Eileen and Marty Black

Cotton Mill Studios

Owners of the Cotton Mill Studios

The Historic Cotton Mill Studios, located in the River Arts District of Asheville is what remains of the Cotton Mill Complex which was destroyed by a devastating fire in 1995. The building was purchased by potters Eileen & Marty Black (The Potter’s Mark Ltd.) in 2002 and is the home to fifteen artists.

Rapid River Magazine: This December marks your 10th year in the River Arts District (RAD) and your purchase of the Cotton Mill Building. What would you say has been the greatest change to (RAD) since 2002?

Eileen and Marty Black, owners of the Cotton Mill Studios. Photo: Erica Mueller Photography

Eileen & Marty Black: When we purchased the remnants of the Cotton Mill, RAD was basically a dilapidated neighborhood called the River District. It had about 35 artists, who only opened their studios for a one day studio stroll and handed out a black & white flyer for their guide. The crime rate was high and, if they could find it, most people were reluctant to visit this rather depressed area.

Now we have over 180 artists in a vibrant area that has become an international destination. Our stroll is now a two day event twice a year, we have a full color brochure (about 70,000 were printed last year) and offer a free trolley. Out of town visitors often tell us that we are second only to the Biltmore house as one of the reasons, to visit Asheville. Over half the buildings are owned by artists, many of whom are open most days of the week. We now have six restaurants, with more coming, all helping to make visiting the RAD an adventure that can last a whole day.

RRM: What goals do you have for the Cotton Mill Studios Building in the coming years?

E&M: A few years ago, we set up the Mill Gallery, which incorporates all the common walls in the building for displaying the artwork of all the tenants. We intend to hold more exhibitions in the Mill Gallery that feature Cotton Mill Artists. Many of these shows will benefit not for profit organizations.

The goals of the building are dependent on the goals of the artists who rent studios. Our intention is to provide whatever support is necessary so our artists can make a decent living creating their art. We also want to continue the contribution that The Cotton Mill Studios provides to the growth of RAD.

We are thrilled to be a long term part of this dynamic district. More changes will come and we expect to be involved in further growth.

RRM: How has your personal involvement changed the look and feel of RAD?

EB: Over my forty years, as a potter, I have been involved with many arts organizations. I started with the Ceramic League of Miami, and became the founding president of the Carolina Clay Guild.

Being an integral part of the RAD offered me many opportunities. I was membership chair for five years and eventually served as president for two years. With the help of a handful of artists and building owners, we shaped the community to what it is now. It was totally an artist driven organization, with no financial help from the city, county, or state. The artists built what is now known as The River Arts District.

RRM: What would you like seen added to RAD either for those who work there or those who shop there that is currently lacking?

E&M: We need a safer way for visitors to stroll through the district. A one word answer is sidewalks.

RRM: Being both an artist and a building owner do you ever feel like one job is hurting the other?

E&M: No, in fact, it has given us a better perspective of what the artists need. As building owners, we try to keep the rents at a reasonable level by having us, as artists, paying our fair share of the rent and not using the building income for personal gain.

RRM: Has the poor economy over the past four years changed the way you run your business and perhaps made you stronger because of it?

E&M: Because RAD is now such a desirable place for artists, we have never experienced a time when we could not rent our studios. Even with the economy the way it is, we have enjoyed having our building being fully rented. Our pottery business has increased every year.

RRM: I can honestly say your building easily holds some of the most talented artists in the area. In choosing who will rent studio space do you require certain qualifications or awards?

E&M: Thank you, We feel the same way. We value all of our artists and choose potential new tenants that are talented and have the ability to fit into our Cotton Mill Community. We do insist that the tenants become a member of the RADA and are comfortable with being open to the general public. After all, if you’re not open, you certainly can’t expect to sell. We want the Cotton Mil Studios to continue to be a major draw for the RAD.

RRM: Tell us a little about the mural on the outside of the building and how that came about?

E&M: Cotton Mill Studios is a remnant of a much larger Cotton Mill Complex which burned down in 1995. Our building was saved by a change of wind direction, however, the building did show signs of the fire on the north wall and the northern section of the front wall. The north wall was painted and an illustration of a gear identifying RAD was added.

The front wall was an eyesore and rather than simply paint it, we engaged Ian Wilkinson of the Asheville Mural Project to paint a trompe l’oeil mural that would both clean up the building and attract visitors. It has been a great success with visitors constantly taking pictures of the mural.

Historic Cotton Mill Studios
122 Riverside Drive, Asheville
Hours: Mon-Sat. 10-4pm., Sun. Closed
(828) 252-9122