Asundry thoughts by Stephanie Morgan, the singer for Stephaniesĭd, pop-noir band from Asheville, NC.


i suspect he is soaring

Paul Clark, Asheville Citizen-Times, published July 18, 2008 12:15 am

ASHEVILLE – Local artist John Payne, a pioneer of the River Arts District, died Thursday morning at Mission Hospitals after suffering a massive stroke earlier this week. He was 58.

Payne died about 11:30 a.m. after his family took him off life support, family friend Lisa Sturz said from the hospital. “It was one of the most profoundly beautiful things I’ve experienced,” she said of the parting his family and friends gave him by his bed.

Payne underwent heart surgery earlier this summer and had suffered a stroke earlier this year. The owner of the Wedge building on Roberts Street, Payne was as warmly regarded for his personality as he was held in high esteem for his sculptures. He built steel skeletons of birds and dinosaurs that move in lifelike ways via pulleys and computer controls. He had leased several of his pieces to museums in the United States.

Payne’s partner, Gwenn Roberts, a professional vocal soloist, said Payne went into the hospital Tuesday after suffering a massive stroke. Roberts had been taking care of him at her home in Weaverville following his quadruple bypass heart surgery.

Champion of the River Arts District

Payne’s purchase and renovation of the Wedge building, a large white building visible from the Smoky Park Bridge, helped establish the River Arts District as Asheville’s second major arts area, after downtown. Payne has leased several studios to artists in his building, which also now houses the Wedge Brewing Co.

“John was a white knight to the River District artists and the River Arts District,” said Eileen and Marty Black, who work in the Cotton Mill Studios on the river.

“John’s mission was to save the River Arts District from gentrification that would drive the artists elsewhere. He helped many struggling artists by providing studios with reasonable rent. Our many discussions with John assured us that he would not sell out to developers.”

With his big smile and shock of white hair, Payne was often spotted at Clingman Avenue Coffee and Catering Co., where he and other artists often started their day with coffee and conversation.

Payne was successful in establishing the Wedge as part of the River Arts District, Roberts said, “because he was passionate about giving artists and the arts a place to be part of our community and culture. The Wedge was his absolute dream. To the very end, he was talking about how that has to continue.”

When the doctors detached the respirator Thursday, “We were all in our own way helping him move on,” Roberts said. “And he just flew with it. … He went very quickly and very peacefully.”

Roberts said there would be a memorial celebration at the Wedge in the next few weeks. Payne’s work can be seen at

“John Payne was an icon,” said Karen Cragnolin, executive director of RiverLink, an Asheville organization devoted to revitalizing the French Broad River. The river cuts right through the River Arts District. Last year, RiverLink gave Payne its RiverBusiness Award, presented each year to businesses on the river that make the river a better place to live, work and play.

“I suspect he is soaring with his wonderful dinosaurs and birds right now,” Cragnolin said.