By Gina Malone
This month American Folk Art & Framing celebrates 18 years of bringing folk art to downtown Asheville. Owner Betsey-Rose Weiss provides a home for the work of 40 potters, sculptors and painters, most of them self-taught. “The best thing about working with folk artists is that they are so knowledgeable about what they want to create and will try anything to make it—experimentation, problem solving, trying over and over—and know when they have achieved their vision,” she says. “They have a wonderful kind of braveness.”
From childhood, Weiss was drawn to makers and loved hearing their stories. “I watched and listened and eventually tried my hand at many things—tailoring, ‘mechanic-ing’, any kind of making,” she says. She worked as a partner in a shoe repair shop in Illinois before moving, at 24, to Asheville 30 years ago where she set up her own business designing and making embroidered beaded jewelry. Creating and selling her artwork sent her traveling around the country with top-tier, juried art shows. “Business traveling allowed for exploration of other art and artists that I found intriguing,” Weiss says. “The self-taught and visionary artists of the South became my passion and I spent many days finding and visiting with them; it was a great and beautiful experience being with them.”
Wanting to settle down, in 2003, Weiss approached the owner of the two-year-old American Folk Art & Framing, offering to volunteer two days a week. “It was the only gallery in the region that displayed any true contemporary folk art of the region,” she says. After she had worked there for a couple of years, the owner decided to sell and Weiss found the resources to purchase the business.
“In the many years that I have owned the business, there have been many changes to the gallery, with it evolving as Asheville has too,” Weiss says. “The mission of my business is to introduce people to the soul and vibe of American folk art, to represent the artists whom I most respect and to create a dignified space in which to show and share their work. I really did hope for what has come true in purchasing the gallery,” she adds, “that we could raise the visibility of southern self-taught artists by presenting them to all of the people of the world who visit Asheville.”
Biltmore Avenue has become “full and vibrant and alive,” Weiss says, and having an internet presence has allowed her gallery to become nationally known. Internet shoppers and those who walk in off the street find “a gallery that represents art and artists that they love and respect,” she says.
Besides the gallery, Weiss and her staff—Morgan Ford, Julia Mills and Charly Louise Culberson— provide custom framing for their artists and for anyone else looking to display and protect the artwork they create and purchase.
“Folks will notice when they visit the gallery that I have gone back to what was so important to me at the beginning of my life,” Weiss says. “We share the stories of the artists. While we do represent their art, we really represent them. It is personal, and we take that seriously.”
American Folk Art & Framing is located at 64 Biltmore Avenue in Asheville. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. For more information, visit AmeriFolk.com or call 828.281.2134.