Working the Land

Bianca Mitchell knows the intricacies of land logistics from her real-estate day job. But her artistic maps unfold from a different perspective. Photo by Rachel Pressley

Brevard-based artist Bianca Mitchell is inspired by the oral history of Transylvania County, where Lake Toxaway is North Carolina’s largest private, manmade lake. Generations of locals built and rebuilt the dam and worked the land they called home; the modern reservoir is a luxury retreat whose current famous residents include former AC/DC bassist Cliff Williams. Mitchell has created a series of maps that explore the storied region, for an upcoming exhibit titled “Seeking Home.”

What’s your attraction to local maps? 

I work for a real-estate company for my day job, and handle lots of maps, surveys, and plats. Maps give us clues about what’s important to people.

Why’d you focus on Lake Toxaway?

I’ve been working around here for about 13 years. I’ve also talked to a lot of local people who worked the land in this area.

That creates a special relationship to the land, doesn’t it?

Yes, there is a strong emotional dimension of being tied to the land when you’ve been in it. Artists and mapmakers have the luxury of providing emphasis. I’m hoping to convey a bit of the reverence I have for the emotional connections tied into a community, and the place you love.

How have maps changed over the generations?

The older the maps are, the more you see an emphasis tied to food and water resources. We studied in real estate how there was a period of time when land ownership was about working the land. If you were using it and its resources, it was yours. As a society we’ve moved more toward buying the rights to the land.

What’s your creative process like?

I use existing maps and translate major landmarks, trying to be accurate on scale and location. But these are artistic renderings, and the challenge is to figure out how to convey a feeling or evoke an emotional response.

Morning Commute

How do you do that?

I try to keep much of it fairly open and breathable, more of an abstraction of mountain ranges and features … so people can read their own experiences into it.

Do you know beforehand what each map will look like?

I usually have an idea and start with one intention. But the reality is, it’s like a conversation. I do something and stand back and look at it. Not to sound too hokey, but it talks back to me.

Then what?

The process becomes reactive. There’s a misconception that artists just sit around and have bolts of inspiration. Sometimes that happens, and it’s a gift when it does. But for most part, inspiration comes from the work and one thing leads to another. It’s fascinating where that goes, and I’m along for the ride.

Lake Toxaway Estates
Photo by Rachel Pressley

The Transylvania Community Arts Council (349 S. Caldwell Street, Brevard) presents Seeking Home with Brevard artists Bianca Mitchell and Stephen Jackson. The exhibit runs through October 19. To learn more, call 828-884-2787 or see

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