Finding artistic inspiration

I was sorting through some old boxes in the attic when a smooth piece of wood, carved into the shape of a little cat, caught my eye. As I turned it over in my hand, I was suddenly eight years old again, sitting in a rocking chair on my aunt’s front porch. When I was young, my family made the trip each summer to the Smoky Mountains to visit her and escape the South Carolina heat.

Each day after lunch, I would sit out on the porch in a rocking chair with the adults and watch her whittling away. One day I asked her, “What are you making?”

She paused and looked at me quizzically. “You know, Kat, that’s a very good question. I’m not really sure, but I suppose I’ll know when I get finished.”

About a month after our trip, I received that tiny carved cat in the mail, with a note reading: “For my curious Kat.”

Inspiration strikes

Turning it over in my hand, all these years later, I suddenly knew where I wanted to take my friends on our annual girls’ getaway.

Jane, Emilie, and I had been friends since college, and they loved my idea of a Smoky Mountain getaway in Gatlinburg. Like me, they were also amateur artisans, so Gatlinburg had plenty to keep us busy.

Once we checked in and got settled in our rented cabin, we headed straight for the 8-Mile Arts and Crafts Loop, each of us with a list of places we wanted to stop. Having driven most of the way, I was more than happy to sit back and enjoy riding the old-fashioned trolley that runs along the loop.

From pottery and woodworking to jewelry and soap, our morning was spent browsing the studios and galleries, in awe of the incredible talent on display. The highlight for me was getting to meet and talk to the artisans. For many of them, their trade had been passed down from generations before, and hearing their stories really underscored the authenticity of their work.

I loved Alewine Pottery. Since 1983, Alewine has been creating handmade functional pottery using strong colors and leaf impressions. We munched on free popcorn as we shopped, and I thought that the colors in the mugs beautifully reflected the colors found in the Smoky Mountains.

Tim Weberding Woodworking was another treasure. The Weberdings are a woodworking family, and Tim, Jr. is a fourth-generation woodworker. He is now the master craftsman behind these custom treasures, offering everything from picture frames to wood baskets to ornaments. The variety of wood gave incredible depth to the pieces of art, and I picked up some coasters to use at home.

After a quick lunch, we continued along the loop, enjoying the opportunity to browse the shops at a leisurely pace and take it all in.

Only in Gatlinburg

Our second day started with a country breakfast that epitomized the term “vacation food.” Plates full of eggs, sausage, biscuits, and gravy disappeared almost as quickly as they appeared. And with full stomachs, we were ready to tackle the day.

We stopped by Ole Smoky Distillery and bought each of our husbands a jar of authentic Tennessee moonshine. We thought it would serve as a nice peace offering for leaving them to fend for themselves all weekend while we played.

When you come across something with a name like The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum, you pretty much have to make time to visit it. It’s amazing to see via salt and pepper shakers how times have changed. The museum featured collections dating back as early as the 1500s, and as recent as today. Each era showcased unique artistry in the fun collectible set, taking on every form imaginable. And thanks to the on-site gift shop, I was going to be a shoo-in for “most unique gifts” at Christmas this year.

Our final stop of the day, Christ in the Smokies Museum and Gardens, is an experience I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Among other things, the museum allows visitors to walk through every prominent story from the Bible. As we walked through, the scenes reminded me of the large picture books of Bible stories that I loved as a child. Surrounded by these life-sized Biblical recreations, interspersed with the beautiful gardens, it was impossible not to feel the presence of the higher power amidst the tranquility and peace of it all.

Relaxed and moved

After our experience at the museum, it seemed only fitting that we spent our last night of the trip relaxing in the outdoor hot tub, a sky impossibly full of stars above us, talking about our lives and all that had transpired since those early days of college.

The next morning, after the car was packed, there was one more thing I wanted to do before we left for home.

“What are you doing?” Jane asked.

“I asked if I could have this discarded wood scrap while we were browsing the other day, and I wanted to look at it again before we leave,” I said, as I pulled it out of my bag. “Just to start getting a feel for it.”

“Why did you want scrap wood?” Jane asked.

“I think I’ll do some whittling when I get home,” I said.

“What are you going to carve?” Emilie asked.

“Well, I’m not sure,” I said. “But, I suppose I’ll know when I get finished.”

See what new family traditions look like in Gatlinburg.

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