Welcome Changes Mark Renewal Of Folk Art Center Lease On Blue Ridge Parkway

The Folk Art Center and its diverse exhibits are a major attraction for Blue Ridge Parkway visitors. Photo by Randy Johnson.

The Southern Highland Craft Guild has run the Parkway’s Folk Art Center in Asheville “since we built the building in 1979,” says Tom Bailey, managing director for the Center and the Guild. That record continues with the organization gaining another 10-year lease on the property.

While the Parkway struggles to find concessionaires for certain key lodging and dining enterprises, among them Bluffs Lodge in Doughton Park and Peaks of Otter Lodge north of Roanoke, the craft business at the Folk Art Center continues to serve Parkway visitors. Its location is a big plus—at Milepost 382 just 5 minutes from Asheville with year-round access. Other Parkway concessions are in more isolated locations and can often only be reached in season.

The Folk Art Center is a classic operation and the premier Parkway attraction for anyone interested in crafts. It showcases the finest in traditional and contemporary crafts of the Southern Appalachians. It houses three galleries and the Allanstand Craft Shop, the nation’s oldest, started in 1895. The Guild itself was founded in 1930 to market the wares of mountain craftspeople. Bailey says nearly 1,000 artisans offer the highest quality, jury-selected items renowned for design and craftsmanship.

Changes Alter Some Services

A few new changes permit the Center to improve the way it achieves that mission. Most notably, one-third of the upstairs museum gallery space will be devoted to added retail sales, instead of being dedicated to three month exhibitions. “We’re excited about that,” Bailey says. “That means that larger handmade items, such as furniture and pottery, will now be able to be sold and purchasers will be able to take the art works with them the very same day.”

The second of only two lease changes will permit very limited sales of food and beverages, with “coffee being the only drink really specified by the Parkway,” Bailey said. That stipulation might be explained by the current suspension of some other food concessions along the high road. It also makes sense for motorists from much flatter landscapes who might find themselves driving for hours on the winding Parkway.

“We’re focusing mainly on snacks,” Bailey says, “but not on junk food. We’ll be gearing our items to a healthy lifestyle.”

Bailey says both changes will be very positive and came during a amicable discussions about a new lease. “There weren’t really any negotiations, per se,” Bailey said. “The Park Service drafted the new new agreement with some new requirements and we had our questions answered.”

The Center features stunning handcrafted objects, contemporary fine art, and permanent exhibits on the long Southern Appalachian tradition of hand-craftsmanship. There are frequent programs and crafts demonstrations by The Guild. From March to November, visitors can see live craft demonstrations daily in the Folk Art Center lobby. The Center’s formal mission, says a Park Service release, “is to bring together the crafts and craftspeople of the Southern Highlands for the benefit of shared resources, education, marketing and conservation.”

Besides Parkway visitors, the Center’s concerts, events, exhibitions, library, archives, and 4,800 handcrafted artworks spanning a century “are an important resource for the community at large,” says Bailey.

Until the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center opened near Asheville (Milepost 384) in 2008, the Parkway didn’t have a “main visitor center” and the Folk Art Center filled in for that experience. The Folk Art Center and nearby Parkway Visitor Center reflect Asheville’s status as the Parkway’s number one entrance point and principal location for interpretation.