By Krista Stearns
Murals in Asheville couldn’t happen without the investment of local businesses commissioning the art. Josie Meikle of Urban Orchard Cider Company believes it’s the responsibility of local businesses to support artists who contribute to our city’s vibrancy. “Growing up here in the 1980s and 1990s, the town of Asheville was not quite what we see today. There were boarded-up windows and not a lot of businesses.” When her family decided to open up a cidery, Josie said “it was based on a local centric ideal.” For example, all the apples they use to create their cider come from just 15 miles down the road in Hendersonville.
Her family is very intentional about the cider they serve. Cider is classified as unfortified wine, and Urban Orchard takes this art seriously, aging all of their varieties for eight months or more.. They offer 9-10 styles on tap, ranging from dry to sweet, and always featuring creative farm-to-table ingredients. They also have a selection of fun seasonal flavors like the Kimikama, which means Christmas in Hawaiian. This variety is infused with cranberry, which gives it a bold, semi-sweet and tart flavor as well as a beautiful red hue.
In the past 20 years, Josie has watched the city change dramatically. “There are so many new people moving in, which is great for the city and our economy, but we are creating a situation where many artists aren’t able to afford housing,” she said. Urban Orchard believes in working with and supporting the local artists who’ve made the city what it is today. “We strive to create a network where we are all supporting each other, artists, musicians, and local businesses,” she said
Josie’s first favorite city mural was the “Play Everyday” mural on the Short Street Cakes building, which is one of the many murals that has come and gone. She said “the mural was inspirational because it sparked such joy in people. We got to watch people interact with the art, posing for photos and always leaving laughing.” This sparked a creative vision for Josie to include murals on all of her Urban Orchard locations.
At their West Asheville cidery, Josie commissioned Kathryn Crawford, one of Asheville’s most accomplished female mural artists, to paint a piece on their street-facing wall in her floral style of a blooming apple blossom with fruit. “When I started seeing her pieces pop up around town I was enamored,” Josie said. “She has such a great eye for bringing in hard, modern lines and mixing it with soft natural pieces, such as a feather or flower. I knew immediately I wanted to work with her.”
At their other location in the South Slope, Urban Orchard hosts a mural created by Ian Wilkenson and Ishmael. When I asked Josie about Urban Orchard’s artistic philosophy and style she explained that her family shares concepts, but gives the artists the space to interpret their ideas.
Urban artists want to incorporate local history and culture into their pieces. Their South Slope building was once a cigar rolling factory for Hav-A-Tampa, one of the world’s best selling cigars. Their work is an homage to a Cuban cigar foil and advertisements with vintage images also and also features their signature cider. Next, they mixed in the “effervescence and bubbliness of a cider” she said. Ishmael’s studio is also in the building, and more of his work is featured inside, including a mural over the bar and several canvases all done in his signature style.
Josie and I also discussed Asheville’s thriving local street artist scene, whose history stretches more than a century.. “It stems from when people visited on holiday or to seek cures at sanitariums for tuberculosis. We had a lot of authors and artists come through this area. After the Great Depression, Asheville closed off for a number of years. It wasn’t until the 1990’s when we saw a resurgence of music, art, and alternative entrepreneurs,” she remembers
Connecting with local artists and the businesses that commission pieces is the core of Mountain Mural Tours. We are committed to connecting with business owners to learn about their relationships with artists and how this impacts their design decisions. Urban Orchard is one of our closest partners, and the host of our beverage pit-stop at their West Asheville location.
When we discussed approaches to help other businesses commission art, Josie said that Mountain Murals is a great step in that direction. “An urban art tour brings more awareness to people that come into the city and offers a historical perspective [of Asheville art] and why it’s important for us to maintain these spaces for artists”.
You can see the full interview with Josie Mielke here on YouTube.