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Carolina Arts and Crafts
A century ago, as young George Vanderbilt prepared to build a retreat in then-bucolic Asheville, he and an architect traveled the French countryside, looking at 16th-century Loire Valley châteaus for inspiration. Craftspeople labored to create the resulting Biltmore Mansion, including its unlikely gargoyles and grotesques. The lesson is: When it comes to arts and crafts in western North Carolina, expect the unexpected. Sometimes handmade treasures are found out in the open: more than 85 crafts fairs are held annually throughout the region. The best source of information is The Craft Heritage Trails of Western North Carolina. Widely available in local bookstores, it gives details on more than 500 crafts studios, shops, and galleries.
More than 4,000 people in this region earn part or all of their living from crafts. Many can be found "around the bend" and in homes tucked back in forested hollows. They patiently coax form from clay and wood and metal, and they are usually happy to talk about what they do—so explore. Interesting roads that are off the map can lead to workshops.
In the beginning, practical function was behind all the quilting, weaving, woodworking, and pottery making. But by the late 19th century, missionaries, social workers, and women of means—Frances Goodrich and Edith Vanderbilt among them—began to recognize that these things of day-to-day life contained artistry. Today utility and aesthetics have melded. From furnaces in Mitchell and Yancey counties comes art glass prized by collectors and dealers worldwide. Many glassblowers perfected their métier at the prestigious Penland School of Crafts, whose courses also include printmaking, wood, drawing, clay, and fibers. Another well-known crafts school is John C. Campbell Folk School, in Brasstown in the far western tip of the state.
Here are several other good places to begin your crafts search:
Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands. The largest crafts event in the Southeast, the Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands is held in mid-July and again in October in the US Cellular Center (formerly Asheville Civic Center). US Cellular Center, 87 Haywood St., Metro North, Asheville, NC, 28801. 828/298-7928. www.southernhighlandguild.org.
Crossnore Weavers. In the tiny village of Crossnore, a rock cottage houses the Crossnore School's Weaving Room and Museum. Patterns used by the early settlers of the Appalachians are favored here; however, the materials are modern, easy-care rayon, synthetics, cotton, wool, and linen. Also part of Crossmore is Crossmore Academy (a K-12 boarding school), a coffee shop, and a fine arts gallery U.S. Hwy 221, Crossnore, NC, 28616. 828/733-4660. www.crossnoreweavers.org. Closed Sun.
Parkway Craft Center at Moses Cone Memorial Park. Operated by the Southern Handicraft Guild, the Parkway Craft Center at Moses Cone Park puts on quilt, woodworking, pottery, and other crafts shows and demonstrations. This is a good place to purchase high quality (and often expensive) traditional local crafts, such as quilts, baskets, and pottery. Blue Ridge Pkwy., MM 294, Blowing Rock, NC, 28806. 828/295-7938. www.southernhighlandguild.org. Mid-Mar.-Nov., daily 9-6.
Medicine Man Crafts. On the Cherokee Reservation, elders pass down the secrets of basket weaving, wood carving, and mask and beaded jewelry making. Their work, found in shops such as Medicine Man Crafts in downtown Cherokee, is a connective thread to a time predating the United States by thousands of years. 482 Tsali Blvd., U.S. 441, Cherokee, NC, 28719. 800/417-7282. www.medicinemancrafts.com.
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