In high school, I traveled to France with the sole purpose of visiting the Henri Matisse museum in Nice (his hometown!). As my mom and I approached the red museum doors, we we were devastated to find it closed for renovation–and we still talk about it to this day. Imagine my surprise when the farmer hosting us in the foothills of the western North Carolina mountains told me that the artist Alex Matisse, the great grandson of Henri, lives down the road, where he makes beautiful, functional pots in a wood-burning kiln. We took a self-guided tour of Alex’s outdoor studio, nestled in a clearing, surrounded by trees and wildflowers. He left some pots on his front porch for us to view and maybe buy. Walking in the huge kiln, smelling the wood ready to fire up pots not yet molded, seeing the cream hues of clay pots waiting to be glazed, and knowing that all the materials, tradition and craft in his art were rooted in North Carolina brought me so much joy. It was so inspiring to witness the preservation and exploration of traditional American craft.
Before traveling to the East Fork Farm, we stayed in a sweet, light-filled studio in downtown Asheville with 15-foot tin ceilings, a grand piano, a wall of mirrors, dozens of beautiful green plants and the best sunlight. The studio is one of many on an old market alley that used to be full of merchants, farmers, butchers, crafters and wholesalers. Today, the street is occupied by artists, dance studios and galleries. We ate several meals at the Early Girl Eatery, a from-scratch restaurant that gives children a bucket of toys upon arrival (genius!). Around the corner from our studio, a mural depicts a family of honeybee and poultry farmers, and a Parsons-dropout opened a cool shop called Royal Peasantry, which sells handmade clothing, jewelry and accessories made from feathers, leather and beads.
On the way home, we drove on the Blue Ridge Parkway and stopped in Virginia to admire the New River and eat at the Palisade Restaurant, a local food eatery housed in a former general store with all the dark wood shelving, tin ceiling and exposed brick intact.
East Fork Farm is located 25 miles northwest of Asheville. Two cottages (sleeping 2-4, $125/nt or 2-6, $150/nt). Cottages feature handmade stoneware, outdoor cedar soaking tubs, views of sheep grazing on rolling hills, a dozen farm fresh eggs, and a taste of mountain farm life.