• During a visit to town last week, David Vowell points out a photograph that looks like a watercolor painting in the “Through the Lens” exhibit featuring work by Blue Ridge Mountain Photographers. This photo, “Why It’s Called Blue Ridge,” is by Linda Coatsworth and placed above a favorite in the exhibit, “Telluride Shadow,” also by Coatsworth.
    During a visit to town last week, David Vowell points out a photograph that looks like a watercolor painting in the “Through the Lens” exhibit featuring work by Blue Ridge Mountain Photographers. This photo, “Why It’s Called Blue Ridge,” is by Linda Coatsworth and placed above a favorite in the exhibit, “Telluride Shadow,” also by Coatsworth.

SCOUTING AROUND: Arts director returning to work soon

    Anyone visiting the Murphy Art Center in the last two months may have noticed the Cherokee County Arts Council’s office closed and Director David Vowell missing. It could come as quite a shock, as Vowell was often working 40 hours a week, even though his job should be only 20 hours.
    “I was working more hours because I saw the need to get more things done,” Vowell said. “The love of seeing the arts being promoted.”
    Unfortunately, his heart had other plans. Last winter, he started having upper chest pains, but attributed it to the cold weather. Eventually he started having the pains once a week, then noticed the pains becoming more frequent by the beginning of May.
    He talked with his doctor at the Department of Veterans Affairs Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Franklin, where he took a stress test at the hospital in Asheville on May 22.
    As he walked across the parking lot at the hospital, he felt the chest pains and reported it to the staff. Instead of giving him the test, they sent him to the emergency room.
    He was admitted to the hospital, and tests showed he needed a heart catheterization. During that procedure, it was determined he needed triple bypass surgery.
    He had the surgery on May 31 and stayed in surgical intensive care for four days. He was transferred to the hospital’s Community Living Center – a residential rehabilitation ­– on June 5, where he met two other veterans from Murphy who were recovering.
    He said he was treated well at Charles George Veterans Affairs Medical Center, as he expected, knowing it had been named the best VA medical center in the nation.
    “I was just amazed and impressed not just with their skills, but their personableness,” Vowell said.
    He returned home on June 17 to continue his recovery. Over the past month, he’s been doing his physical therapy exercises – like walks down his driveway or around his porch – and resting.
    Vowell also has been welcoming visitors, mostly from his “folk school family,” which organized a Meal Train to provide three meals a week for him and his wife, Sheryl.
    David Rabhan called him every day, and even convinced the driver who provides transportation to veterans for doctor appointments on Thursdays to take him to Asheville to visit Vowell in the hospital after one of his own appointments in Franklin.
    “He’s been a really good friend,” Vowell said. “He’d give me a laugh a day.”
    He’s done a little bit of work from home, and Sheryl has brought him to town a few times to run errands. He already has passed the threshold to drive a car, and plans to be back at work full time with the arts council in August.
    In the meantime, members of the council’s board have learned just how much work Vowell does. Board President Gary Kenney was working in the council office one day a week before Vowell’s absence to help him cut back hours, and volunteered more time during Vowell’s recovery.
    Vowell said both his wife – who happens to be the board secretary – and Kenney helped as communicators during his surgery and recovery. Board members Debra and David Vanderlaan also pitched in by setting up the council’s summer photography exhibit, “Through the Lens,” in the Cultural Arts Room gallery.
    One thing that was canceled because of Vowell’s surgery was the Mountain Arts Studio Tour to promote local working artists. Vowell said he suggested to push the event to the end of August, but his fellow committee members – David Goldhagen and Harry Hearne – convinced him it would be best to delay the tour until next spring.
    At the last board meeting, Kenney asked Vowell to give the board members more details about what he does and how he does it.
    While Vowell said his work contributed to his health, he does not blame anyone for what happened, explaining it was his approach to the job.
    “The stress of trying to succeed against resistance and too much to want to do, and not having resources to do it. Those stresses had an impact on my health,” Vowell said. “I created a lot of the stress myself.”
    Vowell, 71, who has been the arts council’s director for four years, knows he cannot do the job forever.
    “In my own mind, I have another year,” he said. “I think another year is pretty much the limit.”
    Vowell said the arts council is not actively looking for a new director, and it would be up to the board when that process would begin. He hopes that in the next year he can get more financial stability for the council, especially through support from the county government.
    Samantha Sinclair is the Scouting Around columnist for the Cherokee Scout. You can reach her by email, scoutingaround@cherokeescout.com; fax, 837-5832; or by leaving a message in the office at 837-5122.