There has always been a rich atmosphere of creation throughout Western North Carolina. The Appalachian mountains have a storied history of handmade crafts, ranging from weaving to woodworking, pottery to jewelry. Fine artists have been attracted to the area for more than a century, as well. Innovative artists like Robert Rauschenberg, Josef and Anni Albers, and many others studied at Black Mountain College during its heyday, and the Asheville Art Museum serves as a repository for some of the region’s best and rarest works.
But art in these parts has never been confined to the drawing rooms of the elite. Instead, Western North Carolina’s abundance of public art proves art can and should be accessible to all. Our region itself serves as a canvas on which talented artists create their works for the masses.
We encourage you to scout out the public art that colors our region. Here are just a few places where you can see art any hour of the day.
In addition to being home to more than 18 galleries, studios, and museums, Downtown Asheville is host to countless murals and creative works of public art. Talented artists have left colorful representations of the city’s history, personality, and aspirations. Find them on walls, in alleyways, and tucked into nooks and crannies that surprise even lifetime locals who happen across them.
River Arts District
Asheville’s River Arts District is covered in true and artistic “graffiti.” From the Good Vibes silo (now with a new message, above) to Foundation Walls behind Riverview Station, graffiti artists are encouraged to leave their mark across the district. Sometimes the graffiti expresses social messages, sometimes its value is in the design. But like the district itself, it’s everchanging.
Once its own township, West Asheville has maintained its own character through the decades. That character comes across in the many murals that color the district today. Check the exterior walls of coffee shops, hair salons, hostels, and comic book stores—you’ll find original art along every block of blossoming Haywood Road. You may even recognize a few faces.
We’re big fans of Hendersonville’s acrylic bearfootin’ bears! One of our favorites is located just outside our office on Main Street. But these bears are more than just a fun sight to see while shopping downtown. In 2018 alone, the bears helped raise more than $47,000 for local nonprofits! Now that’s what we call public art serving the public.
Along with fine shops, galleries, restaurants, and cafes, public art is just one of many facets that add to Waynesville’s small-town charm. As you walk up and down Main Street’s tree-lined sidewalks, you’ll spot two-dimensional and three-dimensional art along every block. These “Old Time Music” fiddlers are among the most popular pieces to admire and with which to take a selfie.
Yancey & Mitchell Counties
Fiber artists have long used quilting patterns to tell a story. The quilt trail movement did not originate in Western North Carolina, but it was wholeheartedly embraced. In our northern mountains, more than 200 quilt blocks tell the history of the land across which they are displayed. Try to spot quilt squares as you travel around, or use a map to plan your own self-guided tour.
Born in Tryon in 1933, the “High Priestess of Soul,” Nina Simone, trained in Asheville as a classical pianist and built a singing career around gospel, jazz, and R&B styles. On what would have been her 77th birthday, the town of Tryon dedicated a larger-than life sculpture to her memory. A bronze heart containing Simone’s ashes is welded into the statue’s chest.
As you walk through bustling Downtown Brevard, you may feel like you’re walking through nature. On every corner, you’ll find bobcats, butterflies, foxes, and—of course—the town’s iconic white squirrels. The city’s sculpture project celebrates both local artists and native animals through 16 life-size sculptures formed of bronze, copper, steel, and stone.