Last week I drove nine hours down to the Great Smoky Mountain city of Asheville, North Carolina with my poet-printer-bookbinder friend Emma and her boyfriend Nick. We stayed in a little town called Black Mountain and took day-trips into the city (which was only about 15 minutes away). We chose Asheville for the mountains and the letterpress printing and the book arts; and we were not disappointed.
- Breakfast was plate-sized, inch-thick sweet potato pancakes covered in pecans and maple syrup with a dollop of peach butter at the Tupelo Honey Cafe.
- Then we wandered on to the Blue Spiral 1 gallery, where we particularly went to see a printmaking exhibit by Jessica C. White of Heroes & Criminals Press (and co-founder of Ladies of Letterpress) called "The Adventures of Prudence and Patience." We, of course, discovered much more as we walked around the gallery.
- We were still full of pancake in the afternoon, so instead of lunch, we decided to head to the French Broad Chocolate Lounge for some sweet snacks. My favorite was the Earl Grey truffle from their Tea & Herb Collection. Chocolate and bergamot ganache? Yes please!
- Our favorite bookstore was, by far, Malaprop's Bookstore and Cafe. The atmosphere inside was clean and welcoming and vibrant. And I was beyond impressed with their front-and-center poetry shelves featuring some of my favorite small presses, particularly Ugly Duckling Presse and Milkweed Editions. I also picked up a collection of short stories there by local Asheville author Nathan Ballingrud. I found myself compulsively consuming story after story in his book North American Lake Monsters from Small Beer Press--dark, supernatural, and so so savagely human.
- The Spice and Tea Exchange had a delicious and fragrant selection of teas and flavored sugars and captivating spices. I picked up some of their Blueberry Black Tea and I can't wait to try it.
- Finally, we stumbled upon The Local Taco for our dinner that night. Amazing! Great service and atmosphere and such delicious and creative taco choices.
Penland School of CraftsOn our second day, we decided to go for a bit of drive to visit the Penland School of Crafts about an hour north of Asheville. Emma hopes to take a class here next summer, so we thought, why not get a look at it? Penland is a beautiful place full of very talented (and skilled) artists of many crafts: letterpress printing, papermaking and bookbinding, ceramics, drawing, ironsmithing, woodworking, glass, photography, textiles. Although it felt a bit like a summer camp, it is a place of learning for serious craftsmen/craftswomen and artists set against the lush backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains. We got to explore the gallery and grounds during our visit, including the now-unoccupied studios full of all of the impressive equipment that the Penland students got to use everyday in their classes.
River Arts District, Asheville
- Once we got our bearings in the winding (less walkable) River Arts District in West Asheville, we visited the letterpress printing studio of Innerer Klang, where we talked letterpress with printer Mark Olson as his C&P 10x15 whirred in front of him.
- Our visit to Asheville Bookworks was definitely the highlight of the day though. We got a tour of their fabulous letterpress printing and book arts facilities. So many presses, even a paper-making studio, and screen-printing and photopolymer plate-making equipment. Oh, the studio envy! They were also advertising a series of events called Vandercooked Poetry Nights that I absolutely fell in love with. These nights would include a special printing session of a broadside of the featured poet's work on one of the Vandercook proof presses, followed by a reading from the poet. It really is amazing how often poetry and printing intersect. I begged one of the event posters off of them to frame and hang in my house. I just love it!
- Although they were closed, Emma and I peeked in the large windows of the 7 Ton Collective studio and shop. They are a group of printers, each running their own press ventures but sharing a roof. 7 Ton Collective is comprised of Quill & Arrow Press, ANNAND, and Tiny Story Factory.
- For the rest of the afternoon, we returned to Downtown Asheville to revisit two favorites: French Broad Chocolate Lounge and Malaprop's Bookstore. But in our walking, we stumbled upon this wonderful boutique of local handmade, upcycled, and vintage goods: Garage 34. It was essentially a brick-and-mortar Asheville Etsy market. There were so many lovely items that I was tempted to splurge on, but in the end, I settled on a beautiful studded leather cuff bracelet.
- For dinner that evening, we headed back to the River Arts District to the White Duck Taco Shop. I had a lamb gyro taco with tzatziki sauce. In case it wasn't quite clear before, Asheville really does tacos exceptionally well.
All the same, it is great to be back home now with my crazy dog and snuggly cats.