Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts | RTX Traveler Magazine

200362733-001Years ago, downtown Gatlinburg was filled with local artisans making their specialty hand-crafted goods such as brooms, pottery, blown glass, woodwork, paintings, jewelry and other art. Not too long ago, the increasingly high rent for retail space along the Parkway downtown began nudging these locals out of their storefronts to make way for franchises and national retailers. While it seems like an unfortunate ending, it really was just the beginning as most of the artists moved to an area of Gatlinburg known as The Glades. Now you can take a drive on the eight-mile Arts & Crafts Loop and see hundreds of artisans from the Smokies and throughout Appalachia not only sell their work, but create it right before your eyes.

Some of these are newcomers to the scene, but many of these artists come from the area’s oldest families, making their specialty items in the area since 1937, and some have even been working out of the same buildings for nearly that long. What may seem like an old storage shed or a deserted shack at first glance may actually be where several generations of artisans have created – and continue to create – unique furniture, clothing, tools, pottery and more.

There are so many artists here that it is impossible to see them all in one day, or even in one week. Here we’ll touch on a few of the artists who are original founding members of the community and have helped to pave the way for other artists to make the area what it has become today.

Artists

Otto Preske – Artist in Wood at 535 Buckhorn Rd.: Preske discovered his love for wood carving at the young age of 14, and has had a small but impressive shop in Gatlinburg since 1976. He is known for hand carved fireplace mantels depicting tree spirits, animals and other scenes inspired by nature. 99% of his work comes from custom orders. Come visit while you’re waiting for your table at the Wild Plum Tea Room and watch him work.

G. Webb Gallery at 695 Buckhorn Rd.: Artist G. Webb has been in Gatlinburg since 1971 showcasing his paintings of watercolor landscapes, mountain vistas, flowers, historic sites and more. The gallery is housed in restored 1910 homestead. His daughter Cami Monet inherited the family talent and also sells watercolors there.

Highland Craft Gallery at 755 Buckhorn Rd.: Members of the Southern Highland Craft Guild sell quilts, woodwork, pottery, toys, ornaments, paintings and more in this shop at the Hemlock Village, next door to the G. Webb Gallery.

Paul Murray Oil appalachia crop Web dpiPaul Murray at 1003 Glades Rd.: This self-taught portrait artist started drawing and selling his art at age 10 and studied the techniques of masters like Rembrandt, Wyeth and Rockwell to hone his skill. His subjects are the notoriously elusive and eclectic Southern Appalachian folk and rural farmers who Paul was introduced to at a young age. Murray has been able to make personal connections with these remote people to create incredible portraits, primarily of the very old and the very young, which show a beautiful balance of mystery, mood and technique. In the late 1800s farmhouse where the gallery is housed, each face displayed captivates viewers with their naked emotions from pride, wisdom and innocence to exhaustion, peace and joy.

Fascinated by those who live the simple life in such a complicated world, Murray also uses his art as a method of preservation of the stories, culture and history of the Southern Appalachian people who are both extremely intriguing and deeply isolated. Certain times throughout the year, his art comes alive when he invites two of his subjects to the gallery for storytelling events.

*Photo courtesy of Paul Murray Gallery.

Covered Bridge Shops at 849 Glades Rd.: A one-stop shop for a variety of crafts including Hills Creek Gallery for unique handcrafted jewelry, pottery and décor; Jack Hess Glassblowing for hand-blown glass ornaments, oil lamps and collectibles; and Honey’s Bees for locally made honey, jams and pickles. If you’re hungry, stop in the café and pottery shop for a bite to eat with a souvenir – buy a coffee mug or soup bowl, and they’ll fill it for free.

The Chair Shop at 830 Cantrell Circle: The Ogle family has been woodworking in the Smoky Mountains since 1915. This fourth-generation business has been in the same location since 1965. Here you’ll find the finest quality custom-designed furniture and chairs using solid hardwoods and time-tested methods. Mr. Ogle even offers woodworking classes by appointment.

Whaley Handcrafts at 724 Glades Rd.: Three generations of the Whaley family are still working to produce the handcrafted items that fill their small shop. The Whaleys are charter members of the Arts & Crafts community and they’ve been in the same building since the 1964. If you stop in to escape the chill, you’ll be instantly warmed by the kerosene heaters and the cozy atmosphere. You may meet Scott, the youngest Whaley who might demonstrate how to make the delicate wood ‘flowers’ that are ubiquitous throughout the shop in beautiful carved wooden vases.

Ownby’s Woodcrafts at 684 Glades Rd.: Right next door to Whaley’s is Ownby’s which is a bit larger and more diversified.  Handcrafted wooden fruit, bowls, flowers, baskets, rockers, stools, chairs, games and birdhouses can be found among an eclectic collection of antiques. Six generations of the Ownby family have been handcrafting wooden and woven items since the late 1800s.

Jim Gray Gallery at 670 Glades Rd.: This large gallery houses Gray’s watercolor, oil, pencil, ink and sculpture as well as other local crafts such as pottery, jewelry and quilts. Be sure to head to the back room where Ogle’s Broom Shop is housed with handcrafted brooms, hiking sticks, walking canes and custom carvings by David and Tammie Ogle, third generation broom makers.

WildPlum (6)Wild Plum Tea Room

While you’re hitting the highlights of the local artisans, you don’t want to miss the opportunity for lunch at the Wild Plum Tea Room. While some reviews may make it seem like a quaint, hidden spot, the full parking lot and overflow parking area will quickly show you that this secret is not so well kept. But, it is still worth every minute of the wait (up to 45 of them). The Wild Plum is only open for lunch, from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., and is closed on Sundays.

The building itself is an historic house with a screened porch, outdoor patio (open seasonally) and upstairs and downstairs dining rooms inside. The small tables are covered with lace tablecloths, and the servers all wear lace aprons over their flowered dresses. You feel as if you have truly come to visit a friend for tea time. And you absolutely must try the tea. They change the flavor depending on the season, and if you’re there in colder weather, the apple spice tea is incredibly delightful. They’ll stimulate your appetite with mini pecan muffins with wild plum jelly while you choose from the small and often-changing menu.

While the menu has a variety of seasonal offerings, the Wild Plum Sampler with chicken salad, sherry tomato soup and potato and green bean salad with mustard vinaigrette gives you a taste of several of the most popular menu items. Regulars will enthusiastically agree that the amaretto bread pudding is a must-try dessert but there is also a dessert sampler available if you’d like to taste of a few different things.

As fitting with the artist community where it’s located, there’s local art for sale on the walls, and you can even purchase a cookbook of the Wild Plum’s favorite recipes to take home some of the dishes you’ve tried and to try new ones yourself all year.

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