Conservation Events Visual Arts

Celebrating the French Broad River in Art

Celebrating the French Broad River in Art

Winter’s Blues by Deborah Squier

RiverLink: “Of Time and the River” Celebrates the French Broad

By Gina Malone

It takes time—generations, perhaps—to learn to appreciate a river. “It is easy to destroy overnight treasures that cannot be replaced in a generation,” wrote Wilma Dykeman, “easy to destroy in a generation that which cannot be restored in centuries.”

The 3rd Annual RiverLink “Of Time and the River” benefit opens with a gala event at Zealandia Castle on Friday, October 21. Twenty artists will present nearly one hundred pieces of realistic art inspired by the French Broad River.

When Dykeman published The French Broad in 1955, the ancient river was an unregulated mess of pollution and debris. Since then, strides have been taken to clean it up, and Asheville’s RiverLink, established in 1987, has been at the forefront of cleanup and conservation efforts, greenway development and education.

A kayaker who has paddled most sections of the river, Christine Enochs says that she was deeply inspired by Dykeman’s book. “This show,” she says, “is a way to express my and other like-minded artists’ passion for the river. I feel we can hardly do enough to shine a light on the French Broad River and the work being done to make it a healthy, vital lifeline for the region.”

It all began, says artist and show curator John Mac Kah, when he met with RiverLink executive director Karen Cragnolin. He wanted to find a way through art to help with river projects and the idea for “Of Time and the River” was born. The show borrows its name from Asheville writer Thomas Wolfe’s novel and Cragnolin likes this “intersection of literature and art.”

“Since the river is in such transition,” she says, “capturing images now is very important,” and, she adds, artists help with that.

“The importance of the French Broad River Basin cannot be overlooked,” says Mac Kah, who was one of a group of volunteers in 1999 that pulled more than a ton of debris from the river, including tires, car parts and refrigerators. “They have done that countless times since,” he adds. “The RiverLink people never stop.”

Artists Dana Irwin and Paul Blankenship round out the benefit’s organizational team. “I have canoed portions of the river,” Irwin says, “walked my dogs beside it, picnicked at parks that grace it, and painted and sketched along the banks for many years.”

Artists are encouraged to contribute plein air paintings for the benefit. A map at the exhibit will show places along the river’s 218 miles where this year’s artists sat to work. Works by young artists, aged eight to 14, will also be displayed.

For his painting, Blankenship took the tools of his craft from the landscape, making ink from walnuts that he found along the river and using river cane and quills as drawing implements. “I can stand in one spot,” he says, “and see the animal, vegetable and mineral sources of my art—all in addition to the scene itself.”

“From the amazing art work we’ll see in ‘Of Time and the River,’” says Dave Russell, RiverLink’s director of volunteer services, “to the dirtiest, oldest tire or toilet we’ll pull from the French Broad, RiverLink is all about making the river and her watershed better and better.”

Tickets for the gala event are $50 (members) and $75 (non-members). Works will be on display Saturday and Sunday, October 22 and 23, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information or to order tickets, visit


  • I clipped acopy of “Winter’s Blues” from the Laurel Oct. 2016 issue and still have it, still love it!! BUT what I see in this online display is more vibrant and harsh than the copy I clipped from the Laurel and have saved all these years! My clipping is much more dull and quieting. I assume there are prints available. I would like to know the size and if I could purchase one IF INDEED the real thing is softer and darker than the website display. I hope to hear from you.

    • Hi, Jan. The one I found in our archives is quite vibrant. We cannot sell you a copy of the image, but you can certainly contact the artist to purchase a print. Her website is:

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