Asheville, NC has been our go-to getaway since moving to Virginia nine years ago. It’s the Paris of the South, Bohemia of the Bible Belt, and home to a lot of really good artisans.
As often as we’d been there, we’d never managed to explore wider than downtown, so this time we snagged a clean, cheap hotel at its edge (DOWNTOWN INN, highly recommended, gorgeous pool!) and hopped a tourist trolley. It is a good deal, taking you to things you’d not realize were unique without their stories– like the amazing Asheville McDonald’s, sixth wonder of the Fast Food World; or the site where Zelda Fitzgerald met her untimely, unnecessary end. As an added bonus, the woman staffing the site whence we hopped on was just lovely, teaching herself to knit, had an anthropology background, a long-time resident of Asheville talking about its history and future.
We enjoyed the trolley, particularly our driver Storyteller Michael (who loved being Storyteller Michael) but it was the River Arts District we really wanted to explore, our first day. Off we hopped, and spent the next three hours running around conversing with artists and gallery owners. The woman at the glass shop talked about downtown Asheville’s gentrification pushing out the locals. The lady who made animal portraits out of fabric pieces had escaped the mall attack in Mogadishu. A guy doing binary code paintings discussed raising artistic children in a city that ate money.
It’s one of the many cool things about Asheville. They’re not just raking in tourists; almost everyone is quite happy to converse with you about what they’re doing, and why, and how long they’ve been doing it. Artists, wait staff (who are often artists, too) hotel clerks. People have not lost the art of conversation here, at least not in the off-season.
Even at lunch, when we sat down outside at White Duck Taco, conversations kept rolling. As we had the only table with spare seating, a man asked if he and his son could join us. Turns out his son was at university in Edinburgh, so we had a grand old time.
Then we walked – and let me tell you, if you really want to explore all the River Arts District, you need to bring a car – down to another section, and randomly up to a building that sported the sign, “Chair caning to the left.”
For those who don’t know, I am a chair caning nerd. I LOVE caning chairs – don’t get to do it that often, what with bookstore operations and writing and cat rescue and the college, but it has some serious zen. And scope for artistry. And when you’re done, a lasting effect on the comfort and vibe of your home.
So around the corner I raced, and entered heaven. A whole loft dedicated to the artistic building, repair, and enhancement of chairs. Chairs with paper rush, chairs with sea grass, chairs with Shaker tape, oak splints…. *blissful sigh.*
And the best part? Well, two best parts. The woman who owns the place said hi, I asked her a question about a caning pattern, and her eyes lit.
“You cane?” she asked, and I was off, talking about the garage Jack enclosed for me, the rockers, the checkerboard seats, the 3-5 chevrons…..
You could see it on her forehead: I got a live one here!
She left the work she’d been doing and showed me a display of all the types of seat pattern and common materials used in America. We talked about which designs, though beautiful, would be less functional than the ol’ stalwarts, discussed lace weaves versus sturdy rush doubles. We talked the kind of talk that would make non-nerds’ eyes roll back into their heads. Some time later – was it ten minutes or thirty – I realized Jack had disappeared.
Brandy, the owner, showed me the antique chairs, the unusual caning someone had done to a ladder back rocker, and a few other things that set my heart racing, before we shook hands and said goodbye. She’s going to try and make a trip to the bookstore sometime next year, and if she does we’ll try to set up a special event, something along the lines of “Intro to chair caning for normal people.”
Not nerds like us. Brandy gifted me a “chair nerd” sticker which is now proudly displayed on the bookshop door. And that was how I found a little piece of heaven in Asheville.
Click to visit Silver River Chairs and meet Dave, Brandy, and Rosie the chair dog.
(And if you want to get a trolley next time you’re Asheville way, it’s www.GrayLineAsheville.com)