Handmade whisk broom at the Folk Art Center, Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville NC (Scarborough photo)I’m finally back from my stint in North Carolina for Automotive Traveler, and before the deluge of catch-up work begins, I’d like to mention some of the state’s cultural delights, because yes, there are some.

First up has to be the Southern Highland Craft Guild and their great Folk Art Centers along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  They are a true delight for those who enjoy stunning artwork made by Appalachian craftspeople, and they’re also a fitting accompaniment to the breathtaking Parkway views across the Blue Ridge Mountains.

There are two Folk Art Centers along the route that I took in my road trip from just below Asheville to the Boone/Banner Elk/Blowing Rock area.  I visited the main one, which claims to be the “oldest continuously operating craft shop in the nation” (there is a more seasonal one in the Moses Cone mansion up in Blowing Rock.)

The Center was full of a huge variety of crafts:  weaving, pottery, brooms, glassware, basketry, quilts, woodwork, jewelry and furniture.  How I got out of there without a totally flat wallet, I do not know.  There were also local craftspeople giving demonstrations — a woodworker and broom-maker the day that I was there.  They patiently answered all sorts of questions and showed us the intricacies of making well-designed and beautiful objects.

There is also a permanent gallery of handmade works, many of them antique, and a research library.

As with other unique U.S. handicrafts like the famous South Carolina lowlands/Gullah basketry, furniture by the Shakers or the Gee’s Bend quilts,  something that used to be just considered useful at best and denigrated as “poor people’s stuff” at worst is now certainly getting long-deserved recognition for artistry.

Western Carolina University in particular has been instrumental in the craft revival that has elevated these works to art gallery level (and commensurate prices, in some cases.)

I found a lot of cultural delights in North Carolina in between my NASCAR fun and games; the Levine Museum of the New South and a fun Friday night art gallery crawl in Charlotte, the National Historic Site home of author and poet Carl Sandburg in Flat Rock,  staying in an 1820s log cabin at the Mast Farm Inn in tiny Valle Crucis and yes, even seeing one of the first mechanical chicken-pluckers and a moonshine still at the Wilkes Heritage Museum.

Unfortunately I had an interview with NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne and missed a huge annual fiddling and bluegrass musical event; the Fiddler’s Grove Festival on Memorial Day weekend. Rats.

The North Carolina wine trail wasn’t on my list of things to see, but I have an alternative.  It’s kinda fun to know that one of the original stock car drivers who also ran moonshine away from the federal revenuers (Junior Johnson) is now involved with the legal creation of Catdaddy Moonshine in North Carolina through Piedmont Distillers.

Yep, he used to run ‘shine and now he helps make it, plus I saw a highway sign right across from his house that touts a local vineyard.

What a country.

Technorati tags:  travel, North Carolina, Appalachian crafts