Around town: Local artist pens a children’s book

AUTHOR’S BEST FRIEND: Artist and writer Maki Nishio Phipps poses with one of her inspirations, Poochie. The author recently celebrated the release of her latest children’s book, Pipi, Pupu, Pepe and Popo’s Family. Photo by Jennifer A. Sheffield

by Jennifer Sheffield 

For Asheville sumi-e artist Maki Nishio Phipps, the process of creating a painting is like a dance through which her emotions can explode onto a blank canvas. “Viewers who look at my work have to be able to find a lot of interesting things in them,” says Phipps, who grew up in Japan. “Each one has a story to tell.”

Phipps’ own story as an artist is far from a linear tale. Though much of her youth was spent studying Japanese ink painting, her professional career took a different path. After relocating to the U.S. in the 1970s, she spent 35 years working as a translator in the Detroit automobile industry.

Art remained a constant side project and passion throughout her working life. But in 2016, a year after she and her husband relocated to Asheville, Phipps sustained retinal hemorrhages in both eyes. Her doctor was concerned she might lose her vision.

“I thought, I better hurry up and do what I wanted to do,” she says. “Going blind — I would be dead as an artist.”

Fortunately, Phipps’ health outlook improved, but a new fire was lit. Along with continuing her work as a sumi-e artist, she began writing and illustrating children’s books in both Japanese and English. Her second and latest book, Pipi, Pupu, Pepe and Popo’s Family, was released earlier this year.

Inspired by her late dog, Yogi, and her rescue Chihuahua, Poochie, the story is about “looking at life from a dog’s perspective — a life of love and happiness,” says Phipps. “I feel that children all over the world can learn how to live from dogs.”

Meanwhile, Phipps’ own experience offers a lesson to people of all ages: No matter where you are in life, it’s never too late to pivot and try something new.

“I am 70-years-young and a kid at heart,” Phipps says. “What I’m noticing about getting older is I have a lot of stories to tell.”

With a third children’s book already underway and a novel in the works about her life in Tokyo and the U.S., Phipps is keeping busy between her painting and writing projects, despite occasional roadblocks.

“Ideas don’t always come,” she says. “I’m never sure how [a project] is going to turn out.” All that Phipps does know is that the end result must move her audience. “I try to never write a boring sentence,” she says.

For more information, visit

Thanksgiving Homecoming Concert

On Friday, Nov. 24, at 8 p.m., singer-songwriter David Wilcox will hold his annual Thanksgiving Homecoming Concert at The Grey Eagle. This will be the 20th time Wilcox is hosting the fully seated, all-ages event.

“The spirit of Chet Baker is expected to show up,” jokes Stephen Cohen, Wilcox’s manager. “There will be old songs, new songs, spontaneous songs and, as David puts it, ‘the right song at the right time for everyone in attendance.'”

Scheduled guests include Chris Rosser, David LaMotte, Billy Jonas, Samara Jade, Michael Lille and Cary Cooper.

Wilcox, who attended Warren Wilson College in the 1980s, is known for his folksy storytelling. In 1987, within a couple years of graduating, Wilcox released his first independent album, The Nightshift Watchman. About twenty records later, he won the 2018 USA Songwriting Competition for “We Make The Way By Walking,” a song from his newest release, The View From the Edge.

“I’m grateful to music,” Wilcox says. “I started to write songs because I wanted to find a way to make my life feel as good as I felt when I heard a great song. I don’t think I’d be alive now if it had not been for music.”

The Grey Eagle is at 185 Clingman Ave. For more information, visit

Local teen dances her way to Herald Square

Fourteen-year-old Amber Guzy of Arden will tap dance in the 97th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

Guzy received the opportunity to participate after winning first place at the regional Showstopper Dance Competition in Concord last April. She will perform with 500 other dancers from across the country with Spirit of America Productions.

Guzy got her start dancing onstage with her mother’s team, the Mountain Thunder Cloggers, and began formal dance training at age two.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is on Thursday, Nov. 23, at 8:30 a.m. For more information, visit

Asheville FM seeks board members

Asheville nonprofit radio station 103.3 Asheville FM is looking for board members.

Required duties include attending meetings (six per year), serving on a committee, participating in fundraising and “providing leadership, vision and direction.” Board members also recruit volunteers, help procure financial resources, support the executive director, staff and volunteers, and develop programming that aligns with the station’s mission.

According to a press release, the organization seeks diverse perspectives, including “women and members of disabled, BIPOC, LGBTQ and other historically marginalized communities.”

Send emails of interest to to receive a short application.

103.3 Asheville FM is at 864 Haywood Road. For more information, visit

Celebrating Native American heritage

Behind the Mask: Cherokee Mask Makers and Their Legacy, sponsored by the Transylvania County Historical Society, will exhibit for one more weekend at the Allison-Deaver House.

The exhibition runs through Sunday, Nov. 26 in honor of Native American Heritage Month. It features Cherokee masks and the history of the craft, as well as the Transylvania Heritage Museum’s collection of Cherokee artifacts found in Transylvania County.

The Allison-Deaver House is at 2753 Asheville Highway, Pisgah Forest. For more information, visit

New novel takes flight

Author Heidi Williamson has had a busy year. In June, she published Birdie in Prague, the third book in a time-travel fantasy series. Now she’s published her fourth, Birdie in Paris, just in time for her move to Asheville.

The series follows Birdie’s summer abroad, where she gets swept up in a magical adventure that starts with a piece of enchanted glass and upends her life as she travels through time. Her search for clues to solve the mystery is complicated by the possibility of romance.

Williamson selected each city in the series for its medieval history and historical layout. “I almost bypassed Paris because it’s so different architecturally today compared to 1499 — but ultimately those differences added to the richness of the story,” says Williamson.

While the Birdie Abroad series wraps up next year, Williamson won’t stay put as an author. She already has two other ideas in the works — a historical mystery inspired by a vintage velvet dress and a new suspense series centered around a quirky postcard-shop owner. She’s also excited to settle into her new home of Western North Carolina.

“We moved to the Asheville area at the end of October, and I haven’t had a chance to reach out to local stores or connect to the writing community yet,” she says. “It’s one of the things I’m looking forward to doing as I get settled.”

For more information, visit

Additional reporting by Andy Hall and Murryn Payne


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