Where the Good Vibes Reign

Susan Hanning, left, and Lisa Steffens in front of Red House Studios & Gallery.
Portrait by Colby Rabon

Is it something akin to a vortex that lures visitors to Red House? Susan Hanning, an oil and acrylic painter and president of the Swannanoa Valley Fine Arts League (SVFAL), says maybe. 

But it’s a chummy vortex.

“Countless visitors have told us they feel such good vibes while they’re [here],” says Hanning. SVFAL is headquartered in the Red House Studios & Gallery adjacent to the historic Monte Vista Hotel in Black Mountain. “People have said they feel called to come back,” she adds. Some of them “even decide to move to the area after visiting us.”

Photo by Colby Rabon

SVFAL is one of the oldest volunteer art leagues in Western North Carolina. It was founded in 1967 to promote visual art in the community by hosting exhibits, workshops, lectures, and giving scholarships to aspiring art students.

In 2011, the new owners of the Monte Vista Hotel asked the SVFAL if it would be interested in taking over the old farmhouse, known as the Red House, located next door to the hotel. It had fallen into disrepair over the years, and “was in need of a tenant and a lot of TLC,” says Hanning. The organization accepted the challenge, and extensive renovations of the 4,000-square-foot structure were soon underway, including a new roof, repairing the third-floor dormers, and a long list of other projects necessary to bring the structure up to code.

The 4,000-square-foot farmhouse was extensively renovated by members of the Swannanoa Valley Fine Arts League.
Photo by Colby Rabon

“Tons of scraping, patching, and painting were done by SVFAL members,” says Hanning. Just one year later, on April 13, 2012, there was a ribbon cutting, and the SVFAL moved into the newly renamed Red House Studios & Gallery.

Three separate galleries in the Red House shelter approximately 1,600 square feet of exhibit space, plus two workshop rooms, a library, a kitchen, and studios. “We moved into the Red House with 88 members,” says Hanning, “which quickly became 188.” Annual membership, she says, is just $40 a year. Most of the artist members are from Western North Carolina, and all are invited to participate in the gallery’s exhibitions. And while these shows have resumed, most of the Red House’s other activities have been curtailed over the past year due to the pandemic.

Drawings by Patricia Veach and painted portrait studies by Rhonda Care.
Photo by Colby Rabon

“We had a full schedule seven days a week,” says Hanning. “Every morning and afternoon we were running classes. We were booked solid.” Those classes, still suspended as of February, typically included a book club and workshops in collage, watercolor, oil and cold wax, printmaking, photography, nature drawing, bookmaking, portrait painting, and more.

Themed exhibits continue with limited hours; the Spring 2021 installment, Living Things, opened in February and runs through May 16. Artist Lisa Steffens — drawings, paintings, and monotypes — is the group’s publicity chair; she says the participating artists of Living Things were asked to submit work inspired by plants, trees, animals, and people. More than 60 member artists have contributed paintings, fiber art, sculpture, photography, and mixed-media creations.

Charlie Covid, a sculpture by Ron Maffett.
Photo by Colby Rabon

The show is being offered in person and online. Steffens says SVFAL member David Hearne put together the virtual exhibit, accessible on the organization’s website. She promises upcoming exhibits on abstracts and another one where an unusual medium, feathers, “[acts] as a springboard into the creation of exciting and intriguing pieces.”

Despite the tribulations and restrictions inflicted by COVID-19, Red House Studios & Gallery members are excited for the organization to resume its role as a gallery/learning center. 

Jewelry by Sylvia McCollum.
Photo by Colby Rabon

And while mediums abound, the central motif is a warm welcome. “We are known for our friendliness,” says Hanning. “It just feels good in here … we want to return to our wonderful normal.”

The Swannanoa Valley Fine Arts League’s Red House Studios & Gallery, 310 West State St., two blocks west of Cherry Street and next to the Monte Vista Hotel, Black Mountain. Current hours are 11am-4pm Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for the exhibit Living Things, which runs through Sunday, May 16. Health protocols (mask mandate, social distancing, and temperature taking) remain in place. For updates and more information, call 828-669-0351 or see svfalarts.org 

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