,” says Bottinelli, “because it takes me to a place where everything comes together, and I feel at peace.” Renken’s work is about inclusion and representation. “I repurpose vintage sheet music into my figurative work, forcing it to help in rewriting a narrative,” she explains.

Asked what was involved in deciding to launch a new gallery, Bottinelli quips, “Guts and faith.” Renken chimes in, “There were so many moving parts and ‘Oh, crap’ moments. 

“At the end of the day, it took a village, and we are thankful to have had so many supportive people around us.”

The gallery includes 2D and 3D work by local and regional artists, including sculpture by Molly Sawyer and paintings by gallery co-owner Sandra Bottinelli.
Photo by Colby Rabon

They agree their vision for the gallery was to have a place that feels great to walk into and visually inspires at every turn. And the scope only widens from there. Renken adds: “I wanted a space where creatives and entrepreneurs can get together and spark ideas to help sustain the arts/artists throughout our city.”

Besides pieces by the gallery’s owners, Modern Muse also carries work by other local and regional artists, all of whom have been there since the opening. “You will find two-dimensional and three-dimensional [pieces] ranging from representational to abstract,” says Bottinelli.

Photo by Colby Rabon

One of those artists, innovative abstract sculptor Molly Sawyer, puts it this way: “The gallery is absolutely beautiful, and I appreciate Sandra’s and Pearl’s emphasis on maintaining the independence of their artists. I feel that Modern Muse, along with other galleries opening in the area, are working to change the face of the River Arts District for the better.”

Photo by Colby Rabon

Other currently represented artists are Susan S. Spraker, John Federlin, Suje Garcia, Robin McCoy, Christy Vonderlack, Meryl Lefkovich, Lorraine Dauw, and Deanna Chilian.

Bottinelli and Renken envision hosting quarterly shows, as well as music events and even family painting workshops. They also welcome groups that want to rent the gallery space for their own special events.

Photo by Colby Rabon

Spraker, a cold-wax oil painter, says, “As a retired business owner, I was drawn to the two women who joined forces and launched themselves into opening their own gallery. It takes a lot of courage, resourcefulness, and hard work.”

Modern Muse, Riverview Station #110, 191 Lyman St., River Arts District, Asheville. Hours are 11am-4pm, open Wednesday through Monday (closed Tuesdays). For more information, call 828-329-4785 or see

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