Home to the third largest number of craft artists in the United States as well as being home to North Carolina's third oldest art museum, the historic city of Asheville is an essential stop for anyone interested in exploring the important role that craft has played in our state.
Begin your exploration downtown on Pack Square. The Asheville Art Museum, established by artists in 1948, features a permanent collection of 20th and 21st century American art including works of significance to western N.C.'s cultural heritage - studio craft and works from Black Mountain College and Cherokee artists.
You'll find a cluster of more than 110 artists in Asheville's River Arts District, including artists working in clay, collage, fiber, glass, jewelry, metal, textiles, wood and mixed media. Sixty-five of them are open regularly on Fridays and Saturdays (other hours vary). Visit www.riverdistrictartists.com for listings of all of the artists or to download a studio guide. Once you arrive it's easy to meander on foot from one gallery to another. Consider starting your exploration at the Odyssey Center for Ceramic Arts, a studio school and rental studio offering lectures, workshops and interactive classes for people of all ages interested in ceramic arts.
Every second weekend of June and November, all of the artists in the River District open their doors for Studio Strolls from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. These are festive events where visitors can mingle with artists and with each other, and take home examples of locally made craft.
Only 10 miles beyond Asheville's River Arts District you'll find another essential stop on your tour. The Southern Highland Craft Guild Gallery at the Folk Arts Center showcases traditional and contemporary craft of the Southern Appalachians. It houses the guild's century-old Allanstand Craft Shop, exhibitions in three galleries, a library and an auditorium. Located on the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 382, the Folk Art Center is the most popular attraction on the Parkway, welcoming 250,000 visitors each year. From March through December, you can observe craftspeople demonstrating their work everyday, and there is a year-round series of educational events. The Folk Arts Center is open daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day; January through March 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., April through December 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Consider planning your trip around the Southern Highland Craft Guild's bi-annual Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands, held in July and October. More than 200 craftspeople display their handcrafted wares on two floors of the downtown Ashville Civic Center, while traditional musicians play and children participate in hands-on craft projects. Visit http://www.southernhighlandguild.org/ for upcoming dates.
Asheville is home to an abundance of commercial galleries. Click here for a list: http://www.exploreasheville.com/what-to-do/the-arts/museums-galleries/index.aspx.
Plan your visit with information on lodging, dining and other activities found at
Explore Ashville, the Asheville Chamber of Commerce and VisitNC.com.
Craft Day Trips from Asheville
If you’re considering a day trip as part of your stay in Asheville, there are dozens of regionally and internationally known craft artists living and working an hour or less from the city.
The Toe River Arts Council (TRAC) operates two galleries in Burnsville and Spruce Pine which showcase the work of local artists every month and hold receptions where visitors can meet them in person. Once a year, TRAC highlights the work of students in Mitchell and Yancey counties. Gallery gift shops also feature work from local artists.
Twice a year, on weekends in June and December, TRAC presents studio tours that feature more than 100 area artists working in clay, glass, jewelry, painting, photography, fiber, wood, sculpture, mixed media and more who make themselves available for conversations, demonstrations and sales of their craft. A fixture for about two decades, these self-guided tours draw visitors from around the world and have become a meeting place for families and friends. For dates, times and more information, visit http://www.toeriverarts.org/index.shtml.
At the Penland School of Crafts, you can visit The Barns housing full-time resident artists, explore six independent studios in the immediate vicinity which are generally open to the public, or contact more than 100 professional craftspeople in the area that may be visited by appointment. The Penland Gallery features work by artists affiliated with the school, including functional and sculptural work in books, clay, drawing, glass, iron, metals, painting, papermaking, photography, printmaking, textiles and wood.
HandMade in America’s website features a guide to small towns in western N.C., including nearby Bakersville where craft artists can be found, as well as a searchable resource for locating artists working in particular media. With more than 500 listings, the book The Craft Heritage Trails of Western North Carolina is a guide to find handmade crafts, artists’ studios, galleries, bed and breakfasts, inns, historical sites, special attractions and notable restaurants in the mountain region. For more information, visit: http://www.handmadeinamerica.org/products/publications.
Asheville River Art District (Randy Shull)
Asheville’s River Arts District Studio Stroll held in June and November features 150 participating artists in 19 historic buildings located along the French Broad River. The events feature artist demonstrations and hands-on activities. Nationally known artist Randy Shull is the recipient of a N.C. Arts Council Fellowship (1994) and works in a variety of mediums, including furniture design, architecture, painting and landscape design. A longtime resident of Asheville, with a studio in the River District as well as in Merida, Mexico, he offered some of his personal highlights on the studio stroll.
Asheville’s River Arts District is coming into its own. Formerly the industrial area of Asheville, long-abandoned buildings have sporadically held inexpensive studio spaces for artists. Several devastating fires about 10 years ago threatened to destroy the burgeoning arts district, but, like the Phoenix, it has resurrected itself and is quickly becoming the new, somewhat under-the-radar place to be. President Obama must have figured this out since he’s chosen the River Arts District as his favorite place to dine in Asheville, coming to 12 Bones Bar-B-Que on two of his visits. Nationally known musicians play at The Grey Eagle Tavern and Music Hall, and diners come to Roots Café, inside the Grey Eagle, for some of Asheville’s finest Southern local and organic fare.
Scores of artists now have studio spaces in the once-industrial buildings. The area is a mix of the arts crowd and blue collar workers at Silverline Plastics, Asheville WastePaper or Ferguson’s Plumbing Supply. They all rub shoulders at the always busy Clingman Café for lunch of tempeh melts or roast beef sandwiches.
After work hours and nights have been the domain of the always popular Wedge Brewery with people spilling out into the decks on plastic chairs drinking delicious micro-brews while watching the train chug past and catching up with friends.
Evenings are about to become a busy time in the River Arts District with the recent opening of The Junction Restaurant and Bar in the dynamic multi-use space of studios, galleries and the Asheville Area Arts Council that I created with my life and business partner, Hedy Fischer.
Twice a year, in June and November, the district holds their Studio Stroll when all the artists and galleries are open to the public for these two weekends and there is a pervasive party atmosphere as local art collectors rub shoulders with out-of-towners.
Second Saturdays is a new phenomenon which is beginning to get the attention of visitors and locals alike who know they will find many studios and galleries open each month on that day.
The River Arts District is the new, hip but still funky place to visit while in Asheville.
Asheville (Brent Skidmore)
Museums In A Minute: Asheville Art Museum
Brent Skidmore is director of the UNC Asheville Craft Campus and a noted wood sculptor. Here are some of his personal highlights for experiencing craft in Asheville.
People who want to get a broad overview of either fine art or craft in the Southeast, particularly in western North Carolina, should visit a couple of retail establishments, Blue Spiral 1 and Grovewood Gallery, which will provide two very different experiences. Blue Spiral 1 focuses on contemporary fine art and craft spotlighting many established Southeastern makers as well as the newest faces in object making. Although you'll see this at Grovewood, you will also see a great collection of studio furniture and craft at its best. While at Grovewood, I also like to point out the offices of The Furniture Society. They're great people who promote creativity in the art of furniture making.
Downtown, there's also the Asheville Art Museum on historic Pack Square, which is a must. Features of note in Pack Square, recognized for some of the best architecture in our city, include a giant fountain and an enormous pergola by Hoss Haley. He is a noted craft artist and sculptor and is one of the most phenomenal folks in making right now.
Not to be missed downtown is Black Mountain College Museum and Art Center. The number of people who have been touched by that place and by its existence can be seen in a show there, and they have an extensive selection of books for purchase that tell the story of this school, which has lead to the development of so many other regional efforts. HandMade in America has a beautiful office now and they're also starting to have shows in an adjacent space. While you're downtown, catch a movie at the Fine Arts Theatre.
If you venture out of downtown Asheville and head toward the River Arts District, you won't want to miss Clayspace Co-op, the ceramic arts cooperative and gallery founded by potter Josh Copus. It features some of the youngest, hottest ceramic artists in the region, some of whom trained at Haywood Community College and UNC Asheville, including Kyle Carpenter. There are more than 100 galleries and studios in the River Arts District, and you could spend a whole day there. Odyssey Center for Ceramic Arts has an artist-in-residence program that always has fresh and exciting work. Robert Gardner, a glass artist, has a place called Studio C Glassworks. You'll want to eat lunch at 12 Bones, a great barbecue place.
In Biltmore Village, Randy Shull, known for his sculpture, painting and furniture design, has a gorgeous studio. He's sharing that studio with Brian Boggs, a very well-known chair maker and great conversationalist. So you could actually see two very divergent styles of making while visiting this studio. New Morning Gallery in Biltmore Village is also an interesting place to visit for the best in home accents including mirrors, tables, lighting, etc.
And of course, if you aren't too overloaded, you could pop in to my studio, which I share with an amazingly hard working young maker, Sylvie Rosenthal. We are located at 244-C Short Coxe Avenue, next to Tim Barnwell's photo studio.