“This must be the day that all of my dreams come true,” penned Bob Dylan. “So happy just to be alive underneath the sky of blue on this new morning.” Those lyrics also sang to John Cram. He chose them when naming New Morning Gallery, a business he opened in Biltmore Village in 1973 just one year after moving here from Racine, Wisconsin. The gallery has thrived ever since.
Back then, Asheville was still decades away from coming into its own. However, “after learning about the long, rich heritage of craft in the area, I had the idea of a shop to showcase local and regional artists, and hopefully make a living,” says Cram, adding, “and a $500 loan from my mother.”
Cram continues, “My original idea was to open a gallery that offered ‘Art for Living,’ which has been our company’s tagline since opening. Why have a plain white coffee cup, department-store dinnerware, or big-box furniture when you can live with a piece of handmade art?”
New Morning Gallery was first located in the building at 1 Kitchin Place (now the home of Lululemon) before moving to its current address, 7 Boston Way. Following several renovations over the years, especially those after the devastating floods left behind by Hurricanes Frances and Ivan in 2004, New Morning Gallery now stretches to 12,500 square feet of display space on two floors, and represents more than 1,500 American artists. It is one of the largest craft galleries in the nation.
Wares are purposefully displayed in room-like settings, so shoppers can imagine the pieces in their own homes. The selection includes furniture, lighting, art glass, ceramics, garden art, jewelry, and kitchen and bath accessories.
Cram picks each item for the gallery, along with employees who have been with the company over the long haul. “They know what I like,” he says, “and what will sell. Quality and craftsmanship are our guideposts.”
One newly added artist is Michelle MacKenzie, from Morganton. Her vivid, whimsical sculpture includes wire-and-ceramic birds, horses, and other creatures, and imaginative wall hearts. MacKenzie credits the gallery with giving her career an important boost when she moved to Western North Carolina last year. “Everyone at New Morning considers the artists and artisans they represent as valued partners, like family. I feel that connection every time I drop in,” she says.
Matt Chambers, a long-time associate and company director, has been working with Cram since 1993. He illustrates the trajectory of the empire: “With the success of New Morning Gallery and with downtown Asheville prime for redevelopment, John opened Blue Spiral 1 art gallery in 1992. … Blue Spiral 1 helped propel Asheville to becoming one of the premiere art destinations in the country.”
Another of Cram’s promotional ventures is the Annual Village Art & Craft Fair, now in its 47th year, held the first weekend in August. “The goal of the fair,” says Cram, “was to drive business to the gallery … and to showcase art and craft in the beautiful setting of the Village.”
Haw Creek Forge of Woodfin, a maker of copper garden sculpture, is a veteran of the fair, and, more recently, a fixture in the gallery. “The audiences at the shows and in the gallery are seasoned art collectors,” points out Margy Murphy, marketing director at Haw Creek Forge. “[They] have provided us with substantial sales over the years. John Cram, in our estimation, can be credited with building the arts community … in Asheville.”
The cumulative success of these business ventures (which also include the Fine Arts Theatre, and Bellagio and Bellagio Everyday boutiques) have allowed Cram his greatest personal achievement, says Chambers — working for land preservation in the area, along with several other philanthropic projects, including establishing a permanent scholarship at Penland School of Craft. Being surrounded by an experienced and capable staff, he is now able to spend more time in his well-known gardens, notes Chambers.
Asked if he had anything else to add to this story, Cram humorously replied by quoting The Rolling Stones: “You can’t always get what you want — but if you try, sometimes you might find, you get what you need.”
New Morning Gallery, “Art for Living,” 7 Boston Way, Historic Biltmore Village. Gallery hours are 10am–6pm Monday through Thursday, 10am–7pm Friday and Saturday, and 12-5pm on Sunday. For more information, call 828-274-2831 or see newmorninggallerync.com.