The History of the Cotton Mill Studios
The building now known as The Cotton Mill Studios was first built by Charles Edward Graham and was known as the C.E. Graham Manufacturing Company. Soon after it was built, it was purchased by Moses H. Cone who became its president in 1882. Graham continued with its on-site management while Moses pursued other ventures.
The Cone family (originally Kahn) emigrated from Germany to Jonesboro, TN in the 1840’s, opening a grocery and dry goods business. Hermann Kahn’s sons continued the business, travelling as peddlers throughout the south. The family later relocated to Greensboro, NC, and finally Baltimore, MD. The sons, Moses and Ceaser (this spelling is correct) moved slowly into the textile business and bought or built several mills throughout the southeast. Moses H. Cone, the elder, expanded Graham’s mill in Asheville and created factory complex complete with recreation and community buildings for the workers. The area now known as Chicken Hill, above the railroad tracks was home to workers and known then as “Factory Hill”. The name was later changed after a chicken processing plant opened nearby.
Photos now in the collection of the Buncombe County Library in Asheville show a dense cluster of buildings and outbuildings on both sides of what is now Riverside Drive, along the French Broad River in Asheville. Located conveniently along the rail spur for shipping. It was renamed the Asheville Cotton Mill by Moses H. Cone. The output was largely denim and shirt fabrics. He was known as “The Denim King” and his primary client was the Levi-Strauss company who made his fortune manufacturing blue jeans to miners, farmers and cowboys. The plaid and checked shirting material was sold world wide.
The mill provided fabric for government contracts throughout WWI and WWII, but was closed its doors finally in 1972. It remained empty until a fire started by an unknown arsonist destroyed most of the complex. The main boiler room, north of Cotton Mill Studios can be seen as a derelict ruin of the once classic 19th century mill structure with its elegant chimney. The architecture was described in the now out of print inventory of Buncombe County historical buildings, “Cabins and Castles”. The Cotton Mill Studios Building was adjacent to its own rail spur, convenient for receiving and storing supplies and materials and shipping office for the mill. It was reclaimed and turned into affordable art studios after the fire, and it continues today as centerpiece of the River Arts District.
Moses Cones’ sisters, Claribel and Etta were ardent art collectors, friends of Picasso and Matisse. Claribel was a physician and pathologist who attended Women’s Medical College of Johns Hopkins University at the same time as Gertrude Stein. The sisters later became close friends of Leo and Gertrude Stein. who introduced them to artists in Paris.
Claribel Cone and to a lesser degree, Etta, were primary American buyers of Matisse among others of the School of Paris in the early part of the 20th Century. Their collection was considered one of the greatest in the world of these artists and included Van Gogh, Cezanne, Gaugin and Dufy. They also collected African and Asian decorative arts and fine crafts as well, filling their apartments in Baltimore from ceiling to floor. The Moses H. Cone home in the mountains ( www.blowingrock.org/mosescone.html) known as Flat Top Mansion, near is Blowing Rock, NC and located on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was the summer home of Moses and his wife, Bertha and is now part of the National Park System. The sisters never married. Their amazing collection was eventually given to the Baltimore Museum of Art (www.artbma.org/collection/overview/cone.html) in 1949, creating the Cone Wing in 1957 with over 3,000 pieces of art. Etta’s smaller collection was given to the Weatherspoon Museum at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro. It is easy to imagine that the Cone sisters would be pleased by the evolution of the one intact building left from The Asheville Cotton Mill into a keystone of the vibrant River Arts District, The Cotton Mill Studios.
The building was purchased by potters Eileen & Marty Black (The Potter's Mark Ltd.) in 2002 and is the home to thirteen artists.