August 30, 2023
Featured Artisan – Aria Asbury, Washington County
Aria Asbury can remember coloring cardboard boxes with Sharpie markers in her father’s office at as young as three years old. Her lifelong love and passion is now her life’s work as an art teacher and professional artist.
“Art has always been a big part of my life,” Aria said.
As an elementary art teacher in the Bristol, Virginia Public School System, Aria allows children the freedom to create in her classroom.
“I want them to feel safe to explore,” Aria said. “I try to offer space to hone their confidence.”
In a brief conversation with Aria, you would likely pick up on that sense of wonder in her own personality and visual experience as an artist. She describes her painting style as positive and whimsical.
“To me, everything in the world is too heavy,” Aria said. “My art combats that stress and offers people a sense of childlike wonder.”
Aria has been exploring a number of avenues as a professional artist, including offering commissioned pieces upon request and illustrating children’s books. She is working to complete her third book in a series, The Many Adventures of Trixie, the Holstein Cow, in collaboration with another Southwest Virginia educator and author, Janet Lester.
She has recently added commissions for wedding portraits, building on her love of relationships with people and capturing special memories that will always hold a special value for her clients.
Aria’s surges of creativity include sharing this enthusiasm with her students, often working alongside them on her own pieces for enrichment opportunities. You will find fun nods to her personal interests like movies and marine creatures in her work. In a lesson to many of us, Aria’s work shows us that you never outgrow or over-educate on creativity and artistic expression.
Aria Asbury has pieces for sale at the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace and will be a vendor in the 2023 Bristol in Bloom Art Festival. She takes requests for her personal commissions through her social media platforms on Facebook and Instagram (@artiasartworks).
July 11, 2023
Featured Artisan – July 2023
Paula Kahn, Chinquapin Designs / Washington County, VA
The handcrafted items from Chinquapin Designs are much more than a single piece of jewelry; they are part of a greater mission to raise awareness of a vanishing species.
As you buy products from Paula and Robert Kahn, you are adding an additional accessory to your wardrobe and supporting the restoration of chinquapins in central Appalachia.
The Kahns have been making chinquapin jewelry for more than two decades, carrying on a family legacy. Paula’s father was a schoolteacher who began raising and gifting chinquapins, the nuts from trees grown in Appalachia. The tree is a sister species to the American Chestnut, a tree endangered by blight.
“We are raising awareness of a vanishing species,” Paula said. “That’s why we do it.”
The Kahns plant their own Chinquapin trees to distribute their seeds for replanting and awareness purposes of the rare species, in addition to their jewelry business. Their educational component of their artwork helps teach children, college students, and adults about the history of the chinquapin and ongoing work of the American Chestnut Foundation.
Paula shared stories of growing up collecting chinquapins to eat or play. She referenced the game, ‘Jack in the Bush,’ where boys would often gather to bet on how many nuts another had collected. Girls, Paula said, would wear chinquapin necklaces.
‘If you got hungry, you’d eat your necklace,” Paula said, laughing. “That was our version of a candy necklace.”
The much more-elaborate jewelry the Kahns create now features other items to complement the nuts, including beads, gemstones, geodes, glass, metal, or bone. Oftentimes, the gemstones will come from ‘The Gem Capital of the World’ in their hometown of Franklin, North Carolina.
The Kahns will gather the seeds, boil them, dry them, and prepare them for decoration by drilling a hole through the nut to begin the process of making earrings, necklaces, and bracelets. The nuts are then separated by color, shape, and size to begin the design phase.
Paula said she and her husband are rare artisans in this type of work, citing the effort into harvesting and creating.
“If it was just for the sake of making jewelry, we wouldn’t do this,” Paula said. “I like the bigger message.”
The jewelry-making process is a hobby for the Kahns, who say they will often come home and create pieces together while watching sports.
Their Chinquapin Designs products can be found at The Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace in Abingdon, Virginia; the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Virginia; and Mossy Rock Home & Beauty in Franklin, North Carolina.
June 12, 2023
Featured Artisan – Nicholas Barnes
Patrick County native Nicholas Barnes is carrying on his grandfather’s legacy as he molds and crafts stunning wood products.
From the moment you see one of the Barnes’ creations, it is apparent how much handiwork has gone into the design and construction of the vessels. Even pictures do not capture the natural beauty of their work.
Nicholas shares that his grandfather, James, was a product designer in the 1960s and 1970s in New York City, creating packaging for some of the country’s most well-known brands. After a few decades, James was eager to get away from the city and purchased land in Patrick County, where he would lay down roots and establish his personal woodworking shop.
Although Nicholas is a second generation later, and one of many grandchildren, he says it quickly became evident that he was the one to follow in his grandfather’s craft, even majoring in product design at James Madison University. When he graduated with his degree in 2021, he began traveling much more frequently with James to craft shows all over the country.
Their art begins with woods native to Southwest Virginia and goes on to incorporate exotic woods imported from all over the world. The wood is turned to shape over many hours to create a vessel. Following that process, items like deer antler, walnut shells, copper piping, colored pencils, and then metal are then inlayed along with small wooden pieces to create the design.
“This was my inheritance in a way: the knowledge and tools to make this art,” Nicholas said.
Many of the materials that are incorporated into the artwork are often found on the family property and, oftentimes, tell a story.
Nicholas has a piece called Homeplace that features his own personal story with his family, filled with his dog, family members, and fishing memories.
“Every piece by you purchase contains some part of my story,” Nicholas added, about the art he displays and sells.
Nicholas also compares his woodworking to that of artisans in other mediums. He compares the wood turning to a canvas, his ornamented pieces to a palette, and the inlay to brushstrokes.
Nicholas and James refer to their technique of wood inlay as ‘Wood Cloisonné.’
The two have pieces for sale at the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace in Abingdon and frequently travel across the country for juried art shows and festivals to states like Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Ohio.
March 31, 2023
Mary Lucy Bivins has been creating Fraktur since the 1970s.
Fraktur, from the German lettering of the same name, is also the folk art form of manuscript illumination brought to America by the Pennsylvania German settlers. This cultural tradition, from its origins in Germany, continued to thrive here in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Bivins said, "Thanks to scholars and museum collections of this art, Fraktur became an important part of American cultural heritage, as well."
Fraktur is a combination of calligraphy and ink and water color drawings. Ministers and laymen documented births, baptisms and marriages. German parochial school teachers used Fraktur to teach reading, writing, religion and art. Working within their traditional motifs, colors, lettering and many decorative forms, the early artists developed and became known by their own style.
Bivins said her love of history, calligraphy and drawing lead to an intensive study and practice of this early art, while living in the Moravian settlement of Old Salem in Winston-Salem, NC, after college. Her study included, taking German at her alma mater, Salem College, amassing a library of books on the subject and travels to study early collections in this country and Europe. After much hands on practice, she eventually, like the early artists, developed her own style, while remaining faithful to the tradition.
"The practice of this art gives me joy.” Bivins said.
She enjoys producing all of the traditional forms including, house blessings, rewards of merit, color designs, letters of the alphabet, valentines and book marks. Birth and Marriage Certificates in German or English became a business. Her work as a contemporary Fraktur artist was validated by the inclusion of her work In the permanent Fraktur collection of the Philadelphia Free Library, which houses the largest collection of early Fraktur in the country.
Bivins, who is also a professional actor at Barter Theatre, said she is very grateful for her acceptance as a member of the Round the Mountain Artisan Network at the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace. She has a variety of Fraktur forms on display and for sale there. Commissioned pieces, such as birth and marriage certificates, are also available by contacting Mary Lucy at email@example.com.
March 16, 2023
When you pick up an Easter basket prepared to fill with candies, eggs, toys, or books, you might take for granted the craftsmanship that it takes to weave those fibers together.
‘Round the Mountain artisan Amanda Sprinkle says basket weaving takes her anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days of work. She dyes and stains reed, which takes an additional five to seven days to dry. It has become her hobby to create and sell these unique products across Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee.
“It’s just about the time you put into them,” she said.
Her introduction to basket-weaving came at the invitation of her future mother-in-law. Amanda says she attended that class in 1999 where she discovered her love of weaving.
“I just like the process,” Amanda said.
Although she rarely keeps any of the baskets she creates now, she shared with us that she kept the first three. She has now created hundreds of baskets.
“I stopped counting at 400 and something,” she said, laughing and noting she used to number sign, and date her baskets. You will no longer find a number, but she still makes sure to mark each product with her signature and date of creation.
Her products range from simple, utilitarian baskets for those who may be gathering vegetables from a garden or farmers market to more decorative pieces for the home. As an artisan, she wants to make sure that anyone has a chance to buy her handmade art. She often provides her family members with handmade baskets for the Easter holiday or when they need to piece together a gift.
“I like the freedom to create what I like that day,” Amanda shared.
Amanda also ventures into other mediums as well, teaching herself how to make jewelry from woven paper after a broken leg sidelined her from much activity in 2010. She uses canvas paper and origami paper to create those accessories.
She uses her talent to help engage other artisans, serving as a judge at art fairs in the region, and now passing her artistic expression down to the next generation. Amanda says she can already see her daughter’s creativity.
While she does spend a lot of her time preparing her next basket collection, Amanda does enjoy playing games with her family.
Amanda is scheduled to attend several craft events this year:
March 25: Hop into Spring Craft Fair | 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. | Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center
May 6: Blue Ridge Artisan Days | 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. |
October 21: 5th Annual Holiday Haven Bazaar | 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. | Freedom Hall, Johnson City
Her products are also sold year-round at the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace.
January 13, 2023
Barbara Holbrook can recall the very first item she ever crocheted. The piece is a round white and red rug, using a single-stitch crochet. It is made from nylon material. As she laughs, she says it is ‘a little puckered.’
Barbara still has that 58-year-old rug that holds a special meaning to her. The bright rug was her first creation as an artisan, but it was created with her grandmother. Barbara estimates she was around 13, but it would be nearly a decade later before she truly picked up the craft regularly.
She recalls having her tonsils taken out around age 21, a time she describes a stressful. It was during this time, she picked up crocheting a bit more seriously and created a bedspread. This project would lead to her lifelong passion of creating crocheted items.
“I crochet everything that looks like it can be crocheted,” Barbara said.
She continued to pick up projects more regularly at lunch and in between breaks at her job at a factory, and later, a call center.
“Those girls loved scarves and hats,” Barbara said, while laughing and recalling her first sells to her co-workers.
Barbara said she learned how to read patterns during this time from her former mother-in-law. She learned stitches like the triple-crochet and around-the-post to add to her style. These techniques allowed her work to blossom.
In addition to items she sells, Barbara is a routine creator for her family and loved ones. She creates afghans to welcome new additions to families, and her grandchildren are gifted quilts covered with designs of hobbies they love. Barbara says her granddaughter was already stocked with 10-15 afghan blankets before she was even born.
Her hobby has developed so much that she said family members have been known to drop off yarn and other materials in trash bag-sized loads. It is also an activity she can enjoy with other members of her family. Barbara says she and her sister frequent craft shows for fun, and often finding inspiration there.
She says her projects often start by seeing something she believes she can create, through magazines or even just the materials she has on hand.
As a Russell County native, Barbara is often crafting new items to enter in the county fair.
“I win a blue-ribbon every time I put one of those in the fair,” she said, referring to a woven hat with a crocheted ribbon.
Her hobby that brought her stress relief fifty years ago is still doing the trick. She says her work often allows her to beat the anxieties in life. Just do not expect her to complete any sewing projects soon.
“Crocheting is fun. Sewing is work,” Barbara said. “I also admire anyone who can quilt.”
You can find Barbara Holbrook’s work for sale at the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center in Abingdon.
October 12, 2022
Tim Burke has nearly three decades of experience honing his craft of hand-sculpted glass sculptures.
This fall, one of those designs that might be more prominent is his hand-blown pumpkin collection. “Glass is a perfect medium for rendering organic forms,” Burke said. “It flows.”
Burke said the collection began nearly 30 years ago after graduating from Virginia Tech as he began blowing glass at the New Orleans School of Glassworks in Louisiana. Burke also recalls a time where he delivered up to 500 pieces at a time to the Corning Museum of Glass Gift Shop in New York. “We did it until we started dreaming about pumpkins, then it was time,” Burke said. “We switched to snowmen.”
Burke returned to the region to continue his passion in his home community of Floyd. He said this work is sentimental because it is an activity that he is now passing down to his son, Liam. His designs vary beyond seasonal offerings. He also handcrafts beautiful vases and high-end sculptures.
Glass-blowing has become Burke’s full-time endeavor. Burke previously managed the public access glass studio ‘Urban Glass’ in Brooklyn, New York. He was given his first studio to operate and develop a product line by the Lunt Family in 1995. Five years later, he opened The Vitroyoyo Glass Studio at home in Floyd until it was sold to Crenshaw Lighting. It is now referred to as ‘The Glassworks at Crenshaw Lighting’ where he works on custom blown and molded glass pieces for lighting elements. Burke also designs and produces commissioned restoration work for state and federal governments, as well as large open public space including theaters, opera houses, universities, houses of worship, and restaurants. It is an art that links him to previous generations of craftsmen. “It is a real connection to the past,” he said.
Burke says his process with each glass sculpture begins with gathering the molten glass, which comes out of the furnace at 2,150 degrees to create his masterpieces through methods of sculpting, design, and fabrication.
Burke’s pumpkins vary in price point, ranging often in prices from $50 – $175 to match the unique design of each product. He said there are all kinds of characteristics to consider, including the size and style. Burke describes the representation of shapes as “realistic, plump, healthy, and fresh.”
Burke offers products at many locations across the country. You can find his items at the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center and Marketplace in Abingdon, the Floyd Center for the Arts, and various gift shops across the east coast.