Arts Conservation Galleries

The Toe River Arts Council Brings River-Inspired Art to Two Counties

I am a Rock by Doug Sudduth

Two art exhibitions documenting life along the Toe River will take place in August at the Toe River Arts Council (TRAC) galleries in Burnsville and Spruce Pine. A reception recognizing the beginning of the exhibit will be held at the Spruce Pine TRAC Gallery on Friday, August 25, from 5–7 p.m. The end of the exhibit will be honored by a reception at the Burnsville TRAC Gallery on Friday, September 22.

The idea for the shows, both titled Toe River Valley, came from artist Doug Sudduth who has been photographing the river for 13 years. “Since moving to Mitchell County in 1994,” he says, “I have been walking on nearby Conley Ridge Road, known as the back road to Penland School, always with my camera on me. Finally, in 2009 a neighbor cut a road on his property that provided access to the river. I found a special place within a few feet of the river with lively rapids just upstream. That site became my connection, having the river all to myself.”

To highlight the local importance of the river, Sudduth proposed a collaborative art show that would bring together the Blue Ridge Fine Arts Guild (BRAG), Penland School of Crafts, and the Toe River Watershed Partnership (TRWP).

So Toe Color by Kat Turczyn

“The Toe River is one of the defining, natural elements of our region,” says TRAC executive director, Denise Cook. “We were very interested in this project that brought together so many groups and individuals to share its history, fragility and importance.”

The exhibitions will include local painters, photographers and three-dimensional artists as well as the works of children who have created art based on the images they see from their bus or car windows on trips to and from school each day.

Kat Turczyn, cover artist for December’s issue of The Laurel of Asheville and BRAG member, is a participating artist in the Toe River Valley exhibition. When asked about pieces in the show she’s particularly excited about, Turczyn noted Jeff McDowell’s award-winning iron works, the Mayfly Sculptures. “Gaylene Petcu, also a BRAG member, has painted some particularly beautiful works of the area as well,” she says.

Mayfly. Jeff McDowell, artist

There will be very large Toes in the Toe murals displayed at each site for the duration of the exhibitions. The murals were produced as part of an annual science festival organized by TRWP, which teaches students in Mitchell and Yancey counties about their watershed.

During the opening reception in Spruce Pine, TRWP director Starli McDowell will talk about the work TRWP has done from 2006 to present. For the closing reception in Burnsville, internationally known geologist Alex Glover will speak, and children will have the chance to paint rocks and learn about the fragility of the ecosystem.

Toe River Valley is for anyone who wants to experience the beauty of the Toe River through the eyes of the artists who live, work, and create near the banks of one of the oldest rivers in the world.

 TRAC is a nonprofit organization established in 1976 to connect the arts and the community. The Burnsville TRAC gallery is located at 102 West Main Street and the gallery in Spruce Pine is located at 269 Oak Avenue. Hours of the galleries are 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. TRWP is a nonprofit working to protect watersheds in Western North Carolina. For more information about the Toe River Valley Exhibits, visit or call 828.682.7215. For information about TRWP, see








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