For a perfect day trip, visit the Penland School of Crafts in Mitchell County to see the latest creations in clay, glass, wood, and textiles. Follow up with an amazing meal at nearby Knife and Fork, where chef Nate Allen has earned national acclaim.
BY PAT BARCAS
Lucy Morgan—or “Miss Lucy,” as she was known—founded the Penland School of Crafts in 1929 to train local residents to weave fabric and find markets for their handwoven goods. From those modest beginnings Penland has grown into a world-class school devoted to fine crafts.
Penland sits at the top of a steep mountain drive, with grand buildings and modest cottages nestled among the trees. Today the school is housed in 57 buildings on 420 acres, and it attracts 1,400 students per year—some are professional artists, others novices—seeking instruction in clay, glass, wood, textiles, metals, painting, paper, and other media.
Visitors can see artists in their studios, and perhaps take home the finished work. The school just completed a $30 million fundraising effort that allowed the construction of a new exhibition hall with shows that rotate quarterly, as well as the renovation of the gallery where the work of Penland artists is for sale. In it you’ll find handmade glassware and pottery, funky sculptures, and much more, including some works that nod to pop art.
“There’s a lot of historic buildings—it’s an interesting place to walk around,” said Robin Dreyer, the school’s communications and marketing manager.
Visitors are welcome to take the Wednesday tour or walk the campus on their own. Although classes are closed to the public, visitors are encouraged to visit the studios of the resident artists, who stay at the school for three-year terms. “They’re in there, making work and selling stuff, and they like visitors,” Dreyer said.
From July 15 to August 14, the exhibition hall will feature the work of Kreh Mellick, a local artist who creates drawings inspired by folklore. The school will hold its annual benefit auction August 12–13.
PENLAND SCHOOL OF CRAFTS
3135 Conley Ridge Road, Penland
Above, the gallery at the Penland School of Crafts. Photo by Pat Barcas.
‘SALT AND PEPPER AND FIRE’
As many as 50 local farmers supply produce to Knife and Fork in the summer months, providing chef Nate Allen with the best the mountains have to offer. What the restaurant can’t use immediately is canned or pickled for later seasons. It’s constant work, but it’s also exactly why Allen chose to plant his flag in the sleepy town of Spruce Pine, North Carolina.
“This is one of the greatest places to be if you really love enjoying the freshness of what’s happening at the moment,” Allen said, taking a moment away from prepping ingredients and tending the grill in his small kitchen. “There’s more of a celebration here of the arrival of an ingredient.”
Allen moved to western North Carolina from Los Angeles, where he spent a decade cooking at restaurants and working as a private chef. Since opening in 2009, Knife and Fork has racked up national press, and Allen was named a 2016 James Beard Award semifinalist for best chef in the southeast.
The food that comes out of the kitchen is constantly changing because Allen never knows what the region’s farmers and foragers will bring in. But diners can expect fried chicken sandwiches, grilled mountain trout, pork chops, steaks, and game animals. One thing he does promise is that he’ll have the freshest meat, fish, and produce available.
“Nature makes the decisions for us,” Allen said. “We just have to get the best product that’s coming out of the ground locally and just be inspired by it. We add a little salt and pepper and fire, and that’s it.”