If you ever find yourself lost in Kenilworth, blame real-estate developer James Chiles’ horse. Legend has it that in the early 1900s, when Chiles began planning the quaint residential area that is today flanked by Biltmore Avenue and Tunnel Road, he allowed his strapping steed to design the streets.
“Allegedly, he let the horse draw the roads by finding the paths of least resistance. That’s why our streets are so steep and windy,” says Angela Maddix, a Kenilworth resident of more than two decades and an organizer of the 2021 Kenilworth Artists Association (KAA) Studio Tour, this year slated for October 9 and 10.
Now in its 17th iteration, the two-day tour takes visitors on a meandering journey through the “off-square world” of Kenilworth in central Asheville, where serpentine streets reveal the hyper-local prowess of 26 creatives, including many with national reputations, including painter Ursula Gullow and “sometimes functional” ceramicist Laura Peery, who specializes in porcelain vessels with softly undulated surfaces that appear cloth covered. Maddix, who majors in handcrafted lampwork beads, will also be participating. But she wasn’t always so keen on showing off her wares.
“In the very beginning, I wasn’t involved in the tour because, like so many other artists, I didn’t think I was worthy,” she says. But with some guidance from KAA member Valerie Hoh, a high-fashion maker of wearable and non-wearable paper art and assemblage, Maddix gained some much-needed confidence. “Valerie is super charismatic, energetic, and wants as many people as possible to get involved in the neighborhood,” she explains.
Hoh’s reach isn’t limited to Kenilworth. In 2017, the artist — who operated a hip, busy venue for years in Key West — provided the mentorship needed to launch another pocket artistic powerhouse: the Beaverdam Studio Tour. “We’ve been in conversation with each other over the years to talk best practices,” says Beaverdam Studio Tour organizer Karen Milnes. “We don’t feel like we’re in competition. We’re just excited that there’s another tour that is geographically similar to ours.”
Compared to more meandering self-guided art events like the Weaverville Art Safari and the rural Come to Leicester Studio Tour, both of which spotlight artists from multiple local zip codes, the Beaverdam and Kenilworth tours are confined to a handful of streets. (The shows aren’t juried, either.) “The distance between the first artist and the last artist is just 4.5 miles,” says Milnes, whose husband, sculptor Robert Milnes, is one of 25 Beaverdam makers included in the fourth annual tour on Halloween weekend.
As a ceramicist, Robert is the primary reason why the tour exists. In 2014, when the couple moved to Asheville, they quickly realized the Beaverdam Valley in North Asheville, while certainly scenic, offered little in the way of organized art events. “At the time, Robert didn’t have any gallery affiliations,” says Milnes. “He started asking himself, ‘How are people going to see my work?’”
Milnes, who has a background in graphic design, took inspiration from other studio tours in Asheville and ran. The inaugural show saw work from 24 artists, the only requirement being that they live on or directly off of Beaverdam Road. The endeavor has grown since, with this year’s lineup including five additional guest artists. (Though these drop-in visionaries don’t live in the Valley, they are still local, assures Milnes.)
This October will also see the 74th season of the biannual Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands — a craft outing with an undeniable festival flavor. Unlike the Fair’s summer installment, which was hosted online in July, the fall iteration will happen in person in downtown Asheville at Harrah’s Cherokee Center October 14-17.
The Fair first emerged in 1948 under canvas tents on the grounds of the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, says Southern Highland Craft Guild Director of Marketing Millie Davis. Though it has long since migrated to Asheville and now attracts hundreds of juried artists from nine states across the South, the Craft Guild’s biggest showcase remains a popular avenue for spotlighting the importance of handmade work in Appalachian communities.
In that way, the exhibit finds common ground with smaller-scale art endeavors. While the Beaverdam and Kenilworth tours generate just a fraction of the Fair’s fanfare, each event is still an “opportunity to connect with makers,” Davis notes.
“In this age of mass production,” she adds, “most people forget that it all started with the hands of a person, not a machine.”
The Kenilworth Artists Association Studio Tour takes place Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 9 and 10. Free. For more information, visit kenilworthartists.org. The Beaverdam Studio Tour is slated for Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 30 and 31. Free. For more information, visit beaverdamstudiotour.com or e-mail organizer Karen Milnes at email@example.com. The Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands, hosted by the Southern Highland Craft Guild, is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 14, through Sunday, Oct. 17, at Harrah’s Cherokee Center (87 Haywood St. in Asheville). Cost is $10. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, call 828-298-7928, or visit southernhighlandguild.org.