Gatlinburg’s Artist Community in New Smokies Life

Gatlinburg’s Artist Community in New Smokies Life

The idea for a series of stories about artists in park gateway communities came to us via Kathie Thomas of Gatlinburg’s HighLand Craft Gallery. Her objective was simple: share about the crafts of local families whose artisan heritage stretches back to pre-park days. I loved the idea and enlisted Sue Wasserman to do the research and writing.

Sue, who is based in Western North Carolina, used to write for me when I was the editor of The Laurel of Asheville and its sister publication Plough to Pantry. Knowing her warm and spontaneous personality, I felt she would be a great fit for the material and would connect with the artists she met. I asked her about her experience writing this story.

FF: Why were you a good match for this Smokies Life story about artists and artisans?

SW: I’ve been writing about the arts and artists for more than 20 years. It is a topic about which I’m deeply passionate. I also have a gift for building relationships and trust with the people I interview. Both played into my getting this juicy assignment.

FF: What did you find was the most fun thing about doing the research for it?

Sue: First, I had no idea this community existed, let alone how amazing it is. Being able to spend time with these artists and hear their stories was an incredible gift. Given their deep, multi-generational ties to the region, I felt like I was being made privy to a history lesson that was as eye-opening as it was intimate.

FF: What’s your favorite part of the writing process, in general?

SW: For me, writing is like putting together a puzzle. I’ve got all these individual pieces and need to figure out how they fit together to make an article flow. It’s an exhilarating and sometimes frustrating challenge.

FF: How was this story different from any you had written before?

SW: I have never interviewed so many people for a single story. Trying to share the big picture while helping readers get to know the individual artists was no easy task.

FF: What happened in the process that you didn’t expect?

SW: Prior to being assigned this story, I had no idea this craft community existed. Now, I find myself so drawn to it, I’d like to write a book about it. The extra bonus is that while being in the area to interview the artists, I made the time to explore some of the trails, which I’ve also fallen in love with. Since I’m also a nature photographer, I plan to keep returning to experience the area’s wonder throughout the year.


When Kathie Thomas read the article, she was thrilled. “This will serve as a wonderful adjunct teaching aide as members of the Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community work towards the sale of student work in our businesses this coming spring,” she said. “It has been a joy working with Sue.”

Sue Wasserman has been published in the New York Times, Southern Living and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and has self-published and promotes two books, A Moment’s Notice and Walk with Me: Exploring Nature’s Wisdom.

Do you know artists and artisans in park gateway communities that we might want to interview? Email Frances Figart, editor of Smokies Life.