Mike Clemmer

East Tennessee’s Art Scene Takes Off

A small art gallery in Townsend caught my eye recently. The two-story log cabin has the feel and smell of a rustic crafts shop, but one look around and I see this artisan gallery holds a mix of very contemporary pieces and traditional ones. Fiber artist Deborah Adams invites me to look around the sun-splashed rooms of Townsend Artisan Gallery.

“Members of the Townsend Artisan Guild want to showcase the arts in our community. We give classes and craft demonstrations as a way to engage people in the work we do,” she says. Deborah paints and dyes scarves using both marbling and shibori techniques as well as low-water immersion dyeing.

Twelve guild members are owners of the Townsend Artisan Gallery along Highway 321, diagonally across from the Townsend Visitors Center. Many are full-time professional artists. Several took classes at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts and the John C. Campbell Folk School and give classes to other artists. Susan Birdwell, a painter and sculptor, draws my attention to watercolor paintings, photography, glass sculptures, leather wall hangings and Peter Mueller’s three-dimensional scene of Knoxville’s Gay Street. She is the featured artist of the month.

I have a different art experience a mile down the road at Wood-N-Strings Dulcimer Shop. Mike Clemmer, comfortable in denim overalls, doesn’t need coaxing to start playing dulcimers in his shop. His wife, Connie, and a customer join in to play on Celtic harp and flute.

“You don’t have to have music ability. You just have to want to play,” he says about learning the dulcimer. He has taught many people to play the dulcimer and still gets a thrill. “I have fun just watching people learn —see that light bulb come on,” he says. “The music is so soothing, so easy to do.”

The master craftsman has a workshop behind the shop. The instruments are made of walnut, cherry, butternut, sassafras or wormy chestnut. He’s been at it for 30 years and sets high standards for himself. His creation — the BanJammer, a banjo of a different sorts — is a success. “I build and play dulcimers every day,” says Mike.

These two art centers and several other craft studios and galleries are evidence of Townsend’s growing reputation as a fine art and crafts destination. For many years the spotlight has focused on Gatlinburg’s arts and crafts community. Studios and galleries are sprinkled throughout Gatlinburg, particularly along Glades Road and Buckhorn Road. Professional artists and artisans remain a strong force in Appalachian crafts and other branches of the arts.

Dollywood promotes handmade originals through its craft preservation shops. Visitors can watch wagon maker Steve Edwards and glassblower Joe Deanda and others as they produce their wares. The master craftsmen eagerly engage in conversations and share their knowledge of traditionally made goods.

Chattanooga also has a distinguished reputation, particularly for the fine arts. River Gallery represents both regional and national artists. It holds an enviable location in the Bluff View Art District, just a stone’s throw from the Hunter Museum of American Art. Visitors to River View Gallery can meet with glass artist Cher Austin and jewelry artist Lynda Metcalf and watch them create their treasures.

Have you explored the East Tennessee arts scene? Let us know your favorite galleries and shops to visit in the comments.

Hi! I’m Linda Lange. As a travel writer living in Knoxville, I fully appreciate barbecue, bluegrass and Dollywood. My...Read on

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