Western North Carolina is graced with outstanding natural beauty, rich history, charming small towns, and a thriving art, food, and beverage scene. It’s no wonder visitors come from far and wide to play, stay, and eat there — and now there is one more important reason to visit this extraordinary region.
The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area’s newly completed Blue Ridge Craft Trail invites visitors to come in direct contact with artists in their studios. They’re encouraged to browse and shop galleries filled with original, locally crafted treasures. The trail encompasses an area the size of Maryland and includes 25 counties in the Blue Ridge Mountains and foothills. It passes through the lovely town of Asheville as well as the Qualla Boundary, home of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.
My husband and I had the pleasure of exploring the trail in the Wilkesboro Area. Below are two examples of the approximately 300 talented, dedicated artists who participate in the Blue Ridge Craft Trail.
Note: Though this article was aided by the generosity of Blue Ridge National Heritage Area and Wilkesboro Tourism Development Authority, all opinions are entirely my own.
Brey Quality Crafts: Where Nature And Craftsmanship Go Hand In Hand
“Wherever your eye travels, it’s my hand in the landscaping,” says Betsy Brey of her 23-acre workshop. This is where Betsy gathers materials for crafting stunning, originally designed baskets made from poplar, hemlock, and other trees on her property.
Betsy melds traditional Appalachian white oak basketry techniques, which she’s used for 30 years, with harvesting and preparing spring bark from sap-filled trees. From strips of bark and other natural materials, she creates unique designs that can be used as vessels for containing household objects or serve as eye-catching accent pieces.
When visiting Brey Quality Crafts, you’ll also find whimsical, handcrafted soaps in adorable shapes. These are also made from natural ingredients and dyes. Betsy holds occasional soap-making classes so you can learn how to produce your own luxurious soaps.
You can’t buy Brey Quality Crafts items online, but Betsy is available by appointment, and you can purchase her designs from several area galleries.
Sunset Fiberworks: Where Talented Hands Weave Beauty And Love Into Every Piece
“I love teaching people who want to learn,” says Mary Freas about instructing her students in the intricate art of weaving. Along with her husband, John, Mary operates Sunset Fiberworks at their Sunset Farm home overlooking the picturesque Yadkin Valley.
The farm has been in John’s family for 200 years. When the couple retired from their big-city jobs, they moved to Wilkes County, and John built their log home on the site of the original cabin that had burned down. This is where Mary and her 19 looms create exquisite shawls, dishcloths, and scarves, as well as table mats and runners from natural fibers — like wool, cotton, and bamboo.
Mary’s primary focus is teaching, but she usually has pieces for sale on a first come, first served basis. Because her students work at different speeds with different goals, Mary prefers teaching students individually. Visits to Sunset Fiberworks are by appointment only.
Hit The Trail
Whether you choose to explore the Blue Ridge Craft Trail in North Carolina’s Far West, Central Mountains, High Country, or Foothills regions, you will meet outstanding potters, weavers, woodworkers, stained glass artists, and many more crafters. Find the ideal accent piece for your home or the perfect gift for a special person in your life, knowing that what you purchase is handcrafted, unique, and helps grow the area’s economy.
The trail website is easy to navigate and allows you to search by craft and location. And while you’re engaging in retail therapy of the best kind, you’ll also be treating yourself to a piece of North Carolina heaven.