Friday, September 26, 2014

Mountains of Art

Seven years ago I was lucky enough to attend the Bead Retreat created by Carol Wilcox Wells, an extremely talented bead weaving artist. Each year since then I’ve journeyed to
YMCA grounds, lodge, and beading projects
North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway area to learn new beading techniques and to be inspired by the natural beauty of the Smoky Mountains and the artistic people in our group.  We stay at what I originally thought was an unlikely spot, the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly near Black Mountain. This is a lovely, peaceful expanse in tall trees, and near a trickling stream; it is home to bears, turkeys, and other assorted wildlife. From the front porch rockers you can see the mountains and the clear blue skies. It’s no wonder that we can’t wait to be back together each year. The location is also appealing because we can easily go into town for retail therapy and outstanding food.

Two of my favorite towns near the Blue Ridge Parkway are Black Mountain and Asheville. These artists’ colonies are alive with weavers, painters, jewelers, glass makers and other
artisans. In fact, one of the best places to see hand-made goods is the Folk Art Center at the Visitor’s Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I can spend literally hours in these two towns wandering through shops marveling at the imagination and expertise the artists in this area show.

Art from the Heart rabbits;
Seven Sisters sculpture
Black Mountain is a small town with a lot of appeal to people who like to observe and stroll. Generally, my first stop is My Father’s Pizza for their white pizza with extra garlic. From the roof-top dining area you can see the Smoky Mountains out in the distance as well as what folks are doing down on the street. This is a dog-friendly town with the diversity of dogs matched only by the variety of attire one sees on the dog walkers. Near the steps up to the restaurant in the back of a car, along with fresh vegetables are a couple of mutts that seem to think that everyone is visiting them rather than buying produce. Up and down the streets are great little shops to poke your head into. The Seven Sisters Craft Gallery carries an assortment of artists’ products from metal work to paintings to jewelry to pottery. This year fish made from bottle caps and pull-off can lids caught my eye, as did the almost life-sized metal cow. Since I have a passion for art depicting rabbits, the Art from the Heart Gallery always captures my attention. Again this year I adopted an array of pottery sporting rabbit designs. Black Mountain is also home to my unqualified favorite yarn store: Black Mountain Yarn Shop. It is a welcoming place that usually has a bunch of people sitting on the couches, sipping tea, knitting and talking. The selection of yarns is amazing as is the friendliness and helpfulness of the owners. Most years I don’t come into the shop once, but almost daily; sharing this place with friends who knit and especially with those who don’t but want to learn is great fun!
Completed projects and yarn from Black Mountain Yarn Shop

Once you leave Black Mountain and head for Asheville, you’ve just got to stop at the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The park-like area is nestled in the forest with huge pine trees and an array of colorful mushrooms hiding in the shadows. The center usually has an artist or two on site demonstrating crafts such as broom making, wood carving, and/or weaving. Depending on the day, you may also see demonstrations of folk dancing and singing. On the second level of the center is a museum and there is usually some sort
Pine cone wren; Folk Art Center
of special display, again from local artists. This year the theme was, ‘It IS a small world’. All of the entries had to fit within a six inch cube. Sculptures, jewelry, quilting, paintings, and carvings that met this requirement were on exhibition. Meanwhile down in the gift shop, larger and smaller works of these artists were ready to go home with eager shoppers. Situated within the Folk Art Center is the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center. The National Park Rangers are quite eager to help visitors with plans to enjoy the parkway. They also run a small National Park Service souvenir shop.

Naked Came the Leaf Peeper
Asheville has a plethora of shopping opportunities that tempt us each year. Many of the beaders in our group head to Tops for Shoes pursuing styles that they can’t get in their home towns. Others of us trek to the Grove Arcade to visit the Malaprop’s Book Store looking for new offerings from local authors. This year we arrived during a series of readings from some of these writers and were treated to a variety of poems and prose that ranged from amusing to touching. Also in the arcade are more shops featuring local artists, including weavers. One of our group came home with a huge sack of materials with which she will weave scarves.  Biltmore Village also hosts tempting shops. We usually spend the most time in the New Morning Gallery admiring the innovative furniture designs from Sticks, metal Jack-o-Lanterns, and recycled glass wind chimes.

The Grovewood Gallery is home to the Estes-Winn Antique Car Museum and the North Carolina Homespun Museum. We spent quite a while admiring the mint- and nearly mint-
L to R: Homespun Jacket, Whirly-gigs,
Loom, Dog, Antique Cars
condition antique cars. The docent was quite knowledgeable and friendly but we wondered why he kept running out the door every so often. He is also a bird watcher and was endeavoring to get a picture of one of North Carolina’s feathered visitors; unfortunately, it continued to elude him. The Homespun Museum was as fascinating as the antique cars. Examples of wool homespun from the early 1900s through the last bolts of cloth produced in 1981 are on display, as well as a large loom and several completed wool garments. Pictures and a film provide a wealth of historical information about the Biltmore industry and its founders. Like the shops in Black Mountain, Grovewood Gallery has high quality items produced by local artists. I really liked strolling through the grounds observing the rather large whirligigs, and simply enjoying the folk art that decorated the area.

L to R: Grove Park Inn, Bird Houses, Mountains. Llama
A great place for art and for people watching is the Grove Park Inn. The inn was the brain-child of Fred Seely, the business partner of Edwin Wiley Grove who made his fortune in pharmaceuticals by developing and selling Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic. The hotel has wonderful examples of art nouveau and art deco furnishings that can be enjoyed as you amble along the halls and Smoky Mountain peek at the vistas from the huge windows and the long porches. Then it is time to sit on the porch, enjoy a glass of wine and watch the shadows play across the mountains.

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