By Pamela Pyms
What do you get when you combine innovative technology, talented craftspeople and the creative staff of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area (BRNHA)? Answer: The Blue Ridge Craft Trails, an initiative since 2017, when BRNHA was asked by the Appalachian Regional Commission to bring the best of traditional and contemporary craft into the digital age.
“We’ve taken over the good works of Handmade in America and are starting fresh by creating curated itineraries for visitors and locals alike,” says Leslie Hartley, BRNHA communications manager. “We have a tool on the website where you can pick and choose from the different artists and galleries you want to visit, and it will create an itinerary just for you. The treasure trove of craftspeople is the backbone, but the site will also enable you to round out your day with other craft experiences, from finding wineries and breweries to hearing music all along the way.”
There are more than 200 anchor sites, or crafts destinations, within 25 designated counties that could be encompassed by the Blue Ridge Craft Trails, and the aim is to bring them all into the fold over the next 18 months. With the help of renowned craft curator Anna Fariello, the project will bring exposure to both well-known and lesser-known craftspeople, thus creating a positive economic impact on all of the communities. So far, there are 75 anchor sites up and running.
The pilot began in the western counties of Cherokee and Clay with notable anchor and 100-year-old epicenter of craft John C. Campbell Folk School. “We’ve had a great experience there,” says Hartley, “and we have just added Henderson County, bringing together another 18 artists, galleries and art events.”
The enthusiasm as the project grows is genuine and contagious. The Oriole Mill is located in Hendersonville. “We are honored to be included with other makers in Western North Carolina,” says director and co-founder Bethanne Knudson. “We take pride in making products only from natural fibers, with no chemicals of any kind added at any stage of our process. Our mill tours provide the public with an inside view and live demonstrations of our Jacquard looms. Everything we sell is made here. We believe the most sustainable practice is to produce that which never needs to be replaced.”
Meghan Bernard of Meghan Bernard Pottery works in porcelain and has been in Hendersonville for ten years. “I’m delighted to be included in the Blue Ridge Craft Trails,” she says. “It’s a great way to increase traffic to my studio and increase sales. I’m really excited to see how it affects my business and expands my visibility in the region.”
Rodney Leftwich concurs. “I am thrilled that Blue Ridge Craft Trails has chosen Leftwich Pottery as an anchor studio in Henderson County,” he says. “As a WNC native, I have treasured local historic folk and art pottery for over 40 years. Inspired by early forms, glazes and methods of decoration, I create face jugs and folk figures, crystalline glazes, and cut-out works with mountain themes. The opportunity to share my creations and passion for regional traditions through Blue Ridge Craft Trails is an exciting opportunity. Visitors and newcomers are always welcome to our rustic shop.”
Through May 15 an exhibition of craft artists of the WNC mountains and foothills will be held at the Western Office of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, located at 176 Riceville Road in Asheville. Hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more about the exhibition and planned special programming, call 828.296.7230, ext. 222.