In keeping up with my desire to learn about and make art this year, on our trip to the South, Ashwin and I decided to visit a lot of small towns which thrive on being artisan communities. We hopped around to a few communities between Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina.
Our first stop was in Berea, Kentucky – a town which runs on the tag line, ‘where art is alive.’ The Berea College, around which the town runs drew us into visiting this wonderful pace, in turn having to forgo driving to Shakertown. The college does not charge it’s students a tuition fee. Each student participates in the college’s Work Program by serving 10-15 hours per week in one of more than 100 available employment positions on and off campus, allowing them to make additional funds.
Just as we entered Berea, a sign Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea had me all excited. Thanks to Ashwin’s quick reflexes, we were able to get off the highway and pull into the parking lot of the craft center. I was surprised at how full the parking lot was on a weekday. I wondered, if people love crafts and hand-made as much as to randomly stop at a small town in KY to buy some unique art? Apparently the answer is YES!!!
After our fill of Southern food, we wandered about several stores and bought a bunch of beautiful, unique things ( ear rings, ladles, children’s toys and more!). At one of the stores I got talking to the lady that ran the place and I told her how we was enjoying our visit to Kentucky and that it was nothing like I had expected/imagined. To which she said, “no hill Billy’s and people with guns walking around?” How embarrassed, silly and ignorant I felt! We really do live in our bubble up here in New York. All I could do was laugh uncomfortably, pay for what I bought and leave the story.
In Gatlinburg, a touristy town right outside the Smoky Mountain National Park, we were not expecting to do much wandering; our big draw being hikes in the mountains. But the weather gods had other plans for us and we found our selves amidst a large community of artists and crafters. Completely by chance we were in the midst of an 8 mile artists loop, that had studios of crafts people on wither side of the road, making their work and selling it right there. Carpenters, Potter, Painters, Cobblers and more welcomed us into their workplace.
The community took us by surprise. The woodworker we spoke to told us he had arrived here about 40 years ago, with his wife and child. He was in his seventies and he said it was his cousin that moved with him there and kept him company, while the rest of his family wondered what he was doing in the “Boonies.” When I asked him my standard question of, how he managed to live in such rural area, having only a few people around. He said, “We have friends now. Besides, I was from the country, so that didn’t bother me none.”
In today’s world of social media, where there was hardly any presence of artists that have been in the field all their life, I also asked a few artists, how they got commissioned work? They looked at me with confusion and said, “People just come in and see, I ‘suepose.”
Returning to Asheville (which requires it’s own blog piece), after one of our hikes at Pisgah National Forest, we stopped by a small town which is known for the liberal arts college with alumni of the likes of Robert Rauschenberg. The small downtown is dedicated to stores with handmade and local arts, with restaurants catering to hikers and tourists alike. Musicians playing instruments and singing, with the backdrop of large and small green mountains, called for the perfect setting to enjoy all the delicious one-of-a kind pieces of jewelry and utilitarian pottery we had just gotten in our possession.
Artists in these communities, have spent their whole lives honing a skill taking pleasure and pride in their work. I am sending out virtual vibes to all the people in America and travelers visiting to find, buy and use more hand crafted, locally made products. I hope the traditional and modern craft continues for decades to come.
On the whole the entire belt from Louisville to Charolette has several art institutions and craft stores thriving on Made In USA, unique handcrafts.I know there are more towns left to discover. But for now, this will have to do.
I left with lots of goodies, tons of inspiration and a clarity. I am refreshed, energized and ready to unleash the creativity that, hopefully, lies within me.
- Mountain village can take you by surprise.
- Wander around and ask locals for their suggestions, lock them up and make sudden changes to your plans.
- Asheville is a great town in North Carolina to also see local art, hand made jewelry and tons of organic cotton clothes. A little pricier than neighboring towns, but fantastic small city vibe.
- Visit different parts of your country. See, learn, explore, discover.