If a Twig Snaps in the Forest, It Might Eventually End Up Here

Carrie Keith beams with the possibilities.
Portrait by Colby Rabon

Twigs & Leaves Gallery delivers on its uncommon name, selling only art that’s influenced by — even physically made from — the flora and fauna of our region. The Waynesville venue can also claim exclusivity from its vendors. “None of them show anywhere else in Haywood County. Guests to the area do not see duplicates as they shop around,” says owner Carrie Keith. 

“I pay special attention to maintaining the nature-related art direction, and I’m conscientious about making the gallery welcoming, down to the music and the temperature.”

There’s a theme in here, and it’s wild.
Photo by Colby Rabon

Established by David Erickson and Kaaren Stoner, Twigs & Leaves is still in its original location. “My husband and I purchased the building in August 1998, and opened the gallery on October 10, the same day as the Church Street Art & Craft Show,” recalls Stoner. (Twigs & Leaves still carries her pottery.)

In early 2007, Keith and her husband John were visiting Western North Carolina in search of a commercial property to buy. They had for years owned a garden and florist shop in Florida’s Panhandle. “Our thought was to resurrect that shop in North Carolina,” says Keith. “For 32 years, we fantasized about living in the mountains. The time came when we decided, ‘Life is short.’” Carrie and John wanted to relocate while they were still able to hike, camp, fish — and open their dream store. 

Glass art by Terri Johansson.
Photo by Colby Rabon

Although the couple had extensive retail experience, buying Twigs & Leaves meant getting used to an entirely different business model. Not only was the gallery larger than their shop in Florida, “it’s consignment versus 100 percent purchase, and it has a much broader marketing program,” explains Keith. On the other hand, she says, “[both shops] relied on the tourist industry and attracted [outdoorsy] people. This is just more.”

The couple bought the gallery on March 19, 2007, not anticipating the Great Recession that would hit within the coming year. But they soldiered on. John left the banking business after 35 years and began a new career in real estate. Asked what role her husband plays in the gallery, Keith jokes, “he’s the Head of Maintenance. He keeps the lightbulbs changed.” She’s quick to add that he plays a vital role in the gallery and supporting its many artists.

 Pottery by Geoff Lloyd.
Photo by Colby Rabon

The 6,000-square-foot gallery includes two levels of showroom space, with apartments on the third floor where the Keiths live. Twigs & Leaves represents more than 140 artists, most of them regional. Their creations — with prices ranging from $2.50 for a seed flower to $4,500 for an original oil painting — encompass wall art (oil, acrylic, watercolor, photography, fiber, wax encaustic), glass, wood, jewelry, pottery, and leather.

Furniture maker Anne Tansey is a Western North Carolina native who briefly worked for the U.S Forest Service; all of her pieces are made of salvaged fallen lumber. Jewelry designer Becky Smith, who grew up in Canton, graduated from the Professional Crafts Program at Haywood Community College and carves intricate birds, trees, elk, and flowers on her chains, earrings, and bracelets. Landscape photographer John Smith captures famous local vistas — especially Max Patch — in all seasons, and also shoots arresting closeups of mountain ash and other indigenous flora.

Jewelry by Becky Smith.
Photo by Colby Rabon

“I pretty much know all of the artists and a bit of their story,” says Keith. “I depend on them to produce, and they depend on me to sell. It makes for a good team. And when they go, which is not often, it’s a sad day.

“Frequently, I look around the gallery and [realize] it’s still surreal that this is mine and that we live in North Carolina — and I am very proud to be able to say that.” Nevertheless, Keith is looking to the future. 

Artists who show here don’t show anywhere else in Haywood County. 
Photo by Colby Rabon

Because seasons change. “At some point in the future, it will be time for me to think about an exit strategy. … There are trails to be hiked, grandkids to hug on, and volunteer projects to participate in. Right now, the demands of the gallery make those times tough to find.”

When she’s there, though, a certain mood takes hold. “Some [customers] say they come in just to relax their mind and spirit. It makes me happy to give them that space,” says Keith. “My reward is their happiness.”

Twigs & Leaves Gallery is located at 98 North Main St. in Waynesville. Hours are 10am–5:30pm Monday through Saturday (and seasonally on Sundays, 1–4pm). In conjunction with the Haywood County Arts Council, Twigs & Leaves will participate in “The Art of Chocolate” on Friday, Feb. 15 and in “Luck of the Art” on Saturday, March 14 (haywoodarts.org) For more information, call 828-456-1940 or see twigsandleaves.com. 

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