We are happy and proud to welcome Sue Gurnee to Azule's board of directors! 

Sue Gurnee is founder of Growing Wheel, a sanctuary and retreat center in the Boone area. Sue brings a singular vision to all she undertakes, whether this is presiding over an arts nonprofit board, crafting exquisitely true to life marine landscapes for films and museums, or planning and executing the architecture of a concrete and mosaic village that provides exiles of high-paced environments a safe space to restore their minds and souls.

Sue’s experience with arts nonprofit boards, respect for place and architecture, and decades of dedication to the arts brings a powerful ingredient to the Azule board mix.
Sue Gurnee has had a fascinating life. Born into a family of spelunkers, she spent her formative years hand in hand with her family looking danger in the face, searching into the depths of caves, and giving her sensitivity to the electromagnetic frequencies of the spaces that surround her. She remarks that at job sites, even as a young woman, she was the first to volunteer to climb a scaffolding to complete a job most others were afraid to, because once you have successfully negotiated dangerous territory in near darkness so many times and made it through, few things phase you.

She made an early decision at 18 years of age to only work in the arts, or in the service to creativity. Even though she had no connections or formal training in the arts, she kept this commitment, even when it only meant being able to work painting houses at construction sites. However, she kept at it, eventually, through her vision and hard work, she got opportunities to branch out towards more creative ventures, including scientific illustrations and model creation. At each juncture she made decisions to affirm her fundamental vision of what her art should be. 

growing wheel interior “The art that was being made at the time I said I was going to be an artist were folks like Jasper Johns, Pollock, and abstract expressionism was just not hitting me. What I wanted to do was paint superrealistic animals in different places, so I spent a lot of time at zoos sitting in front of cages and drawing animals, in all different lighting conditions. I drew and drew and it occurred to me, the musculature of these animals in zoos are not really good and I started to start really thinking I better go travel and look at animals in the wild.”

Her dedication paid off as in the early 1980s the Bronx zoo was given a $13 million grant to develop a landmark new way to provide habitats for endangered species’ breeding programs. She spent two and a half years painting the background murals for what became the JungleWorld Exhibit at the Bronx Zoo, which included painting the three story high walls surrounding the three acre indoor habitat for endangered species. 

This work creating natural habitats and murals for zoos led her to work in the film industry creating backdrops for films, theaters, museums, and private residencies. As well, she founded her own museum exhibit design company in New York called Brickside Studio. In the interstices of all this work she developed a very sophisticated artistic and spiritual vision that includes electromagnetic frequencies, energetic resonances, the wholeness of the body, and the integration of various phases of perception.

Her CV  is replete with writing credits, exhibitions, and art installations throughout Europe and the US.  

Most recently, Sue had an opportunity to create a spectacular light show for Berlin’s New Years Celebration at the Brandenburg Gates, a magnificent display that outshone that traditional event’s usual fireworks display.

Brandenburg light show Sue has a true commitment, through her extensive work in Todd, NC, in preserving the essence of a place. When she has served on committees and boards she emphasizes the need to create progress and opportunities that still manage to help preserve not just a particular town’s character, but the essence of what it means for a place to have a sense of history, of being a rural community, to save it from either becoming hypercommodified along tourist lines or yet another victim of dreary exurban sprawl. What has drawn her to Hot Springs is precisely that we have here managed to preserve a sense of place.

Her current project as proprietor of The Belle of Hot Springs dovetails with this vision. The Belle, originally ‘the Washburn Cottage’ is a Georgian Colonial home built in 1924. This home was built as part of the Dorland Bell School for Girls and is part of the rich history of Hot Springs.

The Belle Founded by Luke Dorland and his wife, who had retired  after a lifetime of Presbyterian mission work, the Dorland-Bell School was established in Hot Springs in 1887 under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church.  

One of the school’s initiatives was that of the practice cottages—an idea which was used first here before any other Presbyterian USA School. These practice cottages allowed girls to practice home economics. They were graded on their homemaking skills during the time they occupied the cottage. Vine Cottage opened in 1910 and in 1911 McCormick Number 1 and in 1912 McCormick Number 2 both of which accommodated more girls. Frank Sherman Washburn Memorial Practice Cottage was the final building erected on the campus. 

The last graduating class was in May 1942, at which time the Dorland-Bell closed and merged with the Asheville Farm School, giving way to a junior college that opened on the Asheville Farm School Campus. We know this institution as Warren Wilson College to this day. 

Jacqueline Burgen Painter’s book, The Season of Dorland - Bell: History of an Appalachian Mission School, tells the full story.

The Belle has been closed for all of 2020 due to COVID, and will reopen in the spring after some needed renovations are completed.

In regards to Azule, a visit last autumn piqued her interest. In Camille’s wood and glass palace Sue felt a resonance, not just with this physical retreat space Camille had brought to being, but with Camille’s singular vision and ability to complete magnificent things against all odds. A resonance between Sue’s work at Growing Wheel and what we do at Azule does exist, and Sue is committed to helping Azule achieve some of its most pressing needs. “The direction I would like to go to with Azule - I would love to see that (new) building finished. I would love to talk more with Camille about how she envisions it, what actually is needed.” By supporting Azule and making it sustainable she hopes to give something longlasting to the community, via Azule’s long term viability, “for artists to have a Mecca, if you will, that could have a long long life.”

The Season of Dorland - Bell: History of an Appalachian Mission School
Visit Madison County
N C Pedia

Growing Wheel More about Sue Gurnee:
Susan Gurnee Bio
Susan Gurnee About
Fields of Understanding
Growing Wheel