By Calie Brummer
The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Partnership of Western North Carolina is giving local art a global presence. Blue Ridge Craft Trails, a digital map and directory of regional artisans, once completed, will provide users the chance to explore regional crafts and purchase artwork online.
“Updating the Blue Ridge Craft Trails for the digital age will connect more collectors and connoisseurs with craftspeople off the beaten path in our mountains,” says Angie Chandler, executive director of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. “We want Western North Carolina to be acknowledged and celebrated as an international center for crafts.”
The idea of the craft trail began with the pioneering work of Handmade in America, a nonprofit organization that created a printed guidebook to showcase regional art in the 1990s. This new project will dig into a culture of mountain artisans who are on the cutting edge of glasswork, ceramic art and photography. These artists often find it challenging to get the word out about their work, so an online portal seemed a perfect opportunity to showcase galleries and offer artwork for purchase online.
The digital project offers insight into mountain communities and their histories and provides a comprehensive look into the studios, galleries, schools and historic areas that make up the region. Visitors will be directed to 70 local galleries and studios across 25 counties. That number is expected to grow in the future.
Members of the Appalachian Regional Commission see the Craft Trails as a pathway for success in a region that has suffered from job losses over the years. Listings will be updated to relate current information and an online database will allow users to gain instant access to make online purchases. Collectors and art patrons will be able to easily locate galleries, craft stands and festivals in their areas.
“Craft has historically provided needed cash for many mountain families, and it remains a vibrant living tradition in Western North Carolina,” says Dale Neal of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. “Artisans are bringing their visions to pottery, ceramics, glass, fiber, wood, metal and other homegrown materials. Resurrecting the craft trails allows these ageless traditions to continue into the future, bringing new visitors to our region and building appreciation for our artisans.”
Heritage tourism accounts for a large portion of revenue and jobs in Western North Carolina and works to support the cultural appreciation of artisanship. Since its enactment, the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Partnership has awarded 154 grants which have funded projects in 25 counties in Western North Carolina. Tasked with preserving, protecting and celebrating the heritage of the region, the organization has done substantial work to keep mountain culture alive.
To keep track of the project, visit blueridgeheritage.com.