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Joe Thrift Violins Elkin Handmade Copy of Lord Wilton Violin, 1742, by Guarneri del Gesù In his Elkin studio, Joe Thrift is awed by the intricacies of an instrument made

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Joe Thrift Violins Elkin Handmade Copy of Lord Wilton Violin, 1742, by Guarneri del Gesù In his Elkin studio, Joe Thrift is awed by the intricacies of an instrument made

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Joe Thrift Violins


Handmade Copy of Lord Wilton Violin, 1742, by Guarneri del Gesù

In his Elkin studio, Joe Thrift is awed by the intricacies of an instrument made nearly 300 years ago. After learning the method and style of the famed 18th-century Italian luthier Giuseppe Guarneri “del Gesù” from friend Roger Hargrave, one of the best-known violin makers in the world, Thrift was inspired to begin crafting replicas of the master’s “Lord Wilton” violin. Del Gesù’s violins possess a more robust tone than other prized violins from the time. Today, fewer than 200 of his instruments survive — and all are coveted by collectors and players. “Del Gesù was a fast worker,” Thrift says. “His instruments have more character because of his pace. It showed that they were his own.” To replicate del Gesù’s style, Thrift had to study for years, learning the look, the wear of the wood, and the varnish. He even checks his creations against plaster casts of del Gesù originals. And while the creative process of making violins is important to Thrift, he especially enjoys the history that he’s maintaining with his craft. “The violins I make will last for hundreds of years,” he says, “keeping the legacy of del Gesù’s original works of art alive.”

Tom Reardon and Kathleen Doyle’s Pisgah View Mountain Ring. photograph by THOMAS REARDON & KATHLEEN DOYLE

Tom Reardon & Kathleen Doyle


Pisgah View Mountain Ring

How do you transform one of North Carolina’s most magnificent mountain views into something small enough to fit around your finger? That was the challenge that Asheville metalsmiths Tom Reardon and Kathleen Doyle took on when a Texas couple visiting their Grovewood Gallery studio asked them to craft a ring inspired by the sweeping view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the Omni Grove Park Inn’s terrace.

To create a realistic interpretation of the view, Reardon and Doyle utilized computer software to layer multiple outlines of the mountain range. “There’s lots of mountain-themed jewelry, but we work from actual photographs, which gives our ring that authentic look,” Reardon says. “Our ring reflects the real view.” The ring is now one of Reardon and Doyle’s signature pieces, but Reardon says they can’t take full credit for such a brilliant idea. “Sometimes we wish we had come up with it because it’s so genius. The suggestion to make this ring was just a happy twist of fate.”

Robert Bragg’s Ergonomic Rocking Chair. photograph by GENAVIE CUEMAN

Robert Bragg Designs


Ergonomic Rocking Chair

After undergoing two major back surgeries, craftsman Robert Bragg decided that he needed a chair to sit in that was not only supportive and comfortable, but beautiful, too. Soon, his patented ergonomic rocking chair was born. “The slats themselves ride on each side of the spine, so they’re flexible,” he says. “People tell me it feels like it’s massaging their spine as they rock.” The rocking chair, which can be made in a variety of woods, including walnut, cherry, and ash, is a design that Bragg is particularly proud of, especially since it’s one that he himself uses and enjoys regularly. “I love the exploration I experience by working with wood,” he says, “and to me, this chair has all the best elements of usefulness and beauty.”

Ann Harwell’s “Old Salem” Quilt. photograph by DICK CICONE

Ann Harwell, Fabric Artist


“Old Salem” Quilt

After an autumn trip to Old Salem’s historic cemetery, Ann Harwell knew that it was the perfect scene to re-create for her next work of art. “The trees were glorious — colors you never see except for just a few days in the fall,” she says. “I just decided, ‘I have to make a quilt about this.’ ” Since 1977, Harwell has been crafting quilts inspired by the landscapes and architecture of North Carolina, from the Governor’s Mansion to Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh. While her intricate style and patterns were first influenced by ancient floors and architecture, she soon taught herself to make patterns based on her own photographs and drawings. For Harwell, the best part of creating quilts inspired by our state is the endless potential for new ideas. “There’s a minute when you have inspiration, and you’re just overwhelmed with the thrill of what could be,” Harwell says. “That’s the most exciting.” The magic of Harwell’s process is all in the care that she puts into each stitch.

Asheville Tea Company


Elderberry Yaupon Tea

A steaming cup of Asheville Tea Company’s elderberry yaupon provides a taste of our state from mountains to coast: Elderberry has a rich history and folklore in the Appalachian Mountains, while yaupon, North America’s only native caffeinated plant, thrives on our coast. It’s a blend that encapsulates Asheville Tea Company’s mission of creating seed-to-sip tea with locally sourced ingredients and new, balanced flavors. “I started realizing that the herbs I was going to buy in bulk in other places, like hibiscus, I was growing in my garden,” says owner Jessie Dean. “I asked myself, ‘Why am I going to buy those things when I have access to them right here?’ ” Yaupon’s flavor mimics that of a traditional green tea, but it can be steeped for longer periods without taking on the bitterness associated with other varieties of tea. “It really is special,” Dean says. “I realized how much yaupon was being grown right here in the state and in the South, and that it could really bring that local flavor to a cup of tea that is our own.”

Mrs. Ruth’s Jams


Mrs. Ruth’s Blackberry Mint Syrup

How do you provide comfort during trying times? When you’re Ruth Taylor of Mrs. Ruth’s Jams in Apex, the answer is sweet and sticky blackberry mint syrup. “With Covid, I started looking at what people were posting on social media,” Taylor says. “I noticed that people were starting to enjoy breakfast again. Pancakes, French toast, and waffles — all delicious treats that are good with syrup.” In her recipe, Taylor uses multiple varieties of mint — don’t ask which ones because she won’t tell — that lend a lightness to the rich, sweet blackberry. Which means that in addition to topping breakfast favorites, it makes a delicious cocktail syrup. “I didn’t see many cocktail syrups made with fresh components,” Taylor says. “I especially love making mocktails with it, where the syrup can really shine.” In addition to making syrups, Mrs. Ruth also makes an array of creatively flavored jams, often pairing fruits with unique flavors, such as strawberry and balsamic vinegar or pineapple and jalapeño. “I love what I do,” she says. “It’s so cool that I can make somebody happy with just a little fruit and sugar.”

Piedmont Distillers’ Midnight Moon Apple Pie Moonshine. photograph by PIEDMONT DISTILLERS, INC

Piedmont Distillers, Inc.


Midnight Moon Apple Pie Moonshine

When Joe Michalek opened the first legal distillery in the state in 2005, he never expected to meet one of the most notable members of North Carolina’s moonshine legacy: Junior Johnson. After they met through mutual friends, the legendary former NASCAR driver called Michalek and asked to visit his distillery. When Johnson took his first sip of Michalek’s moonshine, he said, “That’s the best damn ’shine I’ve ever had.” Michalek and Johnson became business partners in 2007 and collaborated on several products, including the distillery’s Midnight Moon Apple Pie Moonshine. The apple-tinged ’shine has remained a favorite ever since. “It’s funny: I think people are drawn to moonshine because there’s an irreverence to it,” Michalek says. “Whether you’re barbecuing or fishing, out comes the jar, and you can just pass it around. It’s this social experience that is really unique to North Carolina and the South.”

Boxcarr Farms

Cedar Grove

Cottonbell Cheese

Samantha Genke used to wait tables at night to pay for all of her goats. Now, she co-owns Boxcarr Handmade Cheese in Cedar Grove, a thriving family dairy farm and creamery creating artisan cheeses that are prized across the state and beyond. “I really got into cheese because I loved goats,” Genke says. “They’re such sweet and precious creatures.” While Boxcarr makes many goat’smilk cheeses, their operation extends to cows, too. One of Boxcarr’s signature offerings is Cottonbell — a cow’s milk cheese with a buttery, woody flavor and a complex texture. When Cottonbell is aged for a bit, the flavor is more acidic, and the texture is firm. But as it ages, the texture transforms into something creamy and loose. “My favorite time to enjoy Cottonbell is right in the middle of the aging process, when the cheese is runny on the outside and firm on the inside,” Genke says. “You get textural variance and, really, the best of both worlds.”

Laura Wood Studios’ Double Lace Earrings. photograph by LAURA WOOD

Laura Wood Studios


Double Lace Earrings

Laura Wood Studios’ Double Lace Earrings are the product of an unexpected combination: vintage fabrics and industrial materials. Hoping to use ordinary items to find flattering lines, Wood laid out a 1950s lace collar on a scanner and saved the shapes that came up. Then, she compiled the best shapes to cut out of metal for the earrings. Though Wood’s scanning process was full of trial and error, she ended up finding a perfect design that suited her criteria. Using her lace pattern, she hand-cuts all of her earrings from metal, which is then colored with vibrant or neutral tones. “I like how jewelry accentuates a person’s presentation to the world,” Wood says. “When I see people actually wearing what I make, they are carrying this piece of my experience into theirs.”

Valley Brook Farms


Fair Game Flying Pepper Mustard

When your sandwich needs a kick, Durham’s Valley Brook Farms has you covered. Their tangy Fair Game Flying Pepper Mustard adds a spicy zing to whatever it graces, and that’s thanks to its key ingredient: locally made Flying Pepper vodka. “My favorite thing to do is dip soft pretzels into it,” says owner Andrea Davis. “It’s a lot like a honey mustard, but with a kick.” Like many other products made by Valley Brook Farms, Flying Pepper Mustard exemplifies Davis’s passion for supporting local businesses and farms in North Carolina. “Many times, we set up booths at local farmers markets — not only because we love meeting our customers, but also because we like to go to stands to buy ingredients that we don’t always grow at our place,” she says. “My favorite part of having a business is getting to support other small-business owners in the state.”

C Lamb Creations


The Pineapple Firepit

What most people would view as an empty — and sometimes battered — propane tank, Chaz Lamb sees as a blank canvas for a welded work of art. “I look at the tank and think, What is it shaped like? What can I make it into?” Lamb says. “That’s actually how I came up with The Pineapple.” An intricately crafted firepit, The Pineapple sports a striking spiked top and windowpane sides. Lamb’s favorite pieces are the ones that have a special meaning. “Recently, I finished a custom order for a lady who wanted a firepit with roses and poppies on it because Rose and Poppy are the names of her daughters,” he says. “It was really rewarding to see that piece come to life into something that her family will use for years to come.”

Related: 2020 Made in NC Awards

This story was published on Feb 01, 2021

Anna Grace Thrailkill

Anna Grace Thrailkill is Our State’s Newsletter and Social Media Producer.