Longer days and warmer weather are welcome invitations to venture outdoors. Some art can be enjoyed as part of a downtown walk. Other art can be experienced as part of a leisurely drive through the rural countryside. And clusters of artists’ studios can provide an evening full of socializing with friends, new friends or the artists themselves.
“Delectable Mountains” design
The craft of quilting is widespread across our state, and quilts both old and new remind us of family, community and living traditions. The Quilt Trails of Western North Carolina project places colorful patterns drawn from traditional quilts on the sides of barns where they can be experienced in the context of the rural communities from which they come. The patterns displayed on these eight by eight foot panels feature homespun names like Old Maid’s Ramble, Duck’s Foot in the Mud, Turkey Tracks and Temperance Tree.
The Madison County Arts Council, in partnership with the Blue Ridge Heritage Initiative, Handmade in America and the N.C. Arts Council, created the first quilt trail in western North Carolina, which today features more than 30 quilt patterns. Similar support made it possible for other arts councils to create quilt trails. There are more than 100 quilts on display in Mitchell and Yancey Counties—see the patterns and where to find them on this map.
“North Carolina Star” design
The Avery Arts Council currently highlights 23 of more than 60 quilts on its Avery Quilt Trail. There is a quilt trail in Watauga County, and the Ashe Arts Barn Quilt Project sponsored by the Ashe County Arts Council features 31 quilts on its Web site.
“Pine Tree” design
If you’re passing through the area and have a limited amount of time to explore the quilt trail, Ashe County Arts Council Program Director Rebecca Herman and Director of Operations Linda Harms put their heads together to create this list of favorites. These five barn quilts are within a few miles of each other and perfect for a quick half-day tour. All these barns are close to the road for easy viewing and photographs.
1. Delectable Mountains (Map #7)
This was one of the first Barn Quilts in Ashe County and was painted by the Ashe County High School art classes. The barn quilt project showcases community and school involvement with the arts.
2. Pine Tree (Map #6)
The barn owners chose the pine tree pattern to represent the Christmas tree industry in Ashe County. This is a working barn and is home to horses, cows and donkeys. Make sure you look for the baby donkey in the pasture!
3. Crown Variation (Map #5)
This barn quilt is on a working Christmas tree farm. In the spring you can see new trees being planted; in the summer, tree trimming; and in the fall, harvesting.
4. North Carolina Star (Map #3)
This barn quilt was painted by two ladies who were inspired by the barn quilt project. Many more have been added to the neighborhood.
5. Flint and Whetstone (Map #1)
This barn quilt brings visitors to downtown West Jefferson and the Farmer’s Market. The barn and open sheds in the Farmer’s Market are alive with vendors and buyers from April to December.
Option Two: A Charlotte Art Tour with artist Bev Nagy
Artist Bev Nagy in her studio
Bev Nagy is a self-taught fiber artist who lives and works in Uptown Charlotte. She is a North Carolina Arts Council fellowship recipient and has been an Affiliate-Artist at McColl Center for Visual Art since April 2008. A long-time Charlotte resident, Bev shared some of her favorite free and inexpensive ways to enjoy the art and culture of the Queen City.
1. The new Mecklenburg County Courthouse – 832 East Fourth St. / Corner of 4th and McDowell – Ralph Helmick Kinetic Scuplture & Hoss Haley “Integrity” sculpture.
The real scene stealer here is a kinetic sculpture by artist Ralph Helmick that hangs in the main atrium of the Courthouse. More than 3,000 small cast metal heads, created as likenesses of local faces from all walks of life, hang from cables from a platform on the ceiling. (Helmick and artist Stuart Schechter have a kinetic work on display at the N.C. Museum of Art, Raleigh.) See Hoss Haley’s large, beautifully rendered “Integrity” hand in the courtyard.
2. Walk up Trade from the Courthouse and stop at Time Warner Cable Arena, home of the Charlotte Bobcats.
The arena is full of artwork, but without setting foot inside, there is really cool – and really different – work from two artists on the Trade Street Plaza between 5th, Trade and Caldwell Streets. J. Paul Sires, a Charlotte artist, has created large, N.C. granite benches, beautifully carved and a good place to a rest as you walk. Andrew Leicester, a Minneapolis artist has created 35 foot tall columns, “The Flying Shuttles,” whose bright colors and forms reference the N.C. textile industry.
3. Keep an eye on construction of the new Center City Cultural Campus on South Tryon and 1st Streets.
Even unfinished, this future site of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, the new Afro-American Cultural Center and the Mint Museums is a sight to behold. Famed architect Mario Botta’s design is more visible day by day and watching the construction of Charlotte’s commitment to culture going forward is inspiring.
While you’re there, stop into the Bank of America lobby to see the frescoes by Ben Long, each measuring 18 feet x 23 feet. There is so much going on in each painting that you can view them dozens of times and always find something new. The Bank also curates smaller, rotating shows in the lobby that highlight diverse and interesting work.
4. Walk or ride the Gold Rush trolley—an old-school trolley that gives free rides up and down Tryon—up to Hearst Tower at 214 N Tryon St.
Added bonus; a rotating display of artwork is showcased in the 6th Street windows of the Tower. Artists apply for and are selected for six-month stints in the windows. They are required to change the work in the windows three times during the show.
At the main entrance to the Hearst Tower in Hearst Plaza is a great cast glass and bronze fountain which sets the stage for the interesting things inside. The building is art deco inspired—wander around and soak in all the architectural detail. The best bet? Head around to the lobby on the College Avenue side of the tower and see an original Bronze staircase from a 1920s Paris department store.
5. Hang a right on 7th Street as you head North on Tryon and check out Spirit Square—345 North College Street—home to The Light Factory Contemporary Museum of Photography and Film.
Their galleries are free and open to the public and feature cutting edge exhibitions and work that is always thought-provoking.
Chihuly sculptures at the Mint
6. Visit the Mint Museum of Craft + Design. (Free admission on Tuesdays.)
You’ve got to love free admission and they have one of the best gift shops in town.
7. Continue down 7th Street and you’ll run into a parking deck.
But it’s no ordinary parking deck—Touch My Building by artist Christopher Janney graces the wall. Created and installed in 1998, this 36-foot tall interactive piece invites people to touch the pads and produce both light and sound.
“Touch My Building”
If you get there on the hour, the piece doubles as a clock, and the sound and light pads put on a synchronized display and play a song. Before you head into Reid’s Fine Foods there’s a plaque on the wall with a riddle on it— if you answer it correctly and play the right pattern into “Touch My Building” you’ll be rewarded with a tune. You’re on your own for the answer!
While you’re there, Reid’s is a great place to pop in for a snack. There’s a gourmet coffee bar inside, an incredible selection of locally made desserts, sandwiches made to order, hot food and a wine bar. If you don’t get your fill at Reid’s, another block down 7th is Villa Francesca’s Italian eatery, a great lunch or dinner spot.
8. Back on North Tryon St between 10th and 11th is McColl Center for Visual Art, a refurbished Gothic Revival Church building.
It’s free and open to the public 11 a.m. – 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday, with rotating exhibitions on the first floor and Artists-in-Residence studios on the second and third floors.
Take a few minutes to check out sculptor Hoss Haley’s “Tonic Arch” on the front lawn of the McColl Center. Artists-in-Residence come from all over the country and world, along with local artists like myself, to work in this amazing facility. But unlike other residency programs, we have an “open-door policy” which means that members of the public are free to pop into artists’ studios and watch them work, ask questions and get up close to the creative process. More than looking at contemporary art, they get to experience it.
9. On Church Street, kitty corner from McColl Center for Visual Art are the Dovetail Gardens, community gardens for the residents of Edwin Towers, a senior living development.
The garden is home to numerous bird houses by artist, Joan Bankemper. Dovetail Gardens is a great example of the intersection between art and community. Walk through them on your way to Poplar Street where beautiful restored Victorian houses line the streets in cool contrast with the skyscrapers just a block or two away.
10. A short bus ride or long walk from Uptown down Davidson Street brings visitors to NoDa (North of Davidson) which is widely recognized as Charlotte’s arts district.
There are numerous galleries in a condensed area and quaint shops, restaurants and bars. Highlights include Center of the Earth, Green Rice, and Lark and Key. I especially love Lark and Key because they feature the work of one of my favorite local pottery groups, “Circle of Eight.”
Other Attractions: Smelly Cat Coffeehouse, Salvador Deli, Dog Bar
Coffeehouses are the ultimate artist hangout so it’s no wonder that the best shop in Charlotte is in the heart of NoDa. Smelly Cat has funky décor inside and out and it feels like everyone’s a regular. You’re probably rubbing elbows with some of Charlotte’s art elite any time you walk inside. Have an extra cup to make it to Amelie’s in the middle of the night.
Salvador Deli is a great spot with an even better name. Sandwiches made to order (try the Salvador or the New Familiar) and an unbeatable selection of microbrew and artisan beers. If something cool is going on in the neighborhood, there will be a flyer at Salvador Deli.
Finally, The Dog Bar. Just like it sounds it’s a bar where four-legged friends are welcome. Bare bones with easy outdoor seating and minimal indoor space, it’s a great spot to enjoy a nice evening in Charlotte. Whether you have a dog or just love them, it’s a unique spot to see spot sit!
If your travels take you to Asheville, you can get your fix of public art on the Asheville Urban Trail. With 30 stops, the estimated two hour walk tells the story of Asheville’s musical, theatrical, African American and literary heritage, with stops highlighting Asheville’s literary giants including Thomas Wolfe, F. Scott Fitzgerald and O. Henry. There are multiple bronze sculptures, a limestone frieze, and works in etched glass, wrought iron and ceramics. Read more about the trail’s literary highlights at the Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains Web site.
Another option for experiencing public art in a concentrated urban setting is downtown Greensboro. It’s home to 28 works of public art, much of it situated along the thriving stretch of Elm Street that serves as home to art galleries, clubs and restaurants as well as Triad Stage and the Elsewhere Artist Collaborative. Art works include a Frank Holder sculpture, “Sunflower Gate” by Ernie and Lous Rich, the “Eye of David” sculpture by Shawn Morin, and the 20th Anniversary Citystage Celebration Commemorative Park Benches, commissioned by The United Arts Council and created by artist Jim Gallucci. A map and photos of the public art can be viewed here.
Learn more about North Carolina’s public art programs here, and see some notable examples of Artworks for State Buildings here. Many historic public art works in North Carolina took the form of post office murals created by New Deal programs in the 1930s and 1940s. Explore these classic art works here.
If you’re looking for an artful day trip or weekend excursion, check out one of the 16 self-directed driving tours found on HomegrownHandmade: Art Roads and Farm Trails. Off the beaten path tours feature art galleries and artists’ studios with a personal touch, as well as hands-on farm experiences, u-pick organic produce, live music, handcrafts, vineyards and wineries, historic sites and picturesque bed-and-breakfasts.
HomegrownHandmade’s Red, White and Blue trail passes through Sampson, Duplin, Onslow and Pender Counties and includes towns on either side of I-40 as it runs from Newton Grove to Wilmington. Here’s a suggested itinerary for the trail.
Start your day in Kenansville, where you’ll find three art galleries. The Thomas Bennett Gallery, named for the first artist in residence for the N. C. Museum of Natural Sciences, features Bennet’s internationally known wildlife art. It’s located in The Murray House, a restored 1853 residence. Star Jewelry, a family business, sells pendants, sliders and earrings featuring semi-precious stones, shells and occasionally, local arrow heads. Tree Spirit Studios features similarly unique, one-of-a-kind art: carvings made from fallen trees, some as much as 300 years old. North Carolina native William Quinn carves the trees and can be visited by appointment.
Take a quick jog north to Faison for lunch at Southern Exposure. Exposed brick walls and white linen service lend a Charleston style to this restaurant which features fruits, vegetables and greens produced by local farms. Southern Exposure’s signature appetizer is fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese and corn salsa. While you’re enjoying the food, check out the artwork on display and for sale by local artists. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner daily except Monday: (910) 267-0496.
You might want to plan your trip around a local performance of American Masterpieces on March 21, part of the Sampson CenterStage Performing Arts Series in Clinton. Now in its third year, American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius acquaints Americans with the best of our cultural and artistic legacy. Here in North Carolina, the NC Dance Theater will present the works of choreographers Alvin Ailey, George Balanchine and Twyla Tharp in one remarkable program. Check out other upcoming Sampson CenterStage offerings here. For the complete schedule of American Masterpieces click here.
If you decide to overnight on the Red, White and Blue Trail, check out the Ashford Inn Bed and Breakfast, a restored 1839 property once owned by Confederate Colonel John Ashford and now listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Unlike most bed and breakfasts, the Ashford Inn comes with its own legend. “Whenever folks here in Sampson County hear that I own the Ashford Inn, young and old alike tell me variations of a similar story about ‘the black arrow,’ which appears at night” says Mason Tarr, who owns the Inn with his wife Patty. “People drive by and slow to a crawl at night to view the arrow, which is best seen by standing on the sidewalk across the street. Some even get out of their vehicles to take a closer look or to take a picture.” Tarr says there’s more to the story to be shared when you visit.
The Red, White and Blue trail is only one of HomegrownHandmade’s 16 self-directed driving tours through 76 Piedmont and eastern North Carolina Counties. Check out the other trails by visiting HomegrownHandmade.