Studio snapshots

There’s something about the Toe River Arts Council’s studio tour that feels like a perfect cup of coffee. Perhaps it’s because coffee always tastes better when served in a mug handmade by someone you know.

Something to crow about: Sculptural lamp by John D. Richards.

Andirons from blacksmith Zack Noble.

Already in its 15th year, many Western North Carolina residents probably have at least heard of the biannual tour. Bridging the gap between artists and appreciators, the studio tour makes the invisible visible by providing a snapshot of each artist’s studio and, in many cases, the homes and families surrounding them as they carry out their work.

“To be able to show others where you make the actual work is very rewarding because it gives people an inside view of the artist’s intent behind their work,” says Joy Tanner, Mitchell County potter. “The tour enables people to see how the artists’ personal environments affects their work, whether it be through the inspirations of their immediate surroundings, like a beautiful mountain view, or even by seeing the unpolished nooks and crannies of an artist’s studio, where all the ideas are lingering.”

Handmade (and dishwasher safe): Stoneware tea set by Claudia Dunaway at Yummy Mu

That said, Tanner’s studio is at the end of a narrow, steep road and she’ll be taking a slightly different approach to the tour this year. “People don’t have the time to get everywhere they intend to go on the tour,” Tanner explains. Rather than wait for tour participants to make the trek to her, she was invited to join other artists in Ledger whose studios are closer to the highway and other tour stops. d Puddle, the forested home and studio of Dunaway and Richards.

“Although it is nice to have the studio tour where people can see my own environment, it is also a great honor to be invited to show with other respected artists in the area,” Tanner says. She will show her work alongside textile artist Carmen Grier and potters Will Baker and Terry Gess at the Wing Road studios.

Potter Claudia Dunaway enjoys setting the stage for tour participants as they venture across the counties. “We like to clean up our work spaces, wipe down the tables, set up a larger display of our work, cook up some goodies, put out the hot cider, turn on the holiday music and dress nicely,” says Dunaway, who is also Toe River Arts Council’s board president and chairwoman of the studio-tour committee.

Yummy Mud Puddle studios, where she works with her husband, John D. Richards, a mixed-media sculptor, are an annual hot spot on the tour. “We enjoy having folks in the studio and talking about our work,” she says. “I’m always interested in people’s reaction to the feel of the pots or the colors I’m working with. I work in both stoneware and porcelain, and I enjoy the opportunity to discuss the differences with our visitors.”

Ironwork artist demonstrates the art of the forge

by K.S.

Zack Noble, first-time studio-tour artist and longtime blacksmith, will open the doors of Noble Forge in downtown Bakersville to offer demonstrations at this year’s tour.

Best known for his larger commissions, this year Noble made a few smaller items such as candlesticks and hooks specifically for the tour.

“I try to educate people about what good ironwork is because there’s so much run-of-the-mill work out there. I want people who are appreciative of art to know where I am if they decide to invest in something decorative in their home. It’s about loving the labor and the quality of the ironwork.”

While many studios offer snacks and warm drinks, this year the Penland School of Crafts coffeehouse will be open until 2 p.m. for the tour, serving soups, sandwiches, treats and drinks.

This winter’s studio tour features a reception on Friday, Dec. 5, from 5 to 8 p.m. featuring a preview exhibition of studio-tour participants’ work (on display through Jan. 1). The event—which is free and open to the public—will be held at the Toe River Arts Council’s Gallery (269 Oak Ave. in downtown Spruce Pine).

who: More than 145 Toe River Arts Council artists
what: Biannual studio tour
where: Mitchell and Yancey counties
when: Saturday, Dec. 6, and Sunday, Dec. 7. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Free. 765-0520 or

[Katey Schultz writes from her home in Bakersville and can be reached via]

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