Remembering a friend: Margrit Binkley

A throwback photo from '02 when an article was published about Grovewood Gallery.  Gita 3rd from left.

A throwback photo from '02 when an article was published about Grovewood Gallery.  Gita 3rd from left.

We lost a beloved member of the Asheville craft community in October 2017.  Margrit (Gita) Binkley was a native of Switzerland, lived in north Asheville, and worked at Grovewood Gallery for approximately 30 years.  She loved art and handmade and you could easily see that reflected in her home.  Cooking, gardening, quilting and supporting her neighbors and friends kept Gita going after her move to Asheville.  She had four children of her own, and many grandchildren, but she adopted her Grovewood family and took care of all of us as well.

Gita could not be idle, she was a salesperson at the gallery (until she was well up in her 80’s), but she also did the 'not so fun' job of packing and shipping to customers; she prepared gift boxes by unfolding the flat boxes, building them, and neatly and precisely folding the tissue to fit inside (every time she made it perfect!) then she stacked them by the work table in the back room for staff to have easily available. She would not hesitate to tell us when the office was getting too cluttered.  And, she kept a close eye on any children who might occasionally misbehave on the gallery sales-floor.  Her eagle eye kept any mischief from taking place :)

Gita kept a constant flow of home cooked treats coming in the door for her fellow staffers.  She sort-of cycled through her favorites of the moment, including: chocolate chip banana bread; rotisserie chicken, brie and French bread from the nearby Fresh Market grocery; homemade rhubarb pie; double chocolate chip cookies…from a recipe she got from Good Morning America; then there was the time she was stuck on making vichyssoise – it was not our favorite (but we ate it because we hated to disappoint Gita, and knew she worked hard cooking for us.  I think some staff sneaked to the bathroom and poured it out!)  If you were sick, she brought or sent homemade chicken noodle soup.  Then there was her special childhood Swiss cookies she made and brought in around Christmas time (they were little bricks).  If you received an invitation to her home, you likely enjoyed shrimp and grits or even steak from her outdoor grill.

My oldest son, Ian, was the first ‘Grovewood baby’ and he received a special handmade baby quilt by Gita.  She loved to quilt, she didn’t use a sewing machine – all of the piecing and quilting was done by hand.  Gita made lots of quilts. I think certainly all of her grandchildren got a quilt.  She occasionally made one to sell in the gallery.

In her ‘spare time’ (ha) Gita was an excellent gardener.  She was proud of her lovely flower garden and often brought cut flowers in to the gallery to brighten a vase or ikebana arrangement on the sales counter. 

Gita worked for The Homespun Shop of Biltmore Industries before the shop was renovated and renamed Grovewood; she stayed on through many transitions and growth periods.  She and I worked together on Sundays in the early days of Grovewood Gallery.  She “told me” I should make two needlepoint designs for her chairs that needed new seats – I did.  She suggested I plant climbing hydrangeas at my and Marks’ new home, which had a shady retaining wall area – we did.  I still have many recipes she gave me.  I wish I had more photos of her.

On one occasion Mark and I planned a trip to Europe and Gita went out of her way to list places and sites we should go see – and to tell us memories from her youth when she traveled to different countries.  She was an amazing woman.  She inspires me still.  Thank you, Gita Binkley, for being such a giving person.

Featured artist: Heather Hietala

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Heather Hietala, mixed media, ceramics and fiber

Oh. My. Goodness. A recent visit to Heather Hietala’s studio gave my tour participants an opportunity they were thrilled with.  These visitors were very interested in a variety of art mediums (one tour-goer was a retired art teacher and painter). Heather’s studio was a perfect fit for this group!

Her home is arranged wonderfully to experience the variety of art mediums she works in – whether it be clay, mixed media, fiber or her garden – Heather has an organized area to work, to teach, and to experiment with the materials she uses in her artwork.  Objects Heather has made range from rugs, quilts, books, clay vessels, wire forms, sculpture with natural materials and I’m sure I’m forgetting some!  As she explained, she doesn’t enjoy staying in one media of art – she uses the material that helps ‘say’ what it is that she is trying to say at the time.

If you live in the Asheville area, you might enjoy a workshop taught by Heather. She offers a wide variety of opportunities to learn, and one workshop is coming up at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Asheville.

"Art" vacation to Norway this summer ;)

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I just returned from a vacation to visit good friends in Norway.  I’d been once before with family, but this trip was with a long-time good friend from the arts community.  We had a great mix of seeing art, the outdoors, architecture, small towns and large cities – and good food! 

Our Norwegian host knew a local artist working in glass and arranged for a meeting.  The first thing this glass artist said to us was “I want to come to Penland School of Craft!”  She knew of many of the glass and sculpture artists we know.  This connection made for an instant easy relationship leading to invitations for her to visit Asheville and to let us show her this area – and to introduce her to Penland artists.  It’s lovely how small the art community can truly be.

This ‘connection’ happens many times on my tours.  A tour participant will meet an artist and they find they have many threads of places or people in common.  And, while the greater Asheville area seems to be busting at the seams with tourism, new businesses and things to do – it’s still a comfortable, friendly easy city to visit!

How did we get here?

Have you ever wondered “how did we get here” ?  Maybe you were on a trip to a new place and got a little sidetracked; or maybe you are thinking about your business, and the twists and turns that have brought you to where you are currently. 

For me…I have been thinking about my usual, the fine craft and art scene in WNC. ;)  How did WNC’s craft culture get to the place it is now?  Why does Western NC have more than other regions, when you look at number of artists living and working here, number of galleries and successful art organizations?

If you live in the area, you may have heard some of the craft history background that laid the foundation for today’s craft culture; including many women who were in the region in the early 1900’s working hard to educate children and support mountain families.  Work which included helping to refine the skills many of these residents already had in their family traditions: weaving, pottery, basket-making, quilting, carving, and furniture making.

These women workers included Lucy Morgan who founded Penland School of Craft, Olive Dame Campbell who carried on her husband’s work and started the John C. Campbell Folk School, Eleanor Vance and Charlotte Yale who began The Boys Club to teach young boys in Biltmore Village the skill of wood carving and furniture making...then The Boys Club grew into Biltmore Estate Industries.

One of my very favorite historic figures is Frances Louisa Goodrich, of Ohio, who came this region of Western NC in the mid 1890’s.  She originally came to work with the Presbyterian Mission as an educator, but she was inspired to take on much more.  Frances has an intriguing story, and you can learn more about her  on the Craft Revival website. For my “connection” she was the founder of Allanstand Cottage Industries (1897), a retail outlet for mountain handcrafts located first in Madison County, NC, then Allanstand moved to downtown Asheville in 1908.  (now Allanstand Craft Shop is in the Folk Art Center of the Southern Highland Craft Guild)

Frances Louisa Goodrich, image courtesy of the Southern Highland Craft Guild

Frances Louisa Goodrich, image courtesy of the Southern Highland Craft Guild

Growing up in Madison County, just north of Asheville, I know well of the industriousness of families in this community.  I had grandmothers who taught me to sew, to quilt, and to pay attention to detail in handwork.  My father and uncles can fix and make most anything that needs fixing or making. In addition to their jobs, they farmed and had large gardens, and were good neighbors…I had a wonderful rural upbringing!

I was in my late 20’s before I discovered that some of my family made and sold their handiwork through Allanstand Cottage Industries to earn an income in addition to farming the land. 

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My paternal grandmother was Verlie Mace, and her cousin was Copenny Mace who made chairs.  “Settin’ Chairs” they called them.  Copenny taught his son, Shadrach Mace, to make chairs and Shadrach made chairs for his living.  If you visit the Folk Art Center you can see a few of their chairs on display in the permanent collection of the Southern Highland Craft Guild.

Shadrach Mace in his chair shop

Shadrach Mace in his chair shop

Early catalog of Allanstand Cottage Industries featuring Mace chairs

Early catalog of Allanstand Cottage Industries featuring Mace chairs

I was young when Shadrach Mace died but I remember hearing stories of him.  Family, and most everyone, called him by his nickname ‘Birdie’* (from Burdic – his middle name) and Shadrach Birdie Mace had a reputation in the Guild. 

Local advocate of WNC history, Jerry Israel, contributed to the book: May we All Remember Well, by Robert Brunk, and wrote the following of Birdie Mace: “Birdie Mace and his immediate family’s chairmaking successes were due to hard work and superior skills. Greatly expanded mass communications and the ever increasing ease of travel that began in the late 1940s and early 50s, exposed them to an ever growing audience through their membership in the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild and, by the mid-1950s, Birdie and his family had become a mainstay at the Guild’s annual Craftsman’s Fair held in Asheville.  Birdie’s distinguished appearance, his dignified and courtly manner to all he encountered, his delightful old world speech patterns and his laughing eyes made him a memorable person to all who encountered him and became acquainted with his skills.  He embodied the finest the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild had to offer and his picture graced National Geographic, Holiday Magazine and a host of other publications of national and world-wide circulation.  Along with his wife Sara Rice Mace, daughter Pauline and her husband Robert Keith, Birdie and his family continued making chairs and attending the fairs until Birdie, the last of the Mace chairmakers died in 1973 and the chairmaking ceased.”

Sara Mace demonstrating making chair seats out of corn husks at the Craftsman's Fair

Sara Mace demonstrating making chair seats out of corn husks at the Craftsman's Fair

From the archives of the Southern Highland Craft Guild 

From the archives of the Southern Highland Craft Guild 

A part of my present day family could still be described as Jerry Israel described Shadrach…laughing eyes, courtly manner, skilled in handwork. 

Yes, I’m proud of my craft heritage, and of my home region of Western NC…I’d love to show it to you in greater depth.  Contact me for your personalized tour and see more of this place that holds generations of makers stories.  Make a connection! – I think you’ll love what you find here.

*Interestingly, my Dad called me ‘Bird’ often when I was young.  ‘Sherry-bird’ was my nickname just from my Dad.  Maybe he’d heard it much in his years around the Mace kinfolk!

Master Gardeners Tour is coming up on Saturday, June 3!

"Alchemist" stone and steel sculpture by Carl & Ethan Peverall

"Alchemist" stone and steel sculpture by Carl & Ethan Peverall

If you’re in need of some new ideas for your landscape, or if you’re like me and think ‘one day’ you’ll have more time in your lawn/garden – come to the Buncombe County Master Gardeners tour on Saturday for a day of inspiration and tranquil beauty!  Six gardens are on the tour, and many of the members will be working in these gardens to help answer your questions and share their knowledge about the plantings.

I’ll be at the Cole Cottage Garden providing information about the outdoor sculpture on display for this event.  Our team chose a stone sculpture titled “Alchemist” by Carl Peverall for the front lawn.  Then two metal and enamel sculptures by Deana Blanchard and Chuck Young were chosen: “Perky and Quirky Flowers” for the path to the moss garden, and “La Bella Luna” for the galax garden. You can purchase from this event – or arrange an artist studio visit with me to see more.

Perky and Quirky Flowers are forged, foraged and fabricated steel, enamel and patina.

Perky and Quirky Flowers are forged, foraged and fabricated steel, enamel and patina.

The organizers expect 400-450 attendees to this biennial event.  Tickets are on sale at the Asheville Chamber of Commerce, and it is a “self-driving” tour.  Hours are 9am- 4pm.   Opportunities like this are few and far between – I hope you can make it!

School is almost out - but you can take a workshop this summer!

Barbara Zaretsky of Cloth Fiber Workshop describes her processes

Barbara Zaretsky of Cloth Fiber Workshop describes her processes

School will be out for most students soon – but that doesn’t mean we all stop learning over the summer!  If you live in the Asheville area, or you're thinking of a visit to Western NC, you can explore and learn something new in the arts. 
 
There are many opportunities at different levels of engagement.  Here are some easy ones to take part in:
 
1: See artist at work.  You’ll see demonstrations going on in many places.  Always, always, everyday you can see artists at work at The Folk Art Center in east Asheville.  Often you can see artists at work at Grovewood GalleryMountain Made Gallery, and studios in the River Arts District
 
2. Take a tour.  This is the next step of engaging by watching and learning, but it’s curated to your interests and you have the undivided attention of the artist.  It’s much more personal - and you can see some of the nature or architectural sites in the region as well. (with me as your guide!)
 
3. Sign up for a workshop. “But I’m not creative.” “I was never good at drawing/painting/clay.”  I’ve heard all those comments before!  They are just a way of saying: “I’m not a professional artist”, well - neither am I, but a workshop is a lot of fun! You won’t be expected to be wonderful at trying something new the first time ;)  so just enjoy the process.

Opportunities are all around.  You can sign up for a short hands-on experience at the Silver River Center for Chair Caning; with Cloth Fiber Workshop; at the NC Glass Center; at The Village Potters; with artists in the Local Cloth studio; at the Asheville Art Museum; and several artists I offer tours to also teach workshops! Another place to check out is the Tryon School of Arts & Crafts - they always have classes and workshops offered!
 

Music news in Western NC

Tour to Jerry Read Smith's instrument-making studio.

Tour to Jerry Read Smith's instrument-making studio.

Visitors exploring Western North Carolina have many reasons to come: perhaps for the fine craft and art that’s so abundant in this region (my favorite reason); or for the majestic Biltmore Estate; possibly outdoor hiking and biking on the Blue Ridge Parkway; or glamping in the area! 

One other significant draw to this beautiful part of our country is music.  Music and handcrafts have always been partners in life and tourism in this region, so it’s fitting to bring you a little news in the music arena this month!

There are music venues around the region offering concerts in all genres. 

Music heritage is very strong: Asheville hosts the annual Shindig on the Green every summer, and nearby in Mars Hill, NC you can attend the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Festival held every October.

A huge advocate of local music is the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area.  In 2012 they developed the Blue Ridge Music Trails encompassing 29 Western NC counties. The Blue Ridge Music Trails recently partnered with WNCW-FM to further their reach.  You can now hear Laura Boosinger, Director of the Madison County Arts Council, tell the story of the rich heritage of traditional bluegrass and old-time music in this region.

Also, if you’re curious about handcrafted instruments, be sure to learn about these Asheville area artists: Chris Abell, flutes; Jerry Read Smith, hammered dulcimers; and Lee Entrekin, Native American flutes.

Blacksmithing in WNC - 2 events in April!

Spring is such a stunning time to visit Western NC – are you planning your trip?   
So many people come to Asheville to go to The Biltmore Estate. I recently renewed my Biltmore annual pass and can’t wait to go and see the magnificent landscape there.  Biltmore's blog reminded me that they have a resident blacksmith!  He is working at the Antler Hill Barn and demonstrates and answers questions from guests.  Learn more here.

Coming up in April are two metal/blacksmithing events in the region: 

Saturday, April 1, you can attend Glass and Metal Day at the Folk Art Center where Southern Highland Craft Guild members will demonstrate glass and metal techniques.  

Saturday, April 29, drive up to Spruce Pine, NC for the Fire on the Mountain Blacksmith Festival.  This event takes over downtown and features artists from across the country – they even let you try your hand at it!

The town of Spruce Pine is just a few miles from Penland School of Craft. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention blacksmith legends Daniel Boone VI and Bea Hensley who forged lifelong legacies in this mountain town. There is much to read on the internet if you wish to know more.  A short video here captures some of the magic of Bea Hensley's anvil with Bea and his son, Mike, performing a tune at a 1995 National Heritage Fellowship event in Washington, DC. Take a look - it'll make you smile!