nuggled alongside America’s most visited national park, the bustling town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee is a magnet for visitors and the center of a large and diverse arts and crafts community. In fact, with a permanent population of little more than 4,000, Gatlinburg is home to the largest collection of artists and craftspeople in the country.
Situated on the northern boundary of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg thrives on the visits of more than nine million people to the Park each year. They come to enjoy the natural scenic beauty, culture, and many educational and entertainment options in and around the Park. The many lodging options include camping, rustic lodges, bed & breakfast inns, and luxury cabins of the Smoky Mountains.
This economic base provides a haven for artisans and artists to keep alive a rich Appalachian heritage of music, skills and artistry. A magnet also for visiting artists from around the country and the world, Gatlinburg offers its most popular visitor attraction in the form of a scenic highway loop filled with arts and crafts from its own local community.
Gatlinburg’s artisanship attracts many national and regional gatherings of artists and other specialists, ranging from songwriters to quilters to Civil War relic hunters. The annual Craftsmen’s Fair draws artisans from across the country. And the area also supports tastes in world music, art, food and entertainment. If you go looking, you never know what you might find in Gatlinburg!
And Gatlinburg makes it easy to go looking. In a town where directions to the huge number of attractions are given in terms of prominently numbered traffic lights, it makes perfect sense to discover that the Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community is spread along a loop of scenic highway, with each venue sporting a logo sign to show its membership.
More than 120 studios, galleries and shops make up the community of artisans, along an 8-mile circuit now designated a Tennessee Heritage Arts & Crafts Trail. You can find a map of the circuit everywhere in Gatlinburg and at the Community’s web site, where you can get your first taste of a unique history and charm that may never leave you once you begin to explore the Trail.
Travelers along this trail often find that one day is not enough, and restaurants and cafes, tea rooms, inns, soda fountains and bed & breakfasts are positioned everywhere conveniently along the way for the weary. Benches too abound, and restrooms, and parking. The traveler has been thought of and provided for. After all, there are 120 places to visit. This is the largest group of independent artisans in North America.
Everything you can think of is being made by the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community, whose artisans they say “whittle, paint, sew, cast, weave and carve to create original collectibles such as candles, baskets, quilts, brooms, pottery, jewelry, dolls, ceramics, scrimshaw, silver smithing, leather, stained glass, wearable fashions, fine photography, frameable art, oils, watercolors” – and you could be forgiven for thinking it’s about the shopping.
But meeting the people you see that it’s the way of life that matters. This is a continuing, living history of Appalachian days and ways, still with us, a part of the spine of the country, the backbone of our nation.
People seem naturally friendly in the Smoky Mountains, certainly around Gatlinburg, and the craftspeople along the Trail are no exception. Somehow artisans with enormous mastery of arcane skills find it fun to let people watch them work. They enthusiastically share their mastery, taking great care to explain to visitors what they’re doing. You can be lost for hours at just one small cluster of a few studios.
One lost art is brought to the Trail by the visitors themselves, who soon rediscover the fine art of browsing, and in its most relaxed form. The other arts would go on without this visitor’s art, because many of the artisans seem not to care too much about money, holding prices affordable and creating unique items for the visitor simply from the love of making. But even so, it’s a two-party dance out on the Arts & Crafts Trail, where living history must be both told and heard, and modern artistry enthralls the visitor in endless fun.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: After receiving a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Florida, I made the obvious transition to work as General Manager for Venture Properties & Cabins of the Smoky Mountains! I enjoy everything about my job from people management to interacting with guests.
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