Two projects of HandMade in America, a support system for artisans, provide excellent starting places for art and crafts adventures. "The Craft Heritage Trails of Western North Carolina" is an excellent guidebook to open studios and galleries, and provides related information on historic sites. It includes eight highway loop tours, most with easy connections to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Visitors may also use the craft registry found on the organization's website, www.handmadeinamerica.org. It tells where artists' work may be found even if they don't have open studios.
The 500-mile Blue Ridge Parkway runs north to south, following the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains through Virginia and North Carolina.
Some of the Blue Ridge Parkway's oldest settlements and restored historic structures provide perspective on 200-plus years of Appalachian culture and its influence upon the region's art and crafts. Along the way, overlook signs and visitor centers lead to points of interest.
About seven miles from downtown Asheville is the Folk Art Center, a cooperative effort of the Highland Craft Guild, the National Park Service, and the Appalachian Regional Commission. Representing more than 800 juried craftspeople from nine Southeastern states, it offers craft demonstrations, free educational events, and gallery exhibitions.
Near Spruce Pine, the Penland School of Crafts educational program provides classes and artists' residencies, exhibitions, demonstrations, tours, and a retail shop where you may see and buy the work of instructors, resident artists, and students. Founded in 1929, the school comprises 400 acres and 41 structures (see sidebar at left).
The John C. Campbell Folk School began in 1925 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is located on 380 acres in Brasstown near Murphy and offers courses in music, dance, and crafts, has a retail shop that includes work from many of its instructors, and includes a history center.