Yes ~ you can visit John C. Campbell Folk School most anytime during daylight hours and freely wander the grounds, sticking your nose into open studios during classes as long as you make your visit brief and whispery. Pick up a map of the school and the class schedule for that week at the Craft Shop (hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) or at the main office in Keith House. Then follow old, carved paths under oaks and poplars across the hilltop to studios for book arts and drawing, clay work, woodcarving and blacksmithing, to name only a few.
The History Center, in addition to holding treasures like the photography of Doris Ulmann, displays pieces from a rich timeline that began in 1925 with the arrival of Olive Dame Campbell and Marguerite Butler. The exhibition is of Smithsonian quality. Winding up at the Gift Shop may be your best exit strategy. Under one roof, you’ll find some of the most exquisite craftwork in the Southeastern United States, including woven goods, carved figures, furniture and soulful ceramic pieces.
In Brasstown, park and wander along Old Highway 64 into Silva Gallery (828-835-9413) where Pam and Dave Silva have concocted fiber and clay pieces in a general atmosphere of graciousness, then onto Pine Needles and Things, (828-557-3400) where Carmen Haynes has turned pine needle basketry into a delicate art as well as making time to teach others.
Near town and open from April through late October, Karen Hovis offers radiant fused glass pendants and other fine glass pieces at Time To Fuse (364 Brasstown Acres, 772-708-6197 to set up a visit) and gifted artist Linda Relis exhibits a lively gallery of her paintings, oftentimes animals, in a classically realistic (are-they-breathing?) style (772-579-8342, Relisart Studio by appointment, 38 Darnell Lane).
At Highlander Gallery, just up the creek from Brasstown (10079 Old Highway 64), Wayne and Sherry Bell Dukes, travel publishers and experts on the area, operate a showroom that includes Native American craft and celebrative art, including some stunning basketry and carvings (828-835-9982).
And, be sure to head over to Smoke in the Mountains, Rob Winthrow’s studio, just off Dog Branch Road (146 Jenkins Branch), so you can build your very own (unforgettable) face mug under Rob’s unvarnished and unrivaled story-telling guidance. He’s open Tuesday through Sunday (828-835-3506 for directions and information on upcoming classes).
Western North Carolina is also known as a place for health and wellness. You’ll find evidence of that in Brasstown at Kula Wellness Center (828-482-6464). You can take advantage of their drop-in yoga classes or schedule a massage at their location at 136 Emily Lane, just off old Highway 64 in the heart of downtown.