By Natasha Anderson
Wedding shoppers are often torn between buying something practical and something memorable. But the two traits aren’t mutually exclusive, especially in a region teeming with shops, galleries, markets and fairs showcasing the work of artisans and crafters creating beautifully designed pieces suitable for everyday use. Handmade wood cutting boards; handwoven table linens; tumblers, cereal bowls and bakeware with colorful glazes and interesting textures; and hand-forged iron trivets and paper towel holders are just a few examples.
“We have many customers who are shopping specifically for wedding gifts,” says Judy Dillingham, manager of the Southern Highland Craft Guild’s Biltmore Village gallery, “and the number has been increasing over the last several years.”
According to Dillingham, Blenko blown glass salad bowls and water bottles have historically been the gallery’s most popular wedding gifts, with turned wood bowls for salads and other uses coming in a close second. Decanters and drinking glasses by local glassmaker Hayden Wilson are also currently in high demand.
“These products are created by people who pour their soul into their work,” says Dillingham. “Their commitment to their craft can be felt in each piece and I think that makes the item very special for a couple celebrating the start of a committed relationship.”
At New Morning Gallery, also in Biltmore Village, functional pottery including dinnerware, wine coolers and bowls, are top picks for couples creating a bridal registry, though home furnishings are becoming increasingly prevalent, according to the gallery’s bridal consultant Arlene McDonald. Many one-of-a-kind items are available, including custom-designed furniture. And no kitchen is complete without a glazed ceramic bacon cooker, originally created for New Morning Gallery by potter Clyde Gobble.
“With more than 1,000 artists represented, we have gifts to suit everyone,” says McDonald, “but the common denominator for couples is the fact that they’re all handcrafted in the US.”
The trend toward gifts that are both functional and artfully designed isn’t limited to those for the bride and groom. While jewelry remains a top choice for wedding parties, other ideas include hand-painted ceramic coffee mugs, silkscreen reproduction notecards and inlaid wood boxes for keepsakes, jewelry or storing electronics. Bellagio Art to Wear, a boutique specializing in one-of-akind clothing and accessories created by local and regional artists, offers popular fashion pieces such as scarves, hats and handbags.
Hazelwood Soap Company, in Waynesville, provides artisanal bath, body and home products made in small batches using natural ingredients and essential oils. The company’s items are popular for brides and grooms as well as for wedding party gifts and guest favors. Lotions, body washes and soy wax candles are choices that can be personalized and produced in a travel size perfect for favors or gift bags for out-of-town guests. Wooden bow ties are great options for groomsmen, while beer soap, made by incorporating local brews into shea butter bar soap, is perfect for fans of the frosty beverage.
“Folks who wed here are proud of our area and eager to share their local finds with guests, especially those from other places,” says Hazelwood’s co-owner Diana Laursen. “Even if they decide they just want to include our soap, personalized with their name and wedding date, in the bathroom, that’s a unique touch for a functional item.”