Armed with a chainsaw, Mountain Mike will carve you animals, superheroes, just about anything. Mountain Mike's Whetstone Woodworks in Maggie Valley, NC
Armed with a chainsaw, Mountain Mike will carve you animals, superheroes, just about anything.

A tour of western NC’s craft secrets, from Cherokee to the High Country.

Caden Painter spent his childhood in his father’s pottery studio, learning how to turn clay into works of art after school and during breaks. Now he works side by side with his father, Terance Painter, in their Maggie Valley workspace, Different Drummer Pottery

Although the focus is typically on making dinnerware, six years ago, father and son, both musicians, decided to spend the winter developing a drum from clay. It took time to get the design right. “We started making forms based on several sketches we’d made on napkins,” Caden says. “I have a lit cabinet in my dining room with prototypes in it that look neat but don’t sound like what we wanted them to.”

The final product features a ceramic drum with a wooden playing surface. Terance’s landscape drawings are etched into the top of the wood using bas-relief method, a way to sculpt into a 2D plane to create a 3D look. Many include the moon. “People kind of went crazy over them,” Caden says. 

Different Drummer Pottery is on the Blue Ridge Craft Trails, a curated list of more than 300 artist studios, galleries and arts organizations in Western North Carolina counties. The user-friendly website allows guests to choose from suggested craft itineraries or create their own adventure by searching a particular craft, such as basketry, glass, pottery and quilting, and choosing a location by town or region.

With so much to see and do, we’ve highlighted three trails to help you get started.

You’d be amazed at the sounds Terance and Caden Painter can create with their handmade crock drums.

Cherokee

Roll the dice in this mountain town for fun and adventure including dining and gambling at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and viewing art galleries. 

Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual’s shelves and walls feature jewelry, sculpture and pottery. Learn about the history of the mutual’s original members in its small museum. Saunooke’s Mill and Native American Craft Shop carry locally made products. Learn more about the traditions and culture of the Cherokee at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. Stop by its holiday market, Dec. 2, 9, 16, 23.

Meet Billy Welch at Hunting Boy Wood Carving in Robbinsville, a 45-minute drive west of Cherokee. Welch carves masks from the Seven Clans of the Cherokee from wood found locally. 

Fit in a short hike to the viewing platform at Soco Falls or set out on the Oconaluftee River Trail. It follows the river and ends at the Mountain Farm Museum.

Hunting Boy’s Billy Welch plays a wooden flute he created.

High Country

NC’s High Country includes Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell, Watauga, Wilkes and Yancey counties. The area is rich with artists, attractions and parks. 

For hiking and mountain views, choose from the Blue Ridge Parkway, Grandfather Mountain, Linville Gorge, New River State Park and more. Enjoy a wine tasting at Banner Elk Winery & Villa surrounded by art, comfy couches and a large fireplace. Outdoor seating around fire pits makes for a romantic winter visit. The vineyard offers overnight accommodations in and around Banner Elk.

Follow the Blue Ridge Craft Trails High Country tour into Wilkes County. Betsy Brey with Brey Quality Crafts in Boomer creates baskets with yellow poplar, cedar, hickory, white oak, hemlock, and reed; all found on the 25 acres where she lives. Hop over to Blowing Rock for High Country Candle, a family-owned business since 1994. Which of the 80 fragrances will be your favorite?

Glassblower Ronnie Hughes creates intricate wildflowers in his Hughes Glass Studio in Laurel Springs. Using hard glass and no glues, molds or paints, each piece is one continuous sculpture, able to stand on its own.

In Sugar Grove, Chris Capozzoli is designing guitars from reclaimed wood at his shop, Capozzoli Guitar Company. Check out his one-offs: a gator fiddle made with an alligator skull, a classical electric with spanish cedar and ebony woods and a saloon bass featuring mahogany, maple and walnut. 

Betsy Brey, a Wilkes County artist, hard at work.

Maggie Valley

Elk, pancakes and men carving with chainsaws all make an appearance in Maggie Valley. Head to Cataloochee Valley for a scenic drive and a walk through an old settlement. Several of the 19th and 20th century buildings are still standing. Pack a picnic and wait for the elk and turkeys to wander the field in the evenings. 

Arrive early to Joey’s Pancake House for bacon, French toast, omelets, waffles and of course, pancakes. BearWaters Brewing in Canton and Maggie Valley provides food, events and more than 40 craft beers.

Armed with a chainsaw, Mountain Mike sculpts animals, historical figures, superheroes – really anything you can shape from a tree. He works on site or in his shop, Mountain Mike’s Whetstone Woodworks in Maggie Valley.

*Please note many of the artist galleries and workshops are open by appointment only. Call ahead to set up a time to visit.