An Afternoon in Brasstown

By Katherine Makepeace (2014)

Brasstown – essentially a small strip of local art shops – is a village that is hard to distinguish geographically from the town of Murphy. It is just a short drive from the modern big-box stores and food chains, like Wal-Mart and Starbucks, which are prevalent on the outskirts of Murphy.

After my contemplative walk at the Fields of the Wood Bible Park that morning, peaceful Brasstown carried this serene and reflective momentum through the rest of my afternoon. I quickly grew fond of this place. What initially appeared to be yet another narrow road like all the others along the mountain-stretch of Highway 64 turned out to be a literal splash of local color.

This is because Brasstown, although closely related to Murphy, is distinguishable by its more intimate and pastoral setting – amplified by the vibrant folk art on display in the shop windows, the yard décor lining the sidewalks and garden pathways of the galleries, and the small sitting-nooks enclosed by lush foliage for mid-shopping spree rests. Silva Gallery is painted purple and green, bright works of art peek out from every cranny, and dangling wind chimes and recycled bottles situated on sapling tree branches give this tiny town an ethereal, hippie-like atmosphere.

Without careful observation, one could easily miss the sign that declares the tiny corner gas station the annual site of the New Years Eve Possum Drop. Right up the street from the John C. Campbell Folk School, the shop owners all held workshops and classes, both affiliated with the school and through their own volition to engage the rest of the local community in traditional crafts like bead-making, wool basket-making, alcohol prints, fabric art, pottery, copper plate designs, handmade jewelry, and more.

The lack of pedestrians and shoppers on this day enhanced this intimacy and made it a space where I could engage the artists one-on-one, learn more about their crafts, hear about the artists’ connections to the local Cherokee and Mountaineer histories, and subject myself to further prodding to attend the following day’s Fall Festival across the street. Having grown up in Western North Carolina’s Maggie Valley area, near the state’s other prominent Cherokee reservation, I reveled in the opportunity to pick the brains of those who have passionately maintained the area’s Appalachian traditions, history, and culture without losing sight of the tragic significance of the atrocities experienced by the Natives. One of the storeowners said that an archaeological team discovered that her property is a huge site for Cherokee artifacts and continues to be analyzed today. Another store owner taught my peers and I about Bluebird conservation, inducting us as official Bluebird Rangers, teaching us the art of whimmy-diddling, and informing us about the significance of the land on which her store was built. She took us outside and showed us where soldiers kept watch from this hill, able to easily survey the goings-on of the valley below.

We made many friends that my group members and I would continue to bump into throughout the course of our stay in the Murphy/Brasstown area. I found that it was a lovely place for a relaxing, uncrowded shopping experience, or to transport oneself to a time in which old Appalachian traditions played a more significant role in the daily lives of Murphians.