Rhona Polonsky’s route to membership in the Kenilworth Artists Association and representation at Mars Landing Galleries was circuitous, international, imbued with curiosity and self-discovery, and defined on her own terms.
“When I was a child, I felt like I was artistic but no one else saw it,” she says. “I never thought about being an artist and I still don’t. I think of myself as a maker. I make things.”
Well before she began making things, Polonsky was a teacher; raised in a small town in the Catskills, she received a degree in education from the University of Michigan. In 1985, she, her husband Geoff Smith, and their two boys were off to India. Then Israel, Indonesia, Ghana, and finally South Africa. She taught kindergarten and elementary education to students in international schools before segueing to being a school librarian.
The family spent 17 years in Indonesia, and it was there that she started taking drawing classes with painter Teguh Ostenrik. He helped her see painting was not her forte but suggested she explore sculpting. “When I moved to clay, it was just like, ‘Wow, this is it!,’” Polonsky recalls. “It was so teachable and malleable. If you didn’t like something you did, just change it. I found it very forgiving.”
In South Africa, she found a pottery studio she felt comfortable in and began to explore a different direction from sculpting: decorative vessels.
“I thought I would make things that were useful — but I don’t make anything useful,” she admits with a laugh. She also turned the doodling she filled notebooks with during long faculty meanings into a key part of her work. “When I first went into the studio, I told the instructor I wanted to doodle on clay, and she told me about sgraffito. I tried it and loved it.”
Of all the places they’ve lived, Polonsky and her husband chose a place they had never even visited when it was time to retire — or “re-fire,” as she prefers to think of it. But Asheville checked all their boxes: proximity to theirs sons in the East, politically and socially liberal, active outdoor opportunities, and a rich arts scene. “When we lived overseas, we often contemplated where we would settle when we came back to the States, and Asheville kept coming up. We had moved so many times we knew if it didn’t work out, we could move again.”
They arrived in the summer of 2019, and the next year, when COVID shut down the world, Polonsky was motivated to build a home studio. She was invited to join the Kenilworth Artists Association and will participate in the annual Studio Tour this month. Polonsky then met artist Valerie Hoh, who introduced her to Miryam Rojas at Mars Landing Galleries in Mars Hill.
And though she says her work is recognizably unique, it is always evolving. “Every time I sit down it changes,” she says. “I don’t believe in perfection. I am very good at being imperfect.”
Rhona Polonsky, Asheville. The artist will exhibit her work at the Kenilworth Artists Studio Tour (showing in Denby Dale’s studio). The tour happens Saturday, Oct. 9 and Sunday, Oct. 10, 10am-5pm both days. For more information and a brochure, see kenilworthartists.org. Polonsky is also represented by Mars Landing Galleries (37 Library St., Mars Hill, marslandinggalleries.com).