An artist herself, YaYa Wenning knows the difficulties of getting creative pieces seen by the buying public. For years she has created everyday wearable art out of recycled and up-cycled clothes. She began as a vendor at the Paris of the South Flea Market in Asheville, a venue she ended up buying and running for two seasons before deciding that the endeavor was taking away from her time to create.
“Two years ago I decided I needed a studio space with retail space in a well-traveled area at a real cheap price,” she says. It turned out that her friend—and “Fairy Godfather”—Derek Robinson had retail rentals, including one in West Asheville that had been boarded up since 1969. “I guess you could say I really started bothering him about this building,” she says. “Finally, after crunching numbers, he came up with a very gracious number,” one, she adds, that made her “cry with joy.”
With commission rates “not in favor of the artists,” she wanted a fairer way to do business. “So I came up with a crazy idea and just ran with it. We don’t take commissions on any of our artists.” Instead the 41 artists at the co-op rent floor and wall space in the 2,000-plus square-foot building and each spend 20 hours a month working there. “What that means,” Wenning says, “is when you walk into the co-op, you are always greeted by one of the artists.”
Artist Tammy Adkins joined Westside Artist Co-op when it opened in October. “Working with the other artists is a great source of inspiration and has helped expand the creative flow in my own work,” she says. She uses elements of nature—feathers, minerals, herbs—to create one-of-a-kind bags, jewelry and wellness products. The co-op, she says, “is a great opportunity for artists to be able to showcase their work and also to be available at the gallery to share the stories of the art pieces with the customers.”
Ashley Poston is owner and sole proprietor of Blue Mountain Clay. Since 2013, she has specialized in functional pottery inspired by trees, moons and the colors of nature. “My heart is full,” she says, “from the support, inspiration and fulfillment I have received from my fellow local artists at the co-op.”
A variety of techniques, metals and gemstones allows Drew Padgett to create his wire-wrapped and hand-fabricated jewelry. It’s a creative process he finds “meditative, challenging and very rewarding.” The co-op, he says, allows him to be part of the community formed by the artists and their customers. “Together,” he says, “we have created a unique and ever-changing space, cooperatively run by the artists for the artists.”
All of the member artists live within 50 miles of Asheville and Wenning plans to keep it that way. With all of the talent readily available, she says, “We will never go outside these mountains of Western North Carolina.”
Westside Artist Co-op is located at 726 Haywood Road. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. To learn more, visit westashevilleartists.com, Facebook or Instagram.