Each year, Our State’s Made in NC Awards celebrate the talent and creativity of North Carolinians. Meet the state’s honorable mentions. Check out all of this year’s winners! Craft •
When Buncombe County artist Pat Holbrook took her first basket-weaving class, she didn’t expect to fall in love with one of North Carolina’s oldest and most treasured art forms. “I remember thinking to myself, I’ll never be able to do this,” she says. “By the end of the class, I was so excited that I could actually create [a small basket], and I’ve been making baskets ever since.” Around 2005, Holbrook decided to start her own business. She knew that she wanted to use her craft to showcase things she loved and memories she cherished, like an equestrian-themed basket inspired by her time riding horses as a child. Holbrook takes pride in crafting her own designs, including baskets accented with leather or braided handles, but she also enjoys modifying intricate patterns by other artists. To make her “Tartan Reed” basket — based on a pattern by designer Nancy Jones — Holbrook used wood for the base, and tan and green rattan reeds for the basket. “At first glance, people think the reeds are woven in different squares,” she says, “but it’s really just a fun optical illusion.”
Holbrook’s baskets can be found at the Cradle of Forestry gift shop in Pisgah National Forest and The Northwest Trading Post in Glendale Springs.
Mark Hewitt grabs five pounds of wedged clay and centers it on the potter’s wheel in his Pittsboro home workshop. As the wheel spins, he shapes the clay into a 16-inch-tall vessel with quiet confidence and precision. Tomorrow, he’ll attach handles and make a lid. “The shape is inspired by pots made during the 19th century in North Carolina,” he says. The state’s pottery tradition, as rich as the local clay, lured the England-born potter to the Piedmont in 1983. His father and grandfather were directors of a fine-china manufacturing company in England, and Hewitt’s childhood home was filled with pottery. After studying in England and becoming an apprentice for legendary ceramicist Michael Cardew in the late ’70s, Hewitt brought his knowledge to Pittsboro, where he blends Southern folk pottery traditions with contemporary style and function. For his wood-fired lidded jar, he uses three types of local clay and an alkaline glaze. His final touch involves pressing blue glass on the lid and beneath the rim to create streaks when the vessel is fired, a tradition started by potters in the 19th century. “The folk potters of our state were exceptionally creative craftspeople,” he says. “They created a world-class ceramics heritage that I feel honored to continue.”
When Sarah Alexander takes an early-morning walk along the shores of Lake Norman, she searches for something that most walkers or joggers wouldn’t think twice about: sumac. This crimson berry with the tang of fresh-squeezed lemon juice “will add the perfect burst of flavor and color to a brew,” she says. Sarah and her husband, Jason, founded Free Range Brewing with Jason’s brother Jeff and his wife, Brittany, in 2015, resolving to use locally grown fruits, vegetables, grains, and herbs in their beers whenever possible. About a year after they opened the Charlotte-based brewery, they began partnering with farmers across the state to forage both staghorn and smooth sumac, the flavor-filled berries that give their best-selling sumac tonic its tart, citrusy taste. The Alexanders rely on the bounty of North Carolina’s fields and forests to source ingredients for a variety of craft beers and seltzers. “We get to have a space where we’re not just drinking beer but also creating an environment where we can cultivate community,” Sarah says. To make their sumac tonic, they use pine flowers to replace hops, as well as local grains. “One of the first things people get excited about is the lovely pinkish-red color, which you don’t typically see in a beer,” Sarah says. “It has hints of cranberry, blackberry, and lemon that make it the perfect summer porch drink.”
Larry Cooper was standing in the breezeway of his home near Raleigh when he first tried shochu, a spirit primarily made in Japan. Cooper’s friend, who gave him the liquor as a souvenir, tried to convince him that it was vodka. But Cooper knew better — it tasted earthier and sweeter and left a bitter aftertaste. “Many people compare [oak-rested shochu] to whiskey, but it’s got an umami flavor that makes it distinct,” says the 73-year-old, who founded Brush Creek Beverage Company in 2018. The taste left an impression, and Cooper was fascinated. Years later, he began researching shochu. He quickly realized that no one in North Carolina was making it, so he decided to try. It was harder than he expected: Directions for fermenting the drink, traditionally made with rice, sugar cane, and starch, were limited. Cooper’s friend helped him translate a 400-year-old manuscript detailing methods for brewing, and through trial and error, Cooper finally achieved an American version of the distilled liquor. After successfully creating the 502 Shochu, named after the Kentucky area code where Cooper was born and part of the Apex zip code where he currently lives, he decided to age the spirit in a charred oak barrel. The 502 Oak-Rested Shochu has notes of caramel, butterscotch, and vanilla, and “with a higher char level” on the barrel, he says, “more smoky flavors are extracted from the wood and into the brew.”
To master the craft of making ice cream, Andia Xouris and her husband, George, traveled for three years, taking classes around the country. “My husband has always said, ‘Ice cream makes people happy; it brings people together,’” Andia says. When they started their ice cream business in 2013, a few years after moving to North Carolina from New Jersey, the Xourises decided to serve flavors that honored their new home and supported the community they love. For butter toffee pop-corn, one of Andia’s most popular seasonal flavors, they incorporated ingredients from family-owned businesses around the Triangle, including gour-met popcorn from Ella’s Popcorn in Raleigh, caramel from Chocolatay Confections in Chapel Hill, and toffee from The Durham Toffee Company. “Even though you have the sweetness and creaminess of the ice cream,” Andia says, “you still get a good punch of saltiness from the caramel and the popcorn, and the toffee gives it a nice bittersweet crunch.”
1008 Ryan Road
In a 300-square-foot cellar in Polk County, Looking Glass Creamery ages its Cheddar-style cheese to peak flavor and texture. “We want to give it the proper environment where it can rest before it’s released into the world,” owner Jennifer Perkins says. “After about 12 to 18 months, it’ll have a nice, crumbly texture — but still creamy.” Jennifer and her husband, Andy, made cheese in Fairview, southeast of Asheville, for nearly 10 years before relocating to this larger farm in 2018. The Perkinses named their best-selling Cheddar-style cheese, Drovers Road, after the path that western North Carolina livestock drivers once traveled to reach Charlotte markets. Decades later, Jennifer says that there are still remnants of the old road around the county. “If you’re going on a long hike like those drovers in the Appalachians did, this is the kind of cheese that you might throw in your bag and eat for lunch,” she says. “It’s sharp, easy to cook with, and just flat-out delicious.”
In his light-filled studio, Donny Hinds is plugging away, splitting, smoothing, and sanding locally harvested wood into a mid-century modern-style tabletop. The slight bends in the wood joinery, a blend of maple and walnut, are so intricate that it takes a keen eye to tell where one piece of wood ends and another begins. “I wanted something a little softer on the edges,” Hinds says, “kind of like a surfboard versus a traditional rectangle or square tabletop.” His passion for creating furniture began in junior high school, when he wanted to build a simple wood shelf to hang over his bed. A friend of his — a retired police officer who served as his boyhood mentor before passing away — helped teach him the basics. Later, after making pieces for friends and family, Hinds took a leap of faith and started Salem Wood Co. out of his home shop in 2021. “My goal in everything I make is for it to be durable, functional, and beautiful wherever it’s displayed,” he says. And the friend who influenced his love of the craft is never far from mind: “I think the things that I do and how far my work has come would make him proud.”
All it took to persuade Gina B. Wicker to switch from a corporate career in textiles to handweaving luxurious fibers was a little inspiration and a lifetime love that began as a child growing up in Cooleemee. “My mom’s entire family were tenant farmers in our little mill town,” she says. “Growing up with that lifelong connection to textiles is what started my passion and landed me where I am today.” In 2019, she bought weaving equipment from a defunct textile company and moved it to a small studio space in Burlington. There, she meticulously weaves textiles using a mix of organic, reclaimed, and sustainably produced fibers and yarns. Items in her Loop Throw collection — made to order in neutral color combinations named Putty, Nature, Golddust, and Speckle — are accented by a loopy cotton bouclé yarn for beauty and for texture as cozy as a sweater. “I love how a very simple change in color can take this pattern in a totally different direction,” Wicker says. “With Speckle, black cotton yarn is incorporated in the bouclé, so it adds these little flecks of black that create a salt-and-pepper look. The subtle chevron accents stand out when we use a different color like Golddust.” Since opening Native Spun, Wicker has continued to be inspired by the rich artistic culture for which the North Carolina textile industry is known and loved.
While hiking on the slopes of Mount Mitchell one spring, Danielle Beaty was inspired by the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, the 1,175-mile footpath that meanders through 37 counties. “The trail exposes you to every single portion of what makes North Carolina remarkable, from scenic mountain views and rivers to small towns and the Coastal Plain,” she says. Since 2004, Beaty, an adjunct instructor of professional craft jewelry at College of the Albemarle, has been making pieces connected to her love of the ocean and the beauty of the state’s landscape. Her Mountains-to-Sea Trail Commemorative Ring, cut and pierced to mimic the shape of the state, includes icons that represent the trail, from mountains and marshes to a boot that commemorates the brave hikers who’ve completed the adventure. “The journey ends at Jockey’s Ridge on the Outer Banks,” Beaty says, “so I featured the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, which is an emblem of our state’s connection to the sea.”
For textile engineer John Gage, there’s no better way to take a trip down memory lane than by taking a trip to the North Carolina mountains. Growing up, he spent summers at Camp Mondamin in Henderson County, where he fondly recalls rock climbing, singing songs around late-night campfires, and roasting marshmallows on the end of a stick. “I’ve always loved the outdoors — hiking, backpacking, paddling, you name it,” he says. The outdoors is Gage’s first love, but it wasn’t until high school that he discovered his second. His father’s cousin worked at a large textile company, and while Gage was visiting the manufacturing plant, a light bulb turned on: “I felt an instant connection to the entire operation, and I knew immediately that textile manufacturing was for me,” he says. After graduating from North Carolina State University’s College of Textiles, Gage worked several jobs in the industry before starting Appalachian Gear Company in 2015. The AG-Tee — composed of 80 percent alpaca fiber and 20 percent Tencel, a cellulose fiber sustainably made from eucalyptus trees — is the brainchild of Gage and his business partner, Mike Hawkins. The lightweight T-shirt provides comfort and performance to even the most rugged outdoor enthusiasts. “We want people to spend less time worrying about what they’re wearing,” Gage says, “and more time enjoying the outdoors.”