Creative Focus

Toni Carlton: Making Artists of Art Lovers

By Emily Webb

In the early 1990s, Toni Carlton spent a month in Europe studying with artists Sally Atkins and Noyes Capehart. The experience of studying some of the greatest artists in history, working with Atkins—who founded the expressive arts program at Appalachian State University—and exploring new countries would forever shape her approach to art and her philosophy on life.

“I went with a friend and we started traveling on the weekends, following our intuition,” Carlton said. “We would land on a place where it was unbelievable that we landed at that place, and it just felt like something opened in my heart and made me more aware of how connected we all are. It was kind of a spiritual moment.”

Carlton started developing a new art practice centered on the theme of connection and exploring the inner self. The idea of creating heart connections was foundational to her career after graduation, particularly in establishing the summer art workshops program for which the Carlton Gallery is known.

Carlton grew up in the High Country in a highly artistic family. She began drawing from an early age, then fell in love with oil pastels after receiving them as a gift. Her grandmother taught her how to weave. In high school, she took every art class she could, including woodworking and architectural design. She attended App State, where she studied Fine Art, Industrial Technology, Crafts, and Art Marketing. As a college student, she built her own loom by following the designs of her father and grandfather. 

“Anything related to creating was my passion, and pretty much still is,” Carlton said.

While in college Carlton did an internship at the Virginia Beach Art Center. It was there that she fell in love with the gallery experience, from selecting artists to feature, to talking to customers and identifying the perfect piece for them.

After graduating from college, Carlton rented a space in Boone to house her loom and opened a gallery called Woven Works. Over time, she expanded her gallery offerings beyond fiber arts to include painting, pottery, jewelry, and various other media. She eventually moved both her studio and gallery to a space in the Foscoe area which she shared with another artist. When that artist moved out, she was left with a large open space that was ripe for a new purpose.

At first, Carlton and several artist friends used the space as a joint studio, before coming up with the idea to start teaching others. The first teachers included Vae Hamilton, Jim Crompton, and Andrew Braitman, who were happy to share their knowledge with others. More teachers were added over the years, and now the Carlton Gallery hosts workshops every week from May to October.

“It’s so much fun to have a group of people together and to be inspired by each other,” Carlton said. “Some people sign up for multiple workshops. And some of these people are getting so good. It’s amazing just seeing the quality of what they’re doing just by taking time to learn.”

Many of those who participate in the workshops from year to year are seasonal residents of the High Country, drawn to the mild summers and natural beauty of the Blue Ridge. They decorate their homes with beautiful landscapes of the area, then sign up to learn from the very artists whose works they admire. For Carlton, the ability to connect art lovers and artists in such a personal way is directly related to her personal mission to use art as a means to bring people together.

As an artist, Carlton specializes in bringing together multiple media into a single piece. She might start by journaling or meditatively weaving at her loom to get a sense of the theme and texture of the piece. Then she will write a prayer or song on the canvas that reflects the energy she wants to put into the world before fully or partially covering it up with woven fiber, painted paper, or calligraphic writing. At the end of the process is a layered work designed to invoke specific feelings of joy, peace, or oneness in the viewer. And in her own workshop, “Heartfelt Expressions—Art as Prayer,” this is the artistic practice she introduces to others.

In her workshops, Carlton leads attendees through an expressive art experience that starts with meditation and quick writing, then turns toward movement and making music. In 2023, all the attendees worked on a single large piece of paper—first writing out thoughts and prayers, then adding color. At the end, the group lifted the paper and sang together.

“It lets people play but also really feel that love in their heart and be able to send that energy into the world,” Carlton said.

While the majority of Carlton’s customers are looking for something specific to add to their home, sometimes a person comes in wanting something a little out of the ordinary. These are the customers she brings to her studio. Like Carlton, they value art as a means of connection to others, of moving beyond the self. Carlton will explain the thought process behind a particular piece, even reading passages from the journals she kept while working on it. These moments of opening her heart to someone, and having them understand and appreciate what she’s trying to say, are precious.

“It’s a treat to me to see people cry, literally, when they get what I’m talking about or what I’m doing or why I do it,” Carlton said. “It’s lovely to let my art go to people’s homes who really appreciate them and understand them and where I’m coming from.”

In her roles as gallery owner, workshop facilitator, teacher, and artist, Carlton has dedicated her life to using art to connect her community. Year after year, her customers return to the High Country to support and learn from local artists, renewing those bonds that Carlton has spent decades forging.

Spring Exhibition and Upcoming Workshops at the Carlton Gallery

Spring Group Exhibition: Alchemy of Abstraction – Harmony Unveiled

May 25 through July 15, Opening Reception May 25, 2-5 p.m.

Spring Workshops:

May 28, 29, 30 (10 a.m. – 5p.m.)

“Impressionistic Landscapes in Acrylic Using Palette Knives” with Egi Antonaccio-$385

Experience color and the music of life through landscapes, cityscapes, florals and pastoral or garden scenes. Bold, bright, and random shapes of color (like playing in kindergarten) to amazing layers of acrylic paint defining texture on the canvas embodies impressionistic details.

June 4, 5, 6 (10 a.m. – 5 p.m.)

“Abstract Adventures” in Acrylic/Mixed Media” with Lisa B. Boardwine– $450 ($15 supply fee payable to Lisa on the first day of workshop)
In this three-day workshop experience, the focus will be on how to kick start your abstract paintings in acrylic/mixed media! Learn how to create abstract paintings with texture, color and mark making to add depth and unique meaning to your work. Throughout the workshop, you’ll explore the tools, foundations and techniques used in acrylics/mixed media abstract painting.

June 11, 12, 13 (10 a.m.-5 p.m.)

“Mini Alla Prima in Oil” with Nicholas Stewart– $385

In this Mini Alla Prima (at the start, one time through) workshop, we will discuss how to look at and break down the essence of a landscape, such as the directional stroke, rhythm, color, or value. We will also talk about how each landscape will be broken down into at least 3 different sections, along with how to think about the unbalance and eye movement through the art works. We will discuss the 5 main points that make up a little alla prima, including color, direction, tool, focal point, and texture.

June 18, 19, 20 (10 a.m.-4 p.m.)

“Painting with Knives in Acrylic” with Karin Neuvirth– $349

Create vibrant, textural, impressionistic landscapes using a palette knife and heavy body acrylic paints.  Palette knife painting is all about using interesting shapes of broken color in your composition. Painting with a knife will force you to loosen up and abstract the details of your subject. We will also cover topics such as color mixing, broken color, the use of value in your composition, and the benefits of an under-painting.

June 25, 26, 27 (10 a.m.-5 p.m.) ***

“Realistic Impressionism inOil” – any subject matter using your photographs

with Egi Antonaccio – $385   

Egi is known for realistic impressionism whose paintings express his love of nature. The misty atmosphere and the sun often play a great part in his paintings, casting shadows on the paths and mountains depicting different times of the day. His technique is light, delicate, and gentle with romantic themes in these realistic impressionist paintings, while each painting evokes feelings of strength, grace and wonderment. Participants will explore the intriguing techniques to capture the essence of nature on canvas. 

Participants with all levels of painting and artistic experiences are welcome to any of the above workshops. For more details on these events, future events, and to register, please visit Early registration is encouraged, as space is limited.  A $100 deposit is required with Pre-Registration for all workshops. Contact Information:  828-963-4288 or [email protected].

***Please review our cancellation/refund policy for more information

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