“Come to Leicester” Comes Back for 2020

Good Friends by Suzanne Saunders

Don’t forget: Locals pronounce it “Lester.” Another way to get closer to this rural community northwest of Asheville is to drive all the back roads and connect with some truly stunning scenery — plus dozens of artists, some of them exhibited around the world. Leicester is home to makers working in every imaginable medium: pottery, jewelry, paint, iron, wood, glass, and more.

The area sprawls out for many square miles, ideal for a driving studio tour, and this was part of the reason organizers decided to keep Come to Leicester going this year, the event’s 15th anniversary, despite the threat of COVID-19.

“We love the tour, and we wanted it to continue,” says marketing spokesperson Valerie Berlage, a Leicester woodworker who owns Lauraine Lillie Studios (laurainelilliestudios.com), a business named after her two grandmothers.

“The desire is to help generate a little bit of what our artists have lost in terms of income this spring, and will continue to lose over the course of this year,” adds Berlage, pointing to gallery closures and the cancellation of art and craft fairs and teaching opportunities.

She reasons that a driving tour, with its built-in social distancing, is safer than an art fair. In further efforts to limit exposure, some artists (including Berlage) will exhibit on Saturday only. Participants will exhibit outdoors or in well-ventilated spaces, hand sanitizer will be on hand at each stop, and a limited supply of disposable masks will be made available for those who forget to bring their own.

“On the bright side,” says Berlage, “I think the early days of the pandemic possibly provided inspiration for some, whether in terms of the actual image of the virus itself, or in themes of community and the idea of ‘we’re all in this together.’”

With nowhere to go, many creatives got closer to nature, and a whole lot of folks had more time on their hands. So given the nearly 20 spots to visit, collectors will, in some cases, get the first peek of pandemic-era work.

“Our artist community has been hard hit,” notes Berlage. “It was not an easy decision [to keep the event going]. It would have helped had we had a crystal ball, but ultimately there were enough artists able to exhibit in a safe manner and environment [who were] willing to move forward with the tour.”

Come to Leicester, Friday, August 15 and Saturday, August 16, 10am-6pm. Check the event’s website for a map of studios and directions: www.cometoleicester.org.

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