For centuries, Western North Carolina artists have made the region renowned for handmade craft, from the living traditions of the Cherokee to today’s contemporary craft artisans.
A new exhibit showcasing some of the best craft artists and their work in Western North Carolina is open now through December 2021 at the Welcome Center on I-26 just north of Asheville at Exit 6. The “Smokies Sampler” exhibit features more than 50 artists in 10 towns along the new Blue Ridge Craft Trails of North Carolina. It explores the diverse works of craft found in the North Carolina mountains, specifically in Jackson, Swain, and Haywood counties and the Qualla Boundary.
Visitors to the exhibit can explore how today’s craft artisans follow the footpaths laid down by generations of traditional artists before them in the region. Their work today often remains inspired by the natural beauty and distinct culture of North Carolina’s mountains and foothills.
“Craft is essential to our state’s history and our enjoyment of life. Whether for use or display, crafts remind us of the human instinct to make our world not just functional, but meaningful and beautiful,” says North Carolina Arts Council Folklife Director Zoe van Buren. “The Blue Ridge Craft Trails provide a path for discovering some of the state’s finest craft artists who are working in one of the most historic and celebrated craft regions in America.”
Celebrated craft scholar, author, and curator of the Blue Ridge Craft Trails Anna Fariello agrees.
“While today’s potters may dig their own clay — or buy it from a wholesale supply house — they nevertheless place their hands upon an elemental material that inspires their best work,” said Fariello, “Western North Carolina is blessed with a rich cultural heritage that forms a solid foundation for today’s craft artists who continue to build on tradition, as well as those who use that history as a springboard for new ideas and new art forms.”
Craftsman Desmond Suarez of Sabbath-Day Woods in Canton, N.C. believes it is vital to share the story of traditional and contemporary craft in the region.
"In our busy, disconnected world, it is important to focus on items that are meaningful and not lose our heritage of craft and quality craftsmanship,” said Suarez. “We must preserve the skills and long-held work of the artists of Western North Carolina so that the future generation will learn skills, as well as enjoy beauty and art."
The Blue Ridge Craft Trails, a system of drivable trails, is an initiative of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area (BRNHA). It celebrates the region as a vibrant center for traditional and contemporary handmade craft by promoting craft artisans, arts organizations, and heritage tourism. Through these efforts, BRNHA aims to increase income for craft artists and businesses, enhance cultural tourism, and improve economic opportunity for the region. Learn more at BlueRidgeCraftTrails.com.
The exhibit is made possible through a partnership between North Carolina Arts Council, Appalachian Regional Commission, Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, and the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area.
About the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area
The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, designated by Congress in November 2003, works to protect, preserve, interpret, and develop the unique natural, historical, and cultural resources of Western North Carolina for the benefit of present and future generations, and in so doing to stimulate improved economic opportunity in the region. Learn more at BlueRidgeHeritage.com.
About the North Carolina Arts Council
The North Carolina Arts Council builds on our state’s long-standing love of the arts, leading the way to a more vibrant future. The Arts Council is an economic catalyst, fueling a thriving nonprofit creative sector that generates $2.12 billion in annual direct economic activity. The Arts Council also sustains diverse arts expression and traditions while investing in innovative approaches to art-making. The North Carolina Arts Council has proven to be a champion for youth by cultivating tomorrow’s creative citizens through arts education. NCArts.org