A painter finds Alice in her garden wonderland

Shelly Frome
Special to The Black Mountain News

Joyce Black-Woerz wended her way south by visiting her daughter at North Carolina State University veterinary school. Not long afterward, she and her husband Tom found themselves traveling west of Raleigh, drawn by the light of the sky.

“Living in Pennsylvania all those years, the endless gray days were terribly depressing,” she said. “But in the Blue Ridge, I discovered sparkling light and a certain energy. I’m told the source of the latter are crystals under the mountains that emit healing vibrations. The more time we spent here, the harder it was to leave.”

Consequently, they searched for an older, two-story structure with nine-foot ceilings (which they were accustomed to) and ample grounds. By chance, they came upon the perfect real estate listing tucked away off Old U.S. 70 in Black Mountain. For the past 14 years, this idyllic setting been a part of Joyce Black-Woerz’ love of watercolors and gardening.

“Watercolors let the light come through the paper,” she said, “and (they) give you that wonderful struggle between the paint trying to do its thing and you trying to do yours. In that special way, the surface becomes a canvas for creativity.”

Everything becomes creative material for Black-Woerz as she creates free-flowing stories that combined her love of painting and gardening. She did a series of watercolors depicting women blossoming like plants. She also fashioned an “Alice in Wonderland” garden out of the grounds around her house.

Taking into consideration the scattering of trees and shrubs and her desire that everything spring from the curves of the landscape, she created out of a canopy of trees “a portal and a witch’s ball to catch anything trying to come through,” she said.

“It’s all about looking at a space and thinking how it could be elaborated upon,” she said. “Like the stream on the eastern side of the grounds - I felt it needed to have a sense of magic about it. Which led to finishing a series of paintings I called ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ that’s a fusion of myself, Alice and my journey in coming here and discovering the unknown and an alternative reality. You see, I often start with a theme, but I never try to control the outcome.”

Another set of watercolor paintings of her home’s original garden - a series she called “Eden Revisited’ - developed around a dream she had in which she was bitten in the palm of her hand. She placed a snake in each painting as a symbol of healing. Subsequently, she wears a silver “power” ring embossed with a gently curving snake, designed by a local artisan and given to her by her daughter.

Black-Woerz is quick to point out the great social influence Black Mountain has had on her life as well.

“When we came here, we didn’t know anyone. Almost immediately, though, I met women I truly admired who were how I wanted to be as I grew older,” she said. “I also found that people were invested in their community in a way I was never aware of before.

“One of my role models was Willie Headley, from one of the founding families, who was the head of the beautification committee. Because of gardening, I too became very involved. Then there was John Wilson who established the community gardens. And (real estate agent) Gay Fox, so liberal-minded, active in community affairs and the Democratic Party and the matron of honor at Billy Graham’s wedding. It was that investment in the community and the great freedom to be who you truly are that I loved.”

Black-Woerz served two terms as co-chair of the Black Mountain Beautification Committee and is a past recipient of its Willie Headley award.

All told, it has taken her more than 50 years to find her true home, her true artistic calling. Finding her place and her people inspires her to evolve and grow.