Featured Artist(s): Union Street Gallery's Jan and Vince Bowden

Jonathan Roberts • Aug 26, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Though they’re still fairly new to the area, Jan and Vince Bowden have found the “perfect” home in Erwin, Tennessee. 

Their business, Union Street Gallery, has established itself as a cornerstone of downtown, and they hope it’s a catalyst to a larger arts movement getting started in Erwin. Either way, the couple who moved here from Ohio, and have roots in Portland, Oregon (Jan), and Minneapolis, Minnesota (Vince), feel at home in an area that’s fully embraced them.

“The thing about Erwin, it has been so welcoming,” Jan Bowden said. “I love it here, I never dreamed in a million years from Portland, Oregon, I’d end up in East Tennessee.”

Bowden’s briefly:

Cats or dogs: dogs for both

Favorite Tri-Cities restaurant

Jan: Sahib

Vince: Southern Craft

Favorite author:

Jan: John Sandford

Vince: “I mostly read autobiographies.”

Perfect day off: Bike riding for both, but “we like doing what we’re doing so much that a day we come in and work,” Vince Bowden said.

Red or white wine:

Jan: Red

Vince: White

How are you liking Erwin?

Jan: I don’t think we could’ve selected a better community. I’ve lived in a lot of places in this country; I’ve never felt as welcomed in any community as I do here and I love it here. It was meant to be.

Vince: We wanted to be in Asheville (North Carolina), but in Asheville you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting some kind of artist. We would’ve gotten lost there. Erwin’s great. The first time we drove by the Nolichucky (river), I said “I want to be right (here).”

Are there any big plans for the future? Or anything you’d like to see changed?

Jan: It would be nice if (Union) Street could become an arts district. That’s my dream and I think people at town hall feel the same way. It’d be nice.

Vince: Erwin needs two or three more artists. We get kind of lonely here, you’ve got (Stegall’s) Pottery and us, but we’re both pretty old. We need some young kids to take over.

Why do you do First Friday?

Jan: I wanted people to come downtown and see what business have so maybe they could shop here instead of elsewhere. Support local businesses; It’s all about businesses. To me, it’s like a party. It’s fun to talk to people, and maybe they would never come in otherwise. I think a lot of people are intimidated by art.

Vince: It’s a little more basic for me. First Friday is when you’re trying to catch a mouse: You put a trap there, you pull it back, put a little cheese and wine there and they come in and whack! You’ve got yourself a customer!

What’s your favorite part about being an artist?

Jan: I think it’s part of my soul, it’s who I am and what I do. It brings joy to my whole being and I’m really happy when somebody looks at something I made and say “I love this it makes me so happy.” I don’t want to make really dark things that don’t bring you joy. I like colors and bold, funny things

Vince: It’s hard because everyone is an artist, but few people are foolish enough to try and make a living with it full-time. I enjoy the art, but artist life is pretty rough, but you can’t do it any other way. You are what you are.

What’re your keys to happiness?

Jan: “Not having to help Vince,” she laughed. “I’m a bad helper.” I'm happy when I’m not interrupted just in my zone doing what I’m doing, but I also love interacting with people. I love the customer interaction.

Vince: Jan keeping customers away from me; she can sell anything. Me it’s like ‘there’s the art! If you like it, great. If you don’t, oh well.’ Not a good sales pitch.

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