It’s no wonder that the River Arts District follows the meanderings of the French Broad River. One of the few rivers in the world that runs north instead of south, it provides a natural testament to the visionaries who decades earlier went against the established flow and became legends through Black Mountain College. And though BMC is no more, the seeds that were sown under the shadows of the majestic Blue ridge Mountains have continued to grow in Asheville.

A new generaiton of artists has replaced the old icons. The River Arts District, in edifices that¬†The New York Times¬† recently described as “a historic collection of attractively distressed, previously forsaken structures from Asheville’s bygone industrial age,” has become home to artists such as sculptor John Payne, quilter Patty Torno, and painter Shelley Pereda.

For over 20 years, John Payne’s sculptures have thrilled children and adults alike with the marvel of his lifelike dinosaur constructions, among them a six-foot long Velociraptor that works like a marionette.

“As a child, I always wanted to figure out how things work, and I loved dinosaurs,” says John. “So all I had to do was study paleontology and engineering. The rest was easy.”

Patty Torno, a quilter who cites Annie Albers of Black Mountain College as an influence says, “Hand quilting is my form of meditation. My fabric collecting feeds my obsession with color and pattern,”

This shines through in her quilt and blanket work. “When I sell a quilt, I always hope it will be used to keep a body warm. A handmade quilt is one of the luxuries of life.”

Shelley Pereda frowns, deep in thought, when asked why she paints.

“I’ve always had a love affair with the way pigments lay on paper or canvas,” she says. “Art to me is an emotional experience. I need to feel it and often use my fingers as brushes or paint barefoot, so I can feel the floor under my feet.”

On November 11 and 12, these three award-winning artists, and 70 others like them, will open their studio doors to the public for two days of festivities during the River district Studio Stroll. Experience the diversity of expression that can be found in the River Arts District — from the impressionistic strokes of landscape painters to the molten sparks of metalsmiths at work. Be amazed with the color, texture, shape, and lines found here. It’s like a trip to the Louvre, only better — it costs less to get here, people are friendlier, and you can buy a little piece of artistic inspiration to share with family and friends.

Arrive early and stay for lunch at any of the neighborhood eateries, including Clingman Avenue Coffee & Catering, 12 Bones Smokehouse, and Twin Cousins Kitchen. Afterwards, be exhilarated that you, too, were part of the artistic rebirth taking place in Asheville’s River Arts District.

David Pereda