A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Mountain Mike’s Whetstone Woodworks Maggie Valley [caption id="attachment_144301" align="alignright" width="216"] Everything Mike Ayers carves is lifelike.[/caption] As Mike Ayers tugs the cord to start up his chainsaw, you might suspect

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Mountain Mike’s Whetstone Woodworks Maggie Valley [caption id="attachment_144301" align="alignright" width="216"] Everything Mike Ayers carves is lifelike.[/caption] As Mike Ayers tugs the cord to start up his chainsaw, you might suspect

21 Artists of the Parkway

Mountain Mike’s Whetstone Woodworks

Maggie Valley

Everything Mike Ayers carves is lifelike. photograph by Jack Sorokin

As Mike Ayers tugs the cord to start up his chainsaw, you might suspect that he’s about to cut down a tree or split logs for a fire. But his task is much more intricate: When he’s finished with the piece of wood in front of him, Ayers will have transformed it into a bear with a face so full of detail that you might think it’s alive. Or maybe he’ll craft a bird, its wings spread as if a gust of wind were blowing through the feathers. No matter what he makes, it’s sure to be lifelike. Ten years ago, Ayers’ uncle saw his nephew whittling with a pocketknife, so he rolled a log to him and asked him to try to carve a bear. Ayers picked up a chainsaw and went to work. It took him two full days, but after that, he knew he’d found his calling. Now, Ayers runs Mountain Mike’s Whetstone Woodworks in Maggie Valley and travels around the world to participate in woodworking competitions. He’s won the title “Master of the Chainsaw” in an event in Pennsylvania multiple years in a row. “The competition is what keeps my drive going,” Ayers says. “Sometimes when I get bored, I’ll sign up for a new one, and that motivates me to carve.” — Anna Mudd


Betty Maney


Artist Betty Maney, an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, doesn’t have to think hard about her introduction to basketmaking. “That’s easy,” she says with a laugh. “As far back as I can remember, I was always exposed to white oak basketry.” Maney’s mother, Jolene Walkingstick, learned the craft from her mother-in-law, who thought that Walkingstick could sell baskets to help support her growing family. Although Maney grew up watching her mom’s basketmaking process, from harvesting to weaving, Maney is self-taught. After practicing with miniature baskets, Maney began entering her work in competitions — and winning. Her favorite part? “Weaving!” she says. “Considering that you have to go find a tree, chop it down, break it down into smaller sticks, and pull it apart to scrape it so you can handle each individual piece, it’s such hard work to get to the point that you can actually sit down and weave a basket.” — Katie Kane


Mike McKinney

Maggie Valley

Mike McKinney’s smooth-sided bowls look beautiful on any table. photograph by Mike McKinney

From local and reclaimed maple, cherry, walnut, and other woods, Mike McKinney fashions elegant, smooth-sided bowls, ornaments, urns, and more. As a fourth-generation woodworker, he grew up visiting the woodshops of his father and grandfather, and became serious about the craft around 1993. McKinney sells his work at galleries and boutiques throughout the Blue Ridge Mountains and is continually inspired by the rich artistic culture of western North Carolina. Visitors are welcome to witness the wood-turning process by appointment at McKinney’s home studio in Maggie Valley. — Liz Johnson


Jo Ridge Kelley’s paintings often capture the beauty of the sky. She’s drawn to the way sunlight illuminates the clouds and mist settles into the mountains. photograph by Tim Robison

Jo Ridge Kelley


When sunlight bathes the mountainsides in a glow different from the day before, a new season is alive along the Blue Ridge Parkway. With canvas and oil paints in hand, Jo Ridge Kelley heads out to capture it. She usually sets up her canvas right in the middle of the landscape so that she can be among the hazy mist, crisp colors, and striking mountains that she’s painting. The key threads running through Kelley’s work are her use of bright colors in the foreground and her focus on the sky. “I just love watching how the sky and clouds interact with the mountains, and I love trying to capture that,” she says. In her gallery in downtown Waynesville, Kelley’s vibrant images of the Blue Ridge Parkway line the walls. Twice a year, she hosts a landscape painting workshop, sharing her process with a small group and taking them into nature to find pops of color and light. — Anna Mudd


Art Jewelry by Ilene


Ilene Kay has a knack for merging the natural world with everyday life. In her home studio, located on a few bucolic acres in Clyde, she transforms her scenic outdoor sketches into jewelry made of Argentium silver, gold, heat-colored titanium, and copper. For her Blue Ridge Collection, Kay cut, fused, and soldered pendants using Argentium, which is purer than sterling silver and nickel-free. Then, she used a special torch to transform the pieces’ miniature titanium mountains into different shades of blue, purple, and green. All of Kay’s pieces take shape in different ways, but the general process and outdoor themes are consistent throughout her work. Her Blue Ridge pieces have struck a nostalgic chord with many customers — like the Chicago resident who bought a necklace from the collection because it reminded her of trips to the area with her late husband. Kay has been making jewelry professionally for more than 20 years, but her love of the arts — and the outdoors — started as a young girl, when she’d bring home leaves, rocks, and sticks. “I was enamored with the outside world and nature,” Kay says. “I just wanted to bring it inside with me.” — Chloe Klingstedt


Artist Ann DerGara is inspired by nature. Photography courtesy of Ann DerGara

Ann DerGara


Internationally known painter and printmaker Ann DerGara can see the Blue Ridge Mountains from her window in Brevard, and they inspire her every day. When she moved to North Carolina from Atlanta in 1998, her artistic style changed from abstract to naturalistic. “I was overwhelmed by the landscape and animals,” she says. “The beauty of the land is amazing.” DerGara has shown her work across the country and around the world, but in the past several years, she’s focused her career more locally. — Liz Johnson


Rob Travis’s landscape photography often reflects his ability to be in the right place at the right time. Photography courtesy of Rob Travis

Rob Travis


Rob Travis’s landscape photography reflects the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, from close-ups like dew dripping from bright orange flowers and the motion of a tiny bird’s flapping wings to sweeping images of sunlight streaming through clouds and waterfalls rushing down a mountain. Inside Blue Moon Gallery and Frame in Brevard, the walls are lined with photos of the scenery and nature that surround the artist. Travis’s love of capturing the perfect moment started with photographing birds and butterflies, which inspired him to buy himself a birthday present — a Canon 30D 8.6-megapixel. Camera in hand, Travis began exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway on a mission to find new winged subjects and practice his photography skills. “The rest is history,” he says of his shift to full-time photography. “I seem to have a natural ability to be in the right place at the right time.” This allows him to catch special moments in nature — from glowing sunrises to a mountaintop peeking over a sea of clouds. — Anna Mudd


Silver River Center for Chair Caning


In a museum filled with mid-century chairs and exhibits on the history and materials used in chair caning, Brandy Clements and Dave Klingler preserve the traditional art form of weaving chair seats out of reed, bark, cord, Shaker tape, leather, or rattan. Located in the River Arts District of Asheville, Silver River’s chair caning school and museum are dedicated to restoring antique and vintage chairs and empowering others to learn the craft. The chairs that Clements and Klingler restore are rich with history and sentimental value. Through their work, the pair have connected with chair caners around the world. “It’s a global community,” Klingler says, “and we’re all speaking the same language.” — Liz Johnson


Mark Crossley re-create mountain flora in copper and glass enamel. photograph by Mark Crossley

Mark’s Metallic Arts


For Mark Crossley, metalworking strikes just the right balance between his background in chemistry and math and his passion for the arts. An alumnus of the University of North Carolina Asheville, Crossley returned to the city with his wife about four years ago and began selling his work online and in local galleries. He draws inspiration from walks along the Blue Ridge Parkway; back in his studio, he carefully re-creates the mountain flora he sees in copper and glass enamel. Crossley has experience in photography, theater, and music, yet he describes metalworking as his true artistic passion. “I love this artwork more than anything I have ever done,” he says. “I enjoy the realism I can put into my art.” — Liz Johnson


Song of the Wood


Jerry Read Smith has built more than 1,000 dulcimers. photograph by Tim Robison

After finishing his homework at Warren Wilson College one evening, Jerry Read Smith ventured to Gladfelter Hall, where music like he’d never heard before was emanating from the lower level. He stepped inside, and for two hours, he watched the quartet onstage, transfixed. One musician played a hammered dulcimer — a percussion instrument with strings stretched over a trapezoidal body. Intrigued, Smith wrote to the Smithsonian Institution for instructions on how to make his own version of the traditional folk instrument. Just before his senior year, he completed his first hammered dulcimer in his dorm room. That was nearly 50 years ago; since then, Smith has built more than 1,000 dulcimers. He prefers to select his materials in person, including some woods sourced from North Carolina. Smith still displays his first hammered dulcimer in his showroom. It’s probably only worth about $50, he says, “but I wouldn’t sell it for $1,000.” — Jordan Schultz


Jane Voorhees’ watercolor paintings are often inspired by the mountains of North Carolina. Photography courtesy of Jane Voorhees

Jane Voorhees


Painter Jane Voorhees loves to drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway with her camera, searching for sunsets and scenic views. She brings the photographs back to her studio, where she often sketches a thumbnail of a landscape before painting a larger version of the scene. She primarily works in watercolor, embracing the way the paint seems to have a mind of its own. Raised in a family of artists, Voorhees began painting early on. She would often travel with her parents to coastal areas — whether in North Carolina or in England, where the family stayed and painted in the seaside town of Staithes. But the mountains of North Carolina have been her home for more than 35 years now, and the seasons, with their changing colors, have become her main source of inspiration. Voorhees and her siblings continue the tradition of supporting each other and sharing their work through an annual family art show, just like they have for a quarter of a century. — Jordan Schultz


Katherine McCarty

Spruce Pine

When Katherine McCarty took an art therapy course while working on her master’s degree in community counseling at Georgia State University, she fell in love with expressing emotion through painting. That experience changed everything for her, and she has since led many workshops in therapeutic arts. When she moved back to North Carolina, McCarty continued her art education, learning about ceramics and studio art, both representational and abstract. “Abstract art is one way of tapping into those [emotional] places you can’t put into words,” McCarty says. “I love the mystery of abstract art because people see things in it that maybe I don’t see, and it seems to resonate with some and not others.” Her representational works showcase landscapes and life near the Blue Ridge Parkway, where McCarty enjoys plein air painting. “The mountain views and rolling hills inspire me,” she says. “There are hidden treasures all over.” — Anna Mudd


Anvil Arts Studio Sculpture photograph by Revival Creatives

Anvil Arts Studio Sculpture

Linville Falls

The garden and gallery at Anvil Arts are full of sculptures of all sizes and textures, made with clay, steel, reclaimed metals, glass, wood, and more. Sculptor Bill Brown started his studio with a small display space more than 40 years ago. He works primarily with steel, using traditional forging techniques to create contemporary sculptures, and his studio is often open for guests to check out the sculpting process. In 2017, Bill’s wife, Liz, the studio’s curator, began selling other artists’ work alongside Bill’s. “I find great reward in being able to exhibit the work of these diverse artists,” she says, “hoping visitors will come explore, experience, and collect these sculptures to enjoy in their lives.” — Liz Johnson


Blowing Rock Pottery

Blowing Rock

When potter Larry Ziegler sits down at the wheel, his mind is full of possibilities for what the lump of clay in front of him could become — perhaps a deep blue mug or a brown vase with delicate speckles. When he signed up to take a pottery class at Appalachian State University more than 12 years ago, Ziegler wasn’t expecting to fall completely in love with the craft. He studied pottery in all its shapes and styles, stretching his abilities at the wheel and with glazes. Eventually, he began selling his pieces at High Country Candles in Blowing Rock, the store that he and his wife have owned together for years. For Ziegler, pottery is a dream job: There’s always something to learn or a new challenge, he says. Although he got a late start, he’s glad to have found his calling. “Many artists or potters started creating when they were in high school or even before,” he says. “I was nearing retirement before I even got my hands on clay, which has really made my experience as an artist different.” — Anna Mudd


Chris Capozzoli’s guitars incorporate reclaimed wood from old barns. photograph by Stacey Van Berkel

Capozzoli Guitar Company

Sugar Grove

When he was in high school, Chris Capozzoli spent hours in his neighbor’s woodshop, watching him build guitars. Afterward, he would pore over the books about guitar making that his neighbor lent him. Then, during his senior year, Capozzoli built his own guitar in his parents’ garage. It was a crude instrument, but the process struck a chord. Now, years later, the smooth-playing acoustic and electric guitars that he creates in his woodshop behind the Historic Cove Creek High School in Sugar Grove are expertly crafted. Each one tells a story, incorporating the history of the area through wood reclaimed from weathered, run-down barns, and often created specifically for the customer. “I’m always coming up with new variations on the guitars I’ve designed,” Capozzoli says. “The guitar, for me, is like a blank canvas where I can lay out new designs and wood types.” His guitars have come a long way from the first instrument he made in his parents’ garage, but every day, he feels the same passion and excitement that he felt years ago. — Anna Mudd


Diane Allison-Stroud


Diane Allison-Stroud often uses colors she sees in the mountains around her when creating her game boards. Photography courtesy of Diane Allison-Stroud

As Diane Allison-Stroud sketches her initial design of an antique-style game board, she’s thinking about quilts. Growing up in Dallas, Texas, she was always fascinated with quilting — a passion sparked by her mother, who loved to take her to antiques stores and was always making quilts or other crafts. One day, Allison- Stroud opened a magazine and saw an article about antique game boards, whose designs reminded her of tiny, ornate quilts. From that day forward, she was obsessed. She began to make her own game boards, pulling inspiration from the 1800s for her designs. Eventually, she moved her studio to Boone, where she had loved to vacation as a little girl. Here in North Carolina, her board designs are influenced by the beauty of nature — from the crisp orange fall leaves to the soft blue of the sky above the mountains. “I try to introduce one new board a year, and oftentimes, I’ll be pulling the colors from what is blooming along the mountains,” she says. Allison-Stroud’s boards take about three weeks to make, from drawing the designs to the process of applying coat after coat of paint to each board, then sanding, waxing, and using a saw to sculpt the shape. When she’s done, she’s left with a stunning piece of art that looks slightly aged, each game board intricate and distinctive. — Anna Mudd


Ryan Kirby’s Grandfather Gobbler is just one of many breathtaking wildlife scenes the illustrator and oil painter has created. Photography courtesy of Ryan Kirby

Ryan Kirby


Ryan Kirby leaned against a tree in Sugar Grove, looking at a flock of wild turkeys with the kind of sharp focus that only a wildlife artist or a hunter can have — and Kirby is both. He waited patiently for the turkeys to come down from the mountain, but they never did. To his right, he was met with a perfect view of the profile of Grandfather Mountain, and inspiration took over. “When I got back to the studio,” Kirby says, “I painted the turkeys into the scene like I wish they had been in real life, and that was Grandfather Gobbler.” This work is just one of the many breathtaking wildlife scenes that the Boone illustrator and oil painter has created since moving here from Cornelius nearly a decade ago. “As long as humans have been alive, we’ve just been fascinated by animals,” he says. “I always try to show them in their strongest light.” — Katie Kane


Tiny Hands Pottery’s Blue Ridge Parkway collection features a matte finish in mountain hues. photograph by PAUL SHERAR, STYLED BY STYLE BY EPOCH

Tiny Hands Pottery


Amy Lowrey considers herself to be an “accidental potter.” After several years of doing ministry work around the world, she took a pottery class in 2015 and fell in love with the craft. She studied pottery in Europe, then returned to Boone, a place that is both her home and her inspiration. For much of her work, including a Blue Ridge Parkway collection, Lowrey uses a matte finish and the deep blue, black, and white hues of a mountain landscape. “There is no place in the U.S. that I love as much as I do Boone,” she says. “It really is the place for me.” — Liz Johnson


Lauren Crowe usually carves four to seven separate wooden panels that she then inks and layers to create a single image. The process can take several weeks to complete. photograph by The White Crowe

The White Crowe


Lauren Crowe commutes past the Grandview Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway every day. There, her favorite moment is during “the wet early mornings, when the fog is settled between the mountains,” she says. This is one of the views that gives her inspiration for her relief printmaking, in which she focuses on elements of nature. She uses wood matrices and carves out her designs layer by layer, inking and letting each layer dry before carving and inking the next. Crowe dabbled in painting and drawing as a child growing up in the North Carolina mountains. She discovered relief printmaking when she took a required course for her graphic design program at Appalachian State University. Now, as a full-time graphic designer and part-time artist, Crowe enjoys working with her hands after looking at a screen all day. She shows her art at markets along the Blue Ridge Parkway, where the landscape is reflected in her prints. “I try to bring people back to a place or a memory in this area,” she says. — Jordan Schultz


Blue Ridge Woodcrafters


Blue Ridge Woodcrafters’ cutting boards are striped with various types of woods. Photography courtesy of Blue Ridge Woodcrafters

For years, woodworking was John Brady’s stress reliever — an outlet to decompress after workdays as a school principal in Sparta. When he retired, Brady decided to start woodworking full-time. He began going to craft shows around the area to sell his cutting boards and lazy Susans, striped from the woods he combines to create them. He set up shop in his basement, but his wife got fed up with all the sawdust, so Brady opened Blue Ridge Woodcrafters, where he creates and sells wooden treasures like live-edge coffee tables, benches, and wooden spoons and boxes. In all of the pieces that Brady crafts, different types of woods come together to make a beautiful final product. “What is really nice,” Brady says, “is to take a piece of wood that doesn’t look like too much and have it turn out to be something nice and useful.” — Anna Mudd


Three Crows Metalworks


Diane, Lou, and Maggie Morrison use recycled metals and engraved stones to capture mountain landscapes in their jewelry. photograph by Stacey Van Berkel

For the family behind Three Crows Metalworks, mountains are always close at heart. Lou and Diane Morrison have lived in western North Carolina for more than four decades, and they started their jewelry company several years ago with their daughter, Maggie. From recycled metals to engraved mountains to stones in the hues of the forest, the Morrisons aim to center the earth in every aspect of their business. One of their recent series uses picture jasper, a stone that naturally produces vibrant colors resembling mountain landscapes. This collection is emblematic of Three Crows’ mission: to embrace “the natural artistry of the earth.” — Liz Johnson


This story was published on Sep 27, 2021

Our State Staff

Since 1933, Our State has shared stories about North Carolina with readers both in state and around the world. We celebrate the people and places that make this state great. From the mountains to the coast, we feature North Carolina travel, history, food, and beautiful scenic photography.