It was a perfect Fall day as we pulled out of the Carolina Bed & Breakfast in Asheville, NC heading towards Leicester and the Sandy Mush Valley nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The warm sun shone down from a cerulean blue sky while the brisk breeze kept the day October cool. We were taking advantage of a visit from my brother and his wife to try out the Fall Farms and Artisan Tour as our guests experience it. I have been there a number of times and had a role in creating the tour but have never actually done it. We had our picnic lunches in tow and I had made appointments for us with the artists Peggy, my sister-in-law, wanted to see.
I love the drive to Sandy Mush Valley and was happy to see the pleased and surprised look on my family’s faces as the route suddenly changed from an ugly two lane strip of used car lots and empty shops to a single lane road with the beautiful green fields and surrounding mountains just starting to show the colors of Autumn. I always feel like it is a bit of a magical transition.
Our first stop was Addison Farms Vineyard where we would eat our picnic lunch and enjoy a wine tasting. The vineyard was crowded with other guests, some from our B&B and some from other Asheville Bed & Breakfast Association Inns. Because of the chill wind we chose to sit on the steps in the sunshine looking out at the grape vines instead of on the shaded porch. We munched on sandwiches while discussing the lifespan of a grape vines. (It’s about 30 years as we learned inside) then returned inside for the tasting where we were offered samples of white pinot grigio, a number of reds and a port dessert wine. I have to be honest, this is North Carolina, not the Napa Valley, and the wines reflect this. Nevertheless it is a great experience and a good way to start the tour.
Moving on, our first stop was at the art studio of Christine Heild, (Sky Dance Artworks). Christine is an accomplished artist who uses a variety of styles and media. I was taken by some of her still lives and chose a small acrylic painting of cherries. Peggy also purchased something (and that’s all I am going to say about that as it may appear as a gift to someone!). And James talked at
length with Christine’s husband about the solar panels on the house, the experience of living in the mountains in relative isolation (Where do you shop?), and their lives overseas in Norway. This is what makes this tour so special: not only do you get to see some truly good art but also you get to meet the artists, see their work shops and learn about their lives and inspirations.
Next we visited Matt Jones at his potter’s workshop. I had met Matt before and seen his work elsewhere but had not been to his workshop in the valley. Matt is a nationally recognized artist who, in his own words, says ” my work is grounded in the Carolina traditions that go back 150 years, but I feel quite free to incorporate a modern sensibility and ideas from other cultures”. He has built a large wood-fired kiln because, as he told us, using wood gives his pottery the same feel and look as traditional pottery from earlier centuries before kilns were fired by gas or electricity. But while his methods are traditional, his work incorporates modern design and topicality. One of our favorite pieces was a large urn which had just been bought by the Asheville Art Museum. He is a tall, gentle man with a real passion for his art and proof that artist can survive and thrive in Western North Carolina!
Our last stop was to see the quilts of Laurie Brown. Laurie lives at the end of a long, long dirt drive with a beautiful view of the mountains. When we arrived we found her in the process of finishing a quilt by sewing in the quilted design of over the pieced together fabric. It was fascinating watching the machine, carefully guided by Laurie, as it laid down the stitches. And this was where we learned about feral pigs. Apparently they are a huge problem in the mountains around her. Pigs which have escaped from farms become feral in as little as three weeks. They begin to grow hair and tusks and become aggressive. They also breed at a great rate with two litters a year of six or more piglets. They forage in the woods, eating almost anything and leaving a trail of destruction in the forest undergrowth. You can see how this can get out of hand pretty quickly. We didn’t see any pigs while we were there but Laurie told us at least 35 had been killed in the area this year!
Leaving the valley you finish the circuit on a long winding road with magnificent views of the valley and the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. It was a wonderful day with lots to look at and many interesting people to visit with. Just one of my favorite things to do in Asheville, North Carolina!