RAD Work

In the studio with four Asheville artists

Photo by JameyKay HuffmanA thriving community of UNC Asheville art graduates is producing exceptional work in the River Arts District (RAD) in Asheville. And although these four artists didn’t all graduate at the same time, they share a bond created through the education received and time spent in the studio on campus.

“UNC Asheville taught me about a work ethic, and Megan [Wolfe, professor of art] showed me I had to take it seriously,” said Kyle Carpenter, a 2000 graduate. “I spent many, many hours in the studio on campus, and there was nowhere else I wanted to be.”

Carpenter stepped into a job at Highwater Clays right out of undergraduate school. It was there he learned the business side of ceramics, working in the warehouse, in retail, and networking with an incredible number of potters and sculptors. He took many classes at Highwater; one of them was an 18-week salt-glaze firing course with Linda McFarling. She proved to be a mentor, inspiring him to create the salt-glazed work he does today.

After a brief stint as a teacher, Carpenter decided he wanted the lifestyle of a studio potter, so he built a kiln in his backyard and began making pots, attending craft shows to sell his work. He ran across a new gallery in Atlanta called Mudfire and submitted photos. The gallery accepted his work and he exhibited off and on there for almost a decade.

“Mudfire Gallery marketed me, and I was a best-selling potter for them,” he said. “I was featured in Clay Times because of my association with Mudfire, and that helped me get into more and more galleries.

Today his studio and gallery (Curve Studio) is in Asheville’s River Arts District. He is a juried member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, and his works are in many collections, including Charlotte’s Mint Museum.

Maria Andrade Troya, a 2001 graduate, shares studio and gallery space at Curve Studio. From a long line of bakers, Troya works with water and clay instead of flour to create functional pottery that mostly focuses on kitchen items.

A printmaking major, she began working with clay in earnest when she rented a studio in the River Arts District with a friend who had a pottery wheel. An internship at Odyssey Clay (now Odyssey Center for Ceramic Arts) allowed her to take many classes and workshops.

“After my experience at Odyssey, I began to focus; I like pattern and consistency, and later I started drawing on pottery using a slip-trailer. I use printmaking tools now, so I’ve come full circle in the last decade,” she explained. Her time at UNC Asheville helped her build lasting relationships, and she notes that her experience with Wolfe was a turning point for her career.

“There are a ton of UNC Asheville graduates that are still doing their art.
I run into a lot of people at craft shows. Although many people don’t do it fulltime, they continue to create amazing work,” she said.

Nontraditional student Heather Knight, a 2006 graduate, came to UNC Asheville after going to another school, and she was determined to be successful and make her living doing art. The moment she set foot in the ceramics studio on campus she knew what she wanted to do.

“I probably spent more time in the studio than anyone, and after countless hours of practice, I graduated and completed a residency at Odyssey and taught in Greenville at the museum,” she said. “I also set up a shop on Etsy.”

Creating an Etsy store was a very good idea; Interior Design Magazine found her online and dedicated a full page to her work. She also founded Element, a group studio in downtown Asheville.

Knight works exclusively in porcelain using a white color palette, creating tiles, bowls, and curios that are inspired by the natural world. Her art has been exhibited nationwide and in France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Dubai.

She knows what it takes to be successful in a highly competitive business.

“You have to be focused and spend your time wisely. The most important thing is to spend time on your art; you must practice to get better,” she said, “I work long hours and am very determined, and I’m constantly looking for outlets to learn more.”

Josh Copus, a 2006 graduate, creates his pottery using clay from Madison County; but the roots of his art date to undergraduate research in the art department.

“I participated in an undergrad research scholarship program. It was an amazing experience,” he said. “My project was about ceramic materials and local clays, and I was digging clay out of
the ground. 

That project defined my body of work and the methodologies I use today.”

Copus has two studio collectives in RAD, Clayspace and Foundation Clay. He has another studio in Marshall that includes his kiln and most of his operations. Using funds provided by the Windgate Fellowship he received while at UNC Asheville, he built a 27-foot-long woodfired climbing chamber kiln in Marshall. Those funds also allowed him to start Clayspace and propelled him from being a student to becoming a professional. Today he works with galleries across the country and sells his work all over the world. 

“I came to UNC Asheville to work in different mediums and get a well-rounded art education,” he said. “I am grateful that we were encouraged to be self-directed and create our own work.”