In 2017, local real-estate developer Brent Starck had an idea for a shared woodworking shop and asked retired engineer Kean Werner to help him make it a reality. “Rents for studio space in the River Arts District have soared in the last few years as the RAD has become a destination,” says Werner. And woodworkers, he points out, usually need a lot more floor space to create their art than does a jeweler or a painter, for example.
The culmination of Starck’s initial concept resulted in Foundation Woodworks, a group of small, private studios that surround a central room equipped with woodworking equipment. The space also includes includes Gallery 17, where works by resident artists and other wood artists are displayed.
“This model allows us to get 14 woodworkers into the same space that might have been comfortable for only three or four separate private woodworking shops, [and] at a price point the artists can afford,” explains Werner. “Both Brent and I enjoy working in the shop, but I would say our personal activities are more oriented toward helping other artists succeed.” Starck and Werner continue to be the space’s owners and managers.
Foundation Woodworks opened its doors in March 2018, but not until some major work had been done, including stabilizing the structure, bringing it up to code, and adding sprinklers and utility feeds. “When we started, the building was an empty shell,” says Werner. “We added the interior walls, power, lighting, and plumbing. It’s located in what was a group of deserted buildings, once part of a large tannery. The location had been nicknamed the “Foundation” because an outdoor skateboard park had been built on the foundation of one of the old buildings in the area. It eventually became shortened to Foundy, the name of the street on which Foundation Woodworks is located.
The roughly 1,800-square-foot gallery represents more than 40 local artists creating a diversity of items, including jewelry, bowls, cutting boards, spoons, furniture, cabinets, sculptures, boxes, pens, and a lot more with prices from $10 to $15,000. “We try to have a range of small affordable gifts up through museum-quality sculptures. A little something for everyone,” says Werner, adding, “Where else in Asheville are you going to find a Klingon cutting board or a wall sculpture with 13 secret compartments?
“But if we don’t have something,” he’s quick to continue, “our gallery assistants will work with the customer to pair them with a local artist to get something custom made.”
One of the displaying artists, Connie Molland, a co-owner of Flow gallery in Marshall, describes her experience with the venue: “As an artist who does six to eight shows per year, I am not looking to put my work in several galleries in the Asheville area. But I really like being in Foundation Woodworks because the customers who go in there are the type of people who appreciate wood and the work that goes into turning wood into art.”
Chris Kamm, who’s worked and sold in the gallery since 2019, notes great sales. “The gallery is a stand-alone destination for woodcraft, and also receives spontaneous foot traffic from [River Arts District visitors],’” he notes.
Werner says it’s fun to see people’s reaction when they come in the door. “They’re not sure what to expect after seeing all of the graffiti on the outside of the buildings. It’s also fun when they stop in to see the progress on custom pieces they’ve ordered.”
It hasn’t all been easy, however. Werner admits the first year was rough, with the Foundation area still a muddy construction zone on a dirt road. The area is now paved, including free parking — “a unique area that even many locals have not discovered yet,” he says.
Besides the galleries, artists’ studios, and public graffiti art, there are also food and drink vendors, indoor and outdoor skating areas, and shops. And the place is still growing. Green River Woods will soon open a wood-slab store for those who are building or commissioning live-edge furniture.
“They have one of the largest selections of locally harvested wood in the area,” says Kerner.
Foundation Woodworks (Woodworking Studios & Art Gallery), 17 Foundy Street #10, in Asheville’s River Arts District. Gallery hours are 11-5pm Monday through Saturday and noon-5pm on Sunday. For more information, call 828-515-4404 or see foundationwoodworks.com. The featured artist of the month is woodturner Greg Schramek.