Written by Marla Hardee Milling
“Experience over shopping”: how to unleash your muse with DIY arts and crafts in Western North Carolina.
You might think you don’t have a creative bone in your body, but there are places you can go for an hour or two and at the end of the visit you’ll leave with a painting, a pot, a piece of jewelry, or some other project that you’ve made yourself. In many cases this will inspire future craft experimentation and the awareness, in the words of The Village Potters co-owner Sarah Wells Rolland, that it is “cheaper than therapy.”
The Western North Carolina region has long been a haven for artists and craftspeople, and now, more than ever, visitors and locals alike are longing for opportunities to test their own crafting abilities. “We have a lot of people who come into town and say, ‘Well, this is an arts town, what can I do to experience the arts?’ So we offer that to them,” says Rolland.
Ed. note: See the accompanying sidebar that follows this report—it lists numerous venues not mentioned in the main article where you can get your DIY arts/crafts mojo workin’ in the WNC region.
Adventures in Clay: The Village Potters
Six- to eight-week classes are offered regularly at The Village Potters in Asheville’s River Arts District, covering everything from hand building and wheel throwing, to jewelry making and sculpture, to alternative firing. According to Rolland, “Our mission is that we want to inspire people to be passionate for clay and we nurture creative exploration.” The five resident potters at Village Potters teach the classes, and since most have more than 20 years of experience, they have skills in multiple areas of clay.
People passing through town might not have weeks to devote to a multi-week class, but they can sign up for the “Create Your Own Workshop” at Village Potters—it’s a one-time, two-hour DIY experience with expert instruction. The fee is $95 for one person, $150 for a couple, and $75 per person for groups of three to six. Each participant will have a finished piece to take home after it’s fired. (They can ship if you don’t have time to wait, but there’s an extra fee.)
“Some people use it as a tester to see if they’d like to take a six-week class,” says Rolland. “For tourists who come to town, many are starting to desire experience over shopping and that kind of thing.” They average between five and seven DIY workshops each week, plus they host “Get Your Hands Dirty” events for large groups and corporate team building.
“We did a project with Eliada Home and had 40 kids come, and we did hands-on projects with them,” she adds. “We set up tables of 12 all around the place and had two people helping with each table. They each made a little cup and a medallion and they did it themselves. It was such a success.”
The brief taste of creativity has even led some of the students at Village Potters to follow a whole new career path. Rolland and her colleagues have created a two-year independent study and mentoring program to take 28 skilled students to the next level and prepare them for a career in ceramic arts. “It’s the equivalent of a graduate study program,” says Rolland. “You have to have the ability to make pots. It’s a self-guided program, so it’s sort of do-it-yourself, too. About a third of the people studying in our independent study program started by taking classes with us. Some took classes for three years and then applied for the program. We have, from the onset of touching clay, nurtured people into becoming ceramic artists who are planning businesses now. We’re really proud of that.”
She’s also proud of continual expansion. “We’re creating six incubator studios so our graduates can apply with a business plan for an incubator space for up to two years and build their business out of that space. We’ll continue to mentor and help them as they establish wholesale accounts. There’s a real established structure in running a fine craft business—working with galleries, how buyers buy, how the terms work with shipping and net 30. It’s a standard business. We help them learn that so they can matriculate into it.”
The Village Potters has a fun event coming up on October 14 from noon to 5PM: pottery demonstrations, plus the opening of two different kilns, with all proceeds going to their scholarship fund.
The Village Potters
191 Lyman St #180, Asheville, NC
(828) 253-2424 | TheVillagePotters.com
Pop-Up DIY Workshops: The Center for Craft, Creativity and Design
The Center for Craft, Creativity and Design (CCCD) in downtown Asheville recently came up with a unique way to introduce people to crafting. Staff invited established artists to set up outdoor pop-up workshops on select Friday evenings this past July, August, and September. They staged the Craft City Workshops in a parking area next to their building and filled it with tables, craft project demonstration, live music, and complimentary food and drink treats, such as Buchi kombucha/Hi-Wire shandies and hotdogs by Foothills Local Meats.
Participants paid a modest fee for a craft kit—$7 in advance/$10 at the door. The outdoor environment allowed passersby to spot the event and make a spontaneous decision to register at a table in front. It’s the first year they’ve offered the Craft City Workshops, and Lauren Pelletier, CCCD marketing and development coordinator, says the fun approach came out of certain questions: “How can people be engaged with making things? Where’s the entry point?”
Local printmaker Jessica White led a workshop to create letterpress notebooks on August 4. Participants punched holes in the center of a cover and several blank pages. Then they worked to bind it together using a stiff thread pushed through the holes they made. Once the thread was tied and securely held the notebook together, the next step involved printing a design on the cover using a letterpress.
White set up two different presses and preselected a design for each. The large press, which required some force and leaning into the machine to get it to print evenly across the cover, featured a design of flowers on the side with the words “With a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” —Cicero. The smaller press required inking the press with ink, placing the flattened notebook on top, and then using a bar on top to slide over the design, leaving the print on the cover. It worked in the same fashion as an old credit card machine.
It took just a short amount of time to weave the cover together and imprint an image on it, but the experience proved satisfying to the almost 50 people who took part, as they left with a finished project and perhaps a desire to continue creating.
The Center for Craft, Creativity and Design:
67 Broadway, Asheville, NC
(828) 785-1357 | CraftCreativityDesign.org
Don’t Be Afraid of a Blank Canvas: Painting with a Twist
It doesn’t take prior experience to create a masterpiece during a group painting session. Just slide up to an easel for a couple of hours at places like Painting with a Twist in Biltmore Park and receive guided instruction, while having fun with friends and sipping a favorite beverage.
If you look at the online calendar (PaintingWithaTwist.com/asheville), you can pinpoint the scene you most want to recreate. Recent paintings included waterfalls, sunsets, a bouquet of hydrangeas in a Ball glass jar, and a colorful cow. Other scenes are tied to the region: “Starry Night Over Asheville,” which features a skyline of Asheville surrounded by a Van Gogh inspired design, and “Drink AVL Beer,” which shows a wooden sign pointing the way to area craft breweries: Oskar Blues in Brevard, Sierra Nevada in Mills River, and Highland Brewing Company in Asheville all have pointers on the wooden stake.
Here’s how this franchise business works: Sign up for a specific class (register online or walk into the studio and book a seat). Most classes are two hours for ages 16 and up and cost $35, but they do have some one-and-a-half-hour sessions (younger kids welcomed) for $25. Then, show up with your favorite beverage and snack in hand, and join friends for a fun evening painting, relaxing, and laughing. At the end of the night, you’ll leave with your creation.
Manager/instructor Erin Schmidt doesn’t want it to be an intimidating experience, so she says she tries to keep things lively in her classes by creating silly games with prizes. “Sometimes people can focus too much on painting,” she says, “so I will tell them to paint a mustache on their face and the best one wins an award. Or I’ll ask them to pull out the most unique item in their purse.”
Schmidt, who has a theatrical background, received her training in art by making props for sets. She also expresses her range of talents by working as a living statue known as The Granite Goddess. She performs at area festivals such as LEAF and Artisphere in Greenville, South Carolina.
The laughter, and the wine, helps people relax and just enjoy the process of making something that is uniquely their own. Schmidt says sometimes people come in forgetting to bring a bottle with them, but the shop is conveniently located two doors down from Thirsty Monk. Food and drink are the only things customers need to bring with them. Everything else is provided—the canvas, colorful acrylic paints, aprons, a spacious well-lit area to work in, and expert instruction.
Jean Sexton of Asheville finds it convenient to stretch her talent during group painting sessions. “I’ve always painted, but sometimes I can’t think of anything to paint or it seems like too much trouble to get supplies together, so I’ll do a painting class and it gets me going again on my own projects. I’ve been to Canvas | Paint and Mingle, Painting with a Twist, and Wine & Design on Merrimon Avenue. I started by painting my dogs, and I’ve painted a jar full of fireflies twice and given it away both times. I painted autumn trees with my work group (bonding exercise) and a fairytale fox that I liked the looks of. It relaxes me and gives me a direction without being taxing.”
Weaverville artist Robin Plemmons spent a couple of years instructing classes at Canvas | Paint and Mingle, which used to be open beside Biscuit Head in West Asheville. The owner decided to close to pursue her own artistic endeavors (it now operates out of Candler as just Paint and Mingle), but Plemmons has fun memories of helping other people discover the creativity they never knew they had.
She always encouraged participants to add their own individuality to the painting she was helping them create, but it was a young boy who stood out in being able to follow his own muse. “A family brought in a big group at Thanksgiving. I was showing them how to paint a simple, cute turkey. The grandmother was planning on hanging all of the canvases on one wall of her home. I told them, ‘If you want to make extra characteristics about your turkey, you’re allowed to do that.’ One little boy—he was about eight—raised his hand and asked if he could give his turkey a belly button. Then he asked if he could give it leg hair. So his turkey was extra special. It stood out from the rest and was really awesome.”
Another time Plemmons was showing the group how to paint a tree scene with an inspirational quote in the center. The one she selected was “Seek the quiet. God is there.” She loved how one participant did her own thing by replacing the phrase with “Look what mommy made.”
“A lot of people aren’t raised to express themselves in any creative way or they are too scared to attempt it,” she says. “A lot of people who came in would overthink every stroke, and I reminded them they were there to have fun, relax, and enjoy. If you mess up, it’s okay. Some people would say, ‘I’m not creative. I don’t draw.’ But a class might open a door for them. It gets you out of your comfort zone.”
It might even become a regular habit. Schmidt says one customer came to at least 20 classes at Painting With a Twist before deciding she loved it so much that she wanted to work there. She’s now an employee.
Painting with a Twist
2 Town Square Blvd #150, Asheville, NC
(828) 214-5569 | PaintingWithaTwist.com/asheville
Arts and Crafts from A to Z: John C. Campbell Folk School
There are so many workshops at John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, the biggest challenge is deciding what to take. The school, founded in 1925, offers more than 800 week-long and weekend classes each year. “Our course catalogue lists every class from A to Z. It starts with Basketry and ends at Writing,” says Keather Gougler, director of marketing. “You can search by class, or there’s also an e-catalogue available for download.”
Blacksmithing, woodworking, jewelry making, clay, and all the fiber arts are among the most popular classes offered.
“About 80 percent of our classes are for the beginner. We’re a place of discovery in a non-competitive environment. We are very accessible. Just go online, call, and pick a class. There’s no application process,” says Gougler.
The weekend tuition price is $354 and week-long classes are priced at $640. Room and board are extra.
“We draw people from all over the country. People look to us as their alternative vacation,” she says. “We also love the weekend sessions because people who are busier and don’t have a lot of time off work have an opportunity to come out on a weekend.”
A good time to explore the campus and see some of the studios is during the school’s fall festival, held the first weekend in October. The event includes art vendors, music, a chance to explore the studios, and 30 to 35 demonstrations.
John C. Campbell Folk School
1 Folk School Rd, Brasstown, NC
(828) 837-2775 | FolkSchool.org
DIY at Fairs, Festivals, and Special Events
It’s possible to walk up on DIY craft activities at special events. Take, for instance, the bi-annual Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands (www.SouthernHighlandGuild.org/shops-and-fairs/craft-fair-of-the-southern-highlands) that’s put on by the Southern Highland Craft Guild each year at the U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville. At the summer event, there was an area set up for craft exploration with instructors guiding visitors into how to tie pieces of silk or cotton with rubber bands and then putting the material in a plastic bag. The next step involved taking plastic bottles of paint and squirting different colors onto the cloth. The end result: beautifully creative tied dyed pieces. At another table, an instructor encouraged passersby to pick up a square of denim and embroider a design with needle and thread. The fair runs again October 20-22.
Also coming up at the end of October, the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair (SAFF) at the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center in Fletcher. Lisa Mackey, owner of Friends and Fiberworks Yarn Shop in Candler, is one of the volunteers who directs SAFF. She says in addition to livestock shows and vendor marketplace booths, workshops and classes make up a big part of the offerings.
“There are 700 or so people who sign up for 175 to 200 classes taught by about 60 instructors,” Mackey says. “There’s everything from spinning, weaving, crochet, tatting, basketry—we even have a watercolor painting class and a woodcarving class.”
Most of the classes run for a few hours or a day during the festival, which will run October 27-29. There are a couple of two-day classes in weaving and spinning. The prices are affordable and range from $30 to $200. All of the classes are listed at www.SaffRegistration.org/grouplistpublic.asp. Those sold out are marked in red, but many people sign up for open classes right before heading to the fair or even once they get there. The listing is available at the SAFF main website (listed below).
Mackey says the event draws a mix of area residents and visitors. “A lot of locals take a lot of classes at local yarn shops. People come from all over to take classes at SAFF. Last year we had people from England and a lot of people from out west, the Midwest, and up and down the Eastern Seaboard.”
Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands:
U.S. Cellular Center, 87 Haywood St., Asheville, NC | October 20-22
Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair
WNC Agricultural Center, 761 Boylston Highway, Fletcher, NC | October 27-29 / saffsite.org
Stepping it up a Notch: Penland School of Crafts
Penland School of Crafts, in Mitchell County just west of Spruce Pine, maintains a strong reputation as an international craft center offering intensive study for serious artists and craftspeople. That status may cause beginners to think the programs there would be out of reach for them, but that’s not necessarily the case. “I talk to people somewhat regularly who say, ‘I’m not good enough to go to Penland.’ That’s really not true, but I do understand,” says Robin Dreyer, communications and marketing manager.
While Penland doesn’t offer quick two-hour workshops or instruction over a weekend, it does include a series of three one-week workshops in spring, summer, and fall. “Penland is not in any way restricted,” says Dreyer. “Everybody is welcome, and all sorts of people thrive and have a great experience in Penland workshops, but it does require a certain level of commitment. We definitely have people sign up because they want to try it, but they will be in a room with people who are really into what they are doing. If you want to be in a studio with all the tools, really good instruction, and surrounded by people putting all their energy into it, then it’s perfect.”
Students typically stay on campus during the week, but Dreyer says there are some students who live within a short distance to campus who prefer to commute. For folks in Asheville, Dreyer wouldn’t recommend a commute since it’s over an hour. To really get the value of the workshop it’s convenient to stay there—students can work as early or as late as they want. Tuition for one week sessions is $633; hot glass is $909. There’s an additional fee for room and board and different price options, ranging from shared room with a shared bath to a private room with a private bath.
A glimpse of the schedule of one-week classes (www.Penland.org/classes/classes_by_session.html) reveals instruction in hand building, ceramic bowls, and weaving, to name a few. The course description provides information on whether the class is for all levels or if it requires some prior knowledge or experience. These one-week sessions are in the mix of the traditional eight-week class schedule offered in the fall and spring.
There’s also another way to test the crafting waters at Penland. “We have a community open house that’s generally held on the first Saturday in March,” says Dreyer. “People can go to different studios and try weaving on a loom or dying cloth or making something simple out of metal. It’s free and open to everybody.”
Penland School of Crafts
67 Doras Trail, Bakersville, NC
(828) 765-2359 | Penland.org
LEARN TO DO IT YOURSELF
Additional locations to easily dip your toes into the world of Arts and Crafts!
ECHOVIEW FIBER MILL
76 Jupiter Rd., Weaverville
Craft nights, weaving/mending/dyeing workshops and more. Check website for details.
NORTH CAROLINA GLASS CENTER
140 Roberts St., St. C, Asheville
Glassblowing and related lasses range in length from 30 minutes ($60) to 3 hours ($200) to 6 weeks ($325).
60 Clarks Chapel Road, Weaverville
Glassblower Michael Hatch holds 30 minute ($50), 2 hour ($150), and 4 hour ($300-$400) workshops.
SILVER RIVER CENTER FOR CHAIR CANING
Curve Studios, #9 Riverside Dr., Asheville
3-hour, day-long, week-long, and 2-week “intensives” classics. See “The Wonder of Weaving,” June 2017 Capital at Play.
191 Lyman Street
On-site artists hold regular workshops for the public in painting, jewelry design, mixed media, and fibers.
FOLK ART CENTER
Milepost 382 Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville
Demonstrations by experts in metals, glass, clay, fibers, and wood, along with selected opportunities for the public to try it out.
ROOTS+WINGS SCHOOL OF ART & DESIGN
573 Fairview Rd., Asheville
A variety of ongoing programs for schoolchildren and one-off classes for adults.
ASHEVILLE ART MUSEUM
15 Biltmore Avenue, Asheville
Range of recurring art classes (adults or children) at different levels of skill; fees vary.
10 Biltmore Plaza, Asheville
Workshops in everything from painting and jewelry design to embroidery and journal-making (and more); bring your own adult beverage. Prices range from $35 to $85. Private events such as bridal showers, ladies’ night out, etc. also available.
ASHEVILLE COTTON COMPANY
1378 Hendersonville Road, Asheville
Sewing and quilting classes ranging from $25 to $170.
CENTER FOR CRAFT, CREATIVITY & DESIGN
67 Broadway, Asheville
Variety of programs including the Craft City pop up workshops—these workshops require a nominal fee of $7 to $10 for a craft kit.
CHEVRON TRADING POST & BEAD CO.
40 N. Lexington Avenue, Asheville
Classes in beading, wire wrapping, jewelry, leatherwork, pearl knotting and more. Most classes range from $12 to $20 per person
CLOTH FIBER WORKSHOP
191 Lyman Street, Riverview Station (River Arts District), Asheville
Classes in traditional embroidery, screen printing, and Shibori, ranging from $98 to $198, plus materials.
JOHN C. CAMPBELL FOLK SCHOOL
1 Folk School Rd, Brasstown
More than 800 weeklong and weekend classes. Basketry, blacksmithing, fiber arts, clay, and more. Weekend classes $354; weeklong $640, plus lodging/meals.
ODYSSEY CENTER FOR CERAMIC ARTS
236 Clingman Avenue (River Arts District), Asheville
Ready, Set, Throw! One Night Pottery Classes. 2-hour class/$55 per person. Other classes in intermediate wheel throwing, metal clay, carved vases, glazing, etc.
PAINTING WITH A TWIST
2 Town Square Blvd #150, Biltmore Park
DIY group painting classes with BYOB. Private parties, team building. Prices range from $25 to $35.
PAINT & MINGLE
Schedule a painting party—kid’s birthday, corporate event, bachelorette party, church group, etc.—and invite your guests over. Paint & Mingle comes to your house or venue of choice and provides the art supplies. Quotes given upon request.
PENLAND SCHOOL OF CRAFTS
67 Doras Trail, Bakersville
One-, two-, and eight-week workshops in a wide variety of mediums: books, paper, clay, drawing, glass, iron, metals, photography, printmaking, letterpress, textiles and wood. Tuition begins at $633 for one-week sessions; room and board requires an additional fee.
SOUTHEASTERN ANIMAL FIBER FAIR (SAFF)
WNC Agricultural Center, October 27 – 29, 2017 (some classes begin October 26)
Workshops in Knitting, weaving, felting, tatting, crocheting, and more. Prices range from $30 to $200 per class.
THE VILLAGE POTTERS
191 Lyman St #180 (River Arts District), Asheville
Six to eight week classes range from $245 – $345. Create Your Own Workshop – $95 per person, or $75 per person for couples and groups. Classes in pottery, sculpture, jewelry making, alternative firing.
WINE & DESIGN
640 Merrimon Avenue, #208, Asheville
DIY group painting classes with BYOB. Private parties, team building. Average price $35/per person; Paint Your Pet is $55.
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