n the absolute, exact geographic center of this state, as measured by the Army Corps of Engineers — latitude: 35° 23’ 59.12070” N; longitude: 79° 45’ 0.99676” W — and designated as the Town of Star, there’s no grocery store; you’ve got to go down the road to Food King in Biscoe or Troy.
There’s no Walmart, no Costco, no Target, no Hardee’s, no McDonald’s. No chain hotels, but there is the Star Hotel Bed and Breakfast, a sprawling, baby-blue, Queen Anne-style house overflowing with antiques and history. I’ve spent the night here and slept well, because there’s also no traffic on Main Street in Star in the middle of the night.
A half-mile up Main Street, on the other side of the railroad tracks that run through the middle of town, stands a massive structure from around 1900, once home to the Country Life Academy, then converted into a manufacturing plant in the 1940s — 184,000 square feet covering four acres. Russell Hosiery made socks and employed a thousand people until manufacturing moved overseas and the building shut down in 2001. It sat unused for years until some innovative folks revived the place into something extraordinary: a center for artists.
Inside, there’s a clay studio — wheels and potters, and they make clay here, too, dug from the surrounding earth. And in a cavernous room ringed by furnaces, there’s a glassmaking studio, with artists wearing face shields and Kevlar gloves.
Here, Andrew Thompson and Jamie Estes work together on a piece, and a crowd, assembled for an event called Glassfest, circle them. Each of Andrew and Jamie’s pieces have ribbons of rainbows worked into the glass: Wavy rainbow handles curve around their pitchers and mugs; rainbow stripes wind up the sides of wine glasses and rim the edges of handblown bowls.
Andrew dips a hollow blowpipe into one of the furnaces and gathers molten glass — like cotton candy onto a stick; like twirling honey onto a wooden dipper — then rolls the flaming orange mass along a metal table to center the glass so that gravity doesn’t exert its pull and misshape the piece. For the next 45 minutes, he and Jamie work in tandem: He rolls and reheats to keep the glass pliable; she puffs air to create the shape.
Their movements are rhythmic and precise, their focus intense. The demonstration is mesmerizing, breathtaking, nerve-racking. At any moment, Andrew and Jamie know that the glass bulb growing into a large vase could crack, or fall and shatter on the concrete floor. The crowd knows it, too. We tense our shoulders. We hold our breath. Two more artists emerge to help; someone swings open the furnace doors and shields Andrew’s face with iron paddles; another artist wearing Kevlar gloves waits to catch the vase the moment Andrew snaps it off the rod. And then he does, and Andrew and Jamie hold up the vessel to the audience, proud parents, and everyone claps and cheers.
The joke here is that the town of Star is in the middle of nowhere; even locals say it. I may have thought that, too, before I spent an afternoon here, watching artists make rainbows, before I reminded myself that what makes a place memorable isn’t the number of businesses; it’s the soul and the heart you find inside.
I’d say this little town isn’t missing anything at all.
Editor in Chief