Flanked by close mountains and the French Broad River, Marshall is memorably described by locals as “a block wide, a mile long, sky high, and hell deep.” To be plain, the town is small — though its old-fashioned Main Street and parallel railroad are so picturesque they’ve been featured in more than one major movie. And in June 2010, eight women found space on Marshall’s bijou thoroughfare to anchor a slow-craft movement.
Enter Flow Gallery, a brick-and-mortar featuring the work of some 70 regional artists, two-thirds being Madison County-based. “A town absolutely needs a gallery as much as it needs a coffee shop — as much as it needs a restaurant, as much as it needs a hardware store,” says Connie Molland. She is hesitant to call herself a founding member (she became involved in 2011, when one of the eight original women left the project). However, Molland’s pragmatism has been a constant for Flow.
“It began as a loose group of people who knew nothing about, say, collecting and remitting sales tax,” says Molland, former director of the Downtown Marshall Association. Having brought with her decades of banking and nonprofit experience, she often jokes that the gallery only wanted her for practical matters. “I have a business degree; I’ve never taken an art class in my life.”
But, through her own business, Rose Hollow Connections, Molland is also a creator of home goods that are visually striking and undeniably functional. Her kitchen collection, for instance, challenges the assumed masculinity of woodworking. A cutting board adopts the silhouette of a Bohemian bag, another the visage of a flowerpot. There are sardine-shaped spreaders for garlicky baba ganoush and fanciful pie servers for buttery peach cobbler. Molland’s charcuterie boards are made without stains or chemicals; the platters are prime real estate for smoked trout dip and melba toast. Molland also crafts décor including clocks and mirrors.
“I love touching the wood, seeing its grain, and watching it evolve from a place that is rough and raw,” she says. Her aesthetic is whimsical: most pieces feature inlay dots of varying woods. “My work hangs as art that is functional.”
The daughter of a carpenter-turned-politician, Molland flipped the paradigm, transitioning from a career in corporate community relations to woodworking. But until 2003, when Molland’s husband Rick gifted her a woodworking class at the Indianapolis Art Center, even using a screwdriver seemed farfetched. Likewise, the concept of pursuing art full time was illusory. Then, in 2008, she and Rick relocated to Western North Carolina and Molland discovered Blannahassett Island, home of Marshall High Studios.
“I was surrounded by artists, and that’s what they did for a living,” recalls Molland. She was quickly swept up by the decade’s slow-craft movement, which was “not so much a reaction to modernity as a modest suggestion for its improvement,” reads the gallery’s website.
Now celebrating ten years in business, Flow is a testament to the power of arts in a small-town economy. While many mom-and-pop stores are shuttering their doors in the wake of COVID-19, Flow will be reopening for a 10th-anniversary exhibit that features work from all 15 former and current gallery partners. “It’s a celebration of coming back after the pandemic,” Molland says. She will be presenting at least one Lazy Susan made from walnut sourced in Flag Pond, Tennessee, just over the state line from Madison County.
“It makes sense to celebrate,” she continues. “Downtown Marshall has changed so much in these ten years, and I believe Flow is a part of that change.”
Connie Molland, Rose Hollow Connections, Marshall (rosehollowconnections.com). Flow Gallery’s 10th Anniversary Exhibit (14 South Main St.) will open Friday, July 24, from 5:30-7:30 p.m., and run through Saturday, Aug. 15. For more information, call 828-649-1686 or visit flowmarshall.com.