The Making of Madison County

Arts Council gallery spotlights the region’s visual artists

A ceramic head planter by Kerstin Davis
Photo by Colby Rabon

On hot summer days, there’s something relaxingly bucolic about the mountain town of Marshall. Just 20 miles north of Asheville and bordering a tranquil section of the French Broad River, it is self-dubbed as “one street wide and a mile long.” Home to just under 800 residents, Marshall’s historic downtown area boasts a brewery, coffee shops, restaurants, clothing stores, a health-food grocery, artists’ studios, galleries, a century-old dry-goods store and a storied jail turned boutique hotel.

Long a driving force behind the town’s creative endeavors, the Madison County Arts Council (MCAC) is an organization whose offerings include a gallery featuring works by local and regional artists. The executive director is Erich Hubner, who has been with the group since 2009. “Before that,” says Hubner, “I was a professional touring musician, but I’ve long been a fan of visual art.” Over the years, he’s helped friends with their galleries. “It was a nice way to be around something that I loved to experience.”

The building that houses the Madison County Arts Council’s gallery was built in 1908. The nonprofit moved in 100 years later.
Photo by Colby Rabon

The MCAC was founded in 1978. It moved to its current location, at 7,800 square feet, in 2008, and in 2018, the arts council purchased the space. The building had been built a century before that, in 1908, serving as a hardware store, livery stable, department store, and library in the intervening years. “We’ve been improving it with a new roof, skylights, refurbished floors, and more,” says Hubner.

The MCAC’s mission, says Hubner, is to help strengthen the community through the arts. To accomplish this, it offers a wide range of shows throughout the year — from solo presentations to high-variety group shows. “Over the course of any given year, we will have as many as 75 different artists in our gallery,” reveals Hubner. “While most of them come from the region, some artists have been from around the world.” A summer show, FRESH, is comprised of new works by more than 30 local and regional makers, among them widely exhibited mixed-media artist Primrose Coke, heritage woodcrafter Drew Langsner, fine-art basketmaker Joe Bruneau, pressed-flower artist Susan McChesney, and encaustic sculptor Kerstin Davis. 

Executive Director Erich Hubner used to be a touring musician (a fitting tie-in to the county’s history).
Photo by Colby Rabon

“And then we have a Barn Month exhibit in September and October,” says Hubner, referring to Barns of Madison County, a painting exhibit co-sponsored by Appalachian Barn Alliance, which recognizes the abundance of the county’s rural built environment. (In the 20th century, Madison County was the state’s largest producer of burley tobacco; some 10,000 barns still stand on winding roads and in remote coves.)

One of the artists whose works have often been seen at the gallery is MCAC board member Katie Graham, who creates two- and three-dimensional Raku ceramics. “The best way to describe it,” she says, “is ceramic landscape painting incorporating glass, mica, and impressions of shells and coral.”

The Path, Linda Wasielewski
Photo by Colby Rabon

Another frequent exhibitor is award-winning documentary photographer Rob Amberg, whose memorable black-and-white images chronicle the county and its inhabitants going back 50 years. This summer, Amberg releases Little Worlds, the third in his trilogy of collected Madison County portraits that began with his celebrated book Sodom Laurel Album, published in 2002. Little Worlds combines newly released photos with Amberg’s dystopian fiction. (See related story on page 32.)

Thanks to heritage events like the Bluff Mountain Festival — a 27-year-old music-and-dance event sponsored by the MCAC — and the county’s eighth-generation-descended a cappella ballad singers, who gather monthly to sing at the Old Marshall Jail Hotel, Madison County’s rich musical heritage remains vibrant. 

Now is All We Have, Deb Burns
Photo by Colby Rabon

In recent decades, though, visual artists — hundreds of them — have increasingly found inspiration in the county called “the jewel of the Blue Ridge.” Importantly, Hubner says that the MCAC has helped legitimize the arts as an economic driver in Madison County. “[The] county’s reputation as a creative hub keeps growing and growing.”

The Madison County Arts Council and Gallery, 90 South Main St., Marshall, is open 10am-5pm Monday through Friday and 10am-3pm on Saturday. The group exhibit FRESH runs through Friday, July 19. For more information, call 828-649-1301 or e-mail 

Join the Conversation


  1. says: Mattie

    I was borned and raised here. Wished it was like it was back then .. Nothing is the same in the town of Marshall any more !!

  2. Marshall is a visual artist’s Dream Come True. The innovation there is ‘unrestricted’. The Council in previous years has intentionally supported the local talents in all ranges of skill sets in all media, amateur to professional. WNC Makers are authentically fresh and accessible through this great historic venue.

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