Arts community vital to Gatlinburg in Sevier County

Rick Starkey uses a small chainsaw on a piece of a log to fashion what ultimately will be a bear peeking out as if from inside. Starkey and his wife, Betty, own Make It Magic, a complex in the Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community that features carvings, a magic shop and a magic theater.

Photo by Robert Wilson

Rick Starkey uses a small chainsaw on a piece of a log to fashion what ultimately will be a bear peeking out as if from inside. Starkey and his wife, Betty, own Make It Magic, a complex in the Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community that features carvings, a magic shop and a magic theater.

Sevier County

  • Population: 83,527 (2007 Census estimate)
  • Founded: 1794; named after John Sevier, Tennessee's first governor and former congressman
  • County seat: Sevierville, population 16,051; eighth-oldest town in Tennessee
  • Other cities/towns:
  • Pigeon Forge, population 6,119; incorporated in 1961; named after iron forge built in 1820 and the flocks of pigeons that fed along the Pigeon River
  • Gatlinburg, population 5,433; main entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; named for businessman Radford Gatlin, who was later run out of town for his pro-Confederacy views
  • Pittman Center, population 643; incorporated in 1974, partly as a way to block annexation by fast-growing Gatlinburg; named after Dr. Eli Pittman
  • Attractions: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park; Dollywood amusement park; Tennessee Smokies minor league baseball team; Ripley's Aquarium

Discover is an annual guide to living in Knoxville and East Tennessee.

It's a pretty exclusive club, the artisans of the Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community.

Membership comes through a juried selection process, and at present only about 110 have made the grade.

The crafts community was born at about the same time as the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and it grew with the tourist popularity of Gatlinburg that followed.

According to its brochure, the community still includes some of the original artisans and many of their descendants.

The community lines a road loop that begins where Glades Road intersects with U.S. Highway 321, turns right on Buckhorn Road and re-emerges on Highway 321 a little bit farther down.

Along the way, visitors can stop at shops and stores where mountain crafts are practiced and the products can be bought.

Such as at the Judy Jones Pottery & Gift Gallery on Buckhorn. Jones said she got into pottery in 1972 and has been professionally engaged in the craft almost ever since.

She has a bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Iowa and earlier studied pottery at both the University of Tennessee and the University of Mississippi.

Her exclusive patterns are sought after by collectors who come back year after year.

Around the loop on Glades Road is Make It Magic, an interesting combination of sawdust and prestidigitation.

Proprietors Rick and Betty Starkey, who met through their mutual interest in magic, operate a magic shop there as well as a small theater in which they perform magic shows nightly.

But Rick also uses a chain saw to rough out images of bears in tree stumps, on which his wife then does the detail work with a small power tool and applies the finishes.

The complex is housed in a pair of cabins that are about 200 years old, Starkey said. The buildings were not always on their present location, but their ages are authentic, he said. One was relocated from Anderson County and the other from Virginia, he said.

Betty Starkey, a native of New Jersey, bought the place on Glades about 5 1/2 years ago. The theater cabin, she said, was once owned by members of singer Dolly Parton's family and the entertainer was often baby-sat there by an aunt.

In addition to pottery, magic and chain-saw carvings, visitors to the community can find woodcarvers, jewelers, paintings, candle makers, leather craft, rustic furniture, jams and jellies, fabric arts, bead art, metal sculptures, scrimshaw and silversmithing, trolls, handmade brooms, concrete statuaries, ceramics and stained glass, as well as restaurants, pubs and snack shops.

And all of it is outside the sometimes intense tourist environment of downtown Gatlinburg.

Robert Wilson is a freelance contributor to the News Sentinel.

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