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Meet the Artists at TRAC Holiday Studio Tour

Toe River Arts Council Holiday Studio Tour

TRAC Burnsville gallery. Photo by Sarah Jones Decker

By Gina Malone

Toe River Arts Council’s (TRAC’s) 23rd annual Holiday Studio Tour happens Friday, December 2, through Sunday, December 4. More than 70 artists in Yancey and Mitchell counties will open studios and galleries from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day of this self-guided tour. An opening reception will be held Friday, December 2, from 5:30–7:30 p.m. at TRAC’s Spruce Pine Gallery.

“The first tour sprang from a tradition started by several artists in our community when they opened their studios for an informal sale the first weekend in December,” says Denise Cook, TRAC’s executive director.

Glassmaker Rob Levin was one of those early artists who held December open houses. At his studio near Burnsville, he creates functional and sculptural blown-glass pieces and mixed media sculptures of wood, metal and other materials with glass. He jokingly refers to his style as a “blend of Late Venetian and Early Neurotic.”

Levin enjoys meeting visitors during the tour. “It is a pleasant change of pace to open our studios the first weekends of December and June (the spring tour), exposing visitors to an amazing array of high-quality artwork and helping to demystify the creative process.”

Each year, participation grows in this non-juried event. “Any artist who has a studio in Mitchell or Yancey counties—or who is showing at a participating artist studio—can join in,” says Kate Groff, TRAC marketing/programming coordinator.

Toe River Arts Council Holiday Studio Tour

Bill Bernstein of Bernstein Glass

Arts and crafts of every kind are available in the towns and communities of Bakersville, Spruce Pine, Burnsville, Penland and Celo, with stops all along the roads in between. A printed guide listing artists and galleries and providing maps for route planning is available at locations throughout Mitchell and Yancey counties and on the website.

This will be the second TRAC tour for Silvia Ferrari-Palmer, owner of In Tandem Gallery. Located in the historic Bakersville Community Bank building, her gallery showcases the work—ceramics mostly, with jewelry too—of about 50 artists from all over the US and Canada.

Toe River Arts Council Holiday Studio Tour

Kenny Piper in the studio

“In the gallery, I have an enormous variety of price ranges, styles and looks,” says Ferrari-Palmer. “The ceramic work here is fired in every imaginable way: pit-fired, soda-fired, wood-fired, gas-fired; with decals, underglazes, natural-ash glaze, high-fired gloss glazes. That eclectic appearance is what I enjoy and focus on in the gallery.”

This will be the ninth TRAC tour for J.R. and Kristen Page of Page Pottery in Burnsville. “Each one seems to be better than the one before,” J.R. says. The couple creates functional dinnerware as well as low-fire and Raku pottery. “Our process is most unusual and lately we have been carbon-transferring plants and organic materials directly to the pottery, achieving fantastic results.”

Artists in the area form a network, the Pages say. “We get all kinds of people coming to our studio during the tour on the recommendation of other artists.”

Ferrari-Palmer has lived in Italy and New York, among other places, but says of WNC, “Of all the places that I’ve lived, this truly is a unique area. Nowhere else are there this many artists, craftsmen and makers of such high quality.”

Cook sees this as an opportunity for the community and visitors to meet artists where they live and work. “Generally, artists are packing up to attend shows all over the country; they welcome the opportunity to invite people to come into their homes and galleries this holiday season.”

The Toe River Arts Council Spruce Pine Gallery is located at 269 Oak Avenue in Spruce Pine. To learn more, visit

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