Lazy Bear Lodge Burton Photography Great Southern Gothic Ashe County Young Professionals · Plein Air Painters WHAT’S INSIDE: Blowing Rock Historical Society · Avery County Wrestling Dynasty Volume 18 · Issue 4 April 2023 in the High Country Hollywood
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Lazy Bear Lodge
By Jan Todd
“Many people romanticize the thought of owning a B&B. They picture socializing with guests, serving meals. They don’t stop and think about managing a house.” – Marsha Speer
Avery County Wrestling
By Tim Gardner
“No other teams have wrestlers who scraps like ours and no other wrestlers are as tough as ours. I’m so proud that our teams have been an absolute powerhouse for four straight years.” – Senior Tristan Adams
By Sherrie Norris
“The Burton’s sincere approach brought out the best in Maddie and made the beautiful images they captured possible. We’ll cherish the portraits and the experience of creating them as one the highlights of her senior year.”
– Megan & Tom Ellis
Hollywood & the High Country
By Peter Morris
“Being an extra in Winter People was great fun for this film aficionado, who’d always wanted to be an actor but, unfortunately, never had the opportunity or, I’m afraid, the talent required.” – JP Huston
Blowing Rock Historical Society
By Kris Testori
“Our first and most important priority is to continue bringing history to life for our community…We stay focused on making more history available to our community and visitor each year.” – Tom O’Brien
Great Southern Gothic
By Harley Nefe
“My personal journey in life is to transform darkness into light. I have that balance in my shop too. I don’t go too dark with the theme. I have lightheartedness and silliness – it’s funny.” – Zeea Jones
6 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE April 2023
56 38 66
April 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 7
Preserving the Past while Looking Forward to the Future
April 2023 marks one year since we released our special edition of High Country Magazine that celebrated Boone 150. It was also the first issue where I served as publisher for High Country Press Publications. We learned a lot over the year as we spent the time reflecting on the businesses, organizations, and groups that established and advanced the town. And through this research, we discovered how Boone has changed, and in some ways, how it has stayed the same. Similar claims can be made for the surrounding areas as well. While we will continue to honor the past of Ashe, Avery, and Watauga counties in our publications, we are also looking forward with hope and expectation for the future of the High Country.
And the future begins with the next generation. As you may have seen in the most recent copies of the magazine, some of the stories were written by our wonderful interns at High Country Press Publications. The goal for our interns is simple: Learn and experience the real world in their chosen field through the lenses of integrity, curiosity, and wonder.
Interns may be confronted with the realities of the most important constitutional amendment – the First Amendment. It is important for interns to understand that, in the journalism field, we sometimes cover and research stories that are heartbreaking, disgusting, offensive, vulgar, and carnal. Interns may interview people who are diabolically opposed to their political, social, spiritual, or intellectual beliefs and values. High Country Press Publications believes this may be one of the greatest gifts we can provide our interns.
We currently have internship tracks in graphic design, journalism, and marketing. However, most importantly, we customize our internships to the individual. All interns collaborate with staff to accomplish the goals and vision of High Country Press Publications with the hope of accomplishing their own personal goals as well. Whether they strive to make connections in the community or to build a portfolio of published pieces, they are trained to demonstrate the highest level of professionalism and uphold journalistic integrity.
High Country Press Publications offers compensation after the first period or semester of internship. If you are interested in advancing your experience while working with High Country Press Publications, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to the future of continuing to meet the public’s expectations of producing the highest quality of magazine in the High Country.
A Public Ation o f High Country Press Publications
Peter W. Morris
cover Photogr APher
contributing Photogr APhers
High Country Magazine is produced by the staff and contributors of High Country Press Publications, which serves Watauga, Avery and Ashe counties of North Carolina.
HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE
P.O. Box 152, Boone, NC 28607 828-264-2262
Copyright © 2023, All rights reserved
Sam Garrett - Publisher
8 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE April 2023
Sam Garrett stands with the special Boone 150 edition of High Country Magazine, which was released one year ago. Photo by Ashley Poore.
FROM THE PUBLISHER
A light technician from the movie Winter People prepares his equipment. Photo by Peter Morris.
ON THE COVER:
April 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 9 7 p.m. 7P.M. 14 5:30 P.M. 18 15 7:30 P.M. dearly departed 2PM sparky & rhonda rucker w/ ray christian 7:30 P.M. mountain home bluegrass boys 7 P.M. 7 P.M. 7 P.M. dArin & brooke aldridge 3 P.M. 7 P.M. 25 28 7 18 BOX OFFICE OPEN MON.-FRI. 11 A.M. - 3 P.M. & TWO HOURS PRIOR TO SHOWTIME 828.865.3000 24/7 ONLINE BOX OFFICE TICKETS, VENUE & SHOW INFORMATION APPTHEATRE.ORG 1 APRIL EVENTS MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT SUN 6 11 10 14 19 17 23 13 21 24 12 16 25 @AppTheatre Follow us 12 26 27 FREE Guided Tour 1 p.m. 8-11 P.M. 2 P.M. 2 3 4 5 8 9 11 22 29 30 29 7:30 P.M. 7:30 P.M. 20 life is magic 7:30 P.M. FREE Guided Tour 1 p.m. 7:30 P.M. ALL DAY
Beech Mountain Resort’s Runs for Buns Event Fundraises Over $67,000
Runs for Buns, hosted by Beech Mountain Resort, is designed to bring the community together in the fight against colon cancer and in support of National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.
The community came together, once again, to kick colon cancer’s butt with the 2023 Runs for Buns event in March. The annual fundraiser raised over $67,000, benefiting the Colon Cancer Coalition.
The event expanded this year with an evening of music featuring cancer survivor and bluegrass legend Sam Bush. Bush performed at the inaugural Not So Gala, Gala on the evening of March 3.
The Not So Gala, Gala brought an intimate music experience to Beech Mountain Brewing Company – minus the fancy clothing of a typical gala. Guests were encouraged to dress casually for the special event with Bush, a 2020 inductee in the International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Fame and four-time IBMA Mandolin Player of the Year.
This performance kicked off a weekend full of skiing, snowboarding, and fun – all
STORY BY HARLEY NEFE
for a good cause.
Skiers and snowboarders hit the slopes on March 4 to raise funds and awareness to defeat colon cancer. Runs for Buns is similar to a walk-a-thon or charity run where individuals and teams get family and friends to pledge donations for every ski run they complete.
Another way to participate was through the Runs for Buns virtual auction that had many items up for bid including ski equipment, vacations, spa packages, and more.
Runs for Buns takes place every March during Colon Cancer Awareness Month and honors Kelly-Grier Costin, a member of the Beech Mountain Resort family who passed away on March 19, 2021, after a three-year battle with colon cancer. Her determination and fight inspired many people, and her passing brought awareness to the importance of colon cancer screenings
The odds of surviving colon cancer greatly increase with early detection and treatment. However, help is needed to increase screening rates because only 40% of colon cancers are found in early stages.
Kelly-Grier Costin’s legacy continued to be honored by the first-ever presentation of the KG’s Ripple Effect Award, which recognizes someone with ties to colon cancer – either a survivor, healthcare worker or volunteer –who exhibits strength, courage, compassion and commitment to the community.
The inaugural KG Ripple Effect Award was presented to Blowing Rock resident Wayne Miller, a 30-year colon cancer survivor with a history of service to multiple organizations in the High Country. Miller was one of eight people who were nominated for the award.
Miller and his wife, Jenny, own three Footslogger stores in the High Country.
After being diagnosed with cancer three decades ago, Miller and his family moved from Charlotte to his beloved mountains to begin his battle.
Miller had about 18 inches of his colon removed and beat the diagnosis. Since then, he’s dedicated his life to service, serving on the board of the Western Youth Network and donating to several local charities, including the annual Runs for Buns fundraiser at Beech Mountain. t
10 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE April 2023
Cancer survivor and bluegrass legend Sam Bush performed at the inaugural Not So Gala, Gala on the evening of
Photo by David Simchock Photography
Appalachian Hair Salon Celebrates 21 Years in Business
Kathy Carlin, owner of Appalachian Hair Salon, recently celebrated 21 years in business on March 3, 2023.
When asked how she felt about celebrating 21 years in business, Kathy responded, “I’m honestly really proud of myself. It was really tough at times through the years. I thought I would crash and burn, but I’m glad I persevered.”
She started her career as a hairstylist in 2001 as a booth renter in a small unoccupied salon attached to a gym. In March 2002, after her first year, she moved to a larger building to take on full ownership and officially opened Appalachian Hair Salon in Boone.
Kathy later reflected on why she decided to start her business in the first place, stating that she started her business in 2002 to overcome financial struggles and because she wanted to work as an independent hairstylist.
“I was in a very bad financial place at the time, let’s just say. I was actually going through bankruptcy at the time,” Kathy shared.
Kathy also touched on her mission at the start of her business and stated that her initiative in the very beginning was to survive and succeed.
“I really want to succeed,” she elaborated. “My dad was an entrepreneur. He had his own business growing up … I just didn’t want to fail. I didn’t want to have to go back to the asking-permissionto-go-to-the-bathroom type of situation.”
These days, Kathy enjoys working independently alongside her two good friends, Kayla Hubbard and Kimberly Miller, who also work independently in her salon and run their small businesses.
“We remodeled the shop, we started our website, we started online booking, and all of that during covid,” she explained.
Together, they offer affordable, professional hair services for men, women, and children, such as haircuts, color, highlights, and facial waxing.
Regarding what she enjoys most about being a hairstylist, Kathy stated that she is “truly grateful that [she] can do
STORY BY SEBASTIAN DIONICIO
what [she is] passionate about every day. Transforming people to look their best.”
When asked who her biggest inspiration was, Kathy cited her father as her biggest role model.
“He was very business smart,” she explained. “He really was an entrepreneur. I mean, he chased after things, and he made sure he got things right and got them done. What he basically taught me was that you put your mind to something, and you do it. You don’t give up.”
Her best advice for female entrepreneurs is don’t let others define
what you can accomplish.
“There’s going to be a lot of people who’ll say you’ll never succeed. It’s gonna be hard. Why bother?” Kathy shared. “Believe in yourself and do it because you can.”
Appalachian Hair Salon is located at 1064 Meadowview Dr. in Boone and is open Monday-Saturday. For more information regarding salon hours or to book an appointment, please call (828)-263-0022 or visit their website at https://www.appalachianhairsalon.com/. Bookings are required. t
12 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE April 2023
Inside Appalachian Hair Salon. Photo courtesy of Kathy Carlin.
Kathy Carlin, owner of Appalachian Hair Salon, poses next to friends and hairstylists Kayla Hubbard (left) and Kimberly Miller (right). Photo courtesy of Kathy Carlin.
April 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 13
By Jan Todd
Getting Around in the High Country
When it comes to finding their way around town, folks today have it easy. They can just pull over to the side of the road, plug in an address — or even “pizza near me” — into the smart phone, and directions pop up.
Of course, the phone’s navigation system can get a little interesting in the mountains, sending an unsuspecting driver up dirt roads designed for four-wheel-drive — or for people who don’t mind backing down a curvy single-lane road for a quarter mile or so when they meet another car.
Or, it might send ‘em to Evergreen Drive instead of Evergreen Lane or Summit Creek or Summit Rise or Summit Park instead of Summit Street. Do you know how many “summits” are in the mountains? There are many.
But if the driver is careful with the address, the navigation system will usually get ‘em where they’re going, ideally with the car’s transmission still in place.
Back in the day, we had to use things called maps (the paper variety) — or stop and ask directions from the nearest gas station.
We Southerners are particularly gifted in giving directions according to where things use’ta be. My late mother-in-law once directed me to someone’s house in Yadkin County.
“Go down where Buck’s Grill use’ta be, then cut back on the next road for a couple of miles,” she directed me.
That didn’t help me much, because I didn’t know where Buck’s Grill was historically located, and I really didn’t know what “cut back” meant, either. Turn left? Right? Do a whoop-about? No clue. I think I just drove down the road and asked somebody else.
I have a lot of appreciation for the folks who run the produce stand in Ashe County. They owned up and called it Used to Be Buster’s Produce. Maybe they started with a different name at first, but then figured, why fight it? It used to be Busters, might as well embrace it.
Most verbal directions in Boone reference the two-story Wendy’s. Back when I was at App State in the early ‘80’s, it was just a regular ol’ Wendy’s. But when they added the second story in the early ‘90’s, it became the center of the High Country universe. Anytime I asked how to get somewhere, I was told to turn left at the two-story Wendy’s or go to the third street past it or just circle around it a few times just to revel in its glory.
Road construction, game traffic and the influx of Friday afternoon weekenders might send you searching for back road alternatives, and locals are always a good source of shortcut secrets. And if they throw in a usta’be? Well, you might just learn something about a treasured landmark. t
14 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE April 2023
“Used to be Busters” in West Jefferson embraces the Southern way of giving directions. Why complicate matters with a new name?
April 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 15
MANY MORE BEST FESTIVAL
Behind the scenes at Lazy Bear Lodge
STORY BY JAN TODD
Luxury linens. Chocolates on the bedside table. Motion detector nightlights to help guests find their way in the dark. A sprig of fresh rosemary garnishing the breakfast plate.
“It’s the little things that make a difference,” said Marsha Speer, innkeeper with her husband John at Lazy Bear Lodge Bed and Breakfast near Valle Crucis.
Lea Wilkes of Newberry, South Carolina, credits the magic of Lazy Bear Lodge to the innkeepers themselves. “John and Marsha have a heart for doing what they do. They have a natural curiosity about people and their lives and make everyone feel welcome,” Lea said.
She and her husband Patrick visit Lazy Bear two or three times a year. They first visited about eight years ago, when the property was owned by Ann and Mark Winkelman, who built the inn in 2005 and operated it until selling to the Speers in June 2017.
“We had always enjoyed coming to Lazy Bear, so decided to give it a try under the new ownership. Marsha and John quickly became our friends — and they continue to make each stay special,” Lea said.
Lazy Bear Lodge is a five bedroom inn on a 7-acre site off Dewitt Barnett Road in Vilas. Located just 6 miles from the shops and restaurants in Boone, the log cabin styled inn was custom built overlooking beautiful vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Adirondack gliders line the back porches and deck where guests can gaze at the view and watch birds, deer — and even spot an occasional bear.
The inn is decorated in a “mountain modern” style, with plush linens on the beds, classy yet comfy furniture in the guest rooms and living room. Paintings and photographs by local artists adorn the walls, mixed in with stained glass pieces handcrafted by John’s father. One guest room features a signed giclee painting by actress Jane Semour — which the Speers found in a consignment store in Blowing Rock.
Each guest room has its own bath with either a jetted or
clawfoot tub, a gas fireplace or stove and television. Three of the rooms have private balconies. Visitors can also relax in front of the fire in the spacious living area stocked with games and magazines.
“It’s like a home away from home,” said Penny Painter from Greenville, South Carolina. She and her husband stay at the Lazy Bear Lodge once or twice a year when they come up to the High Country to enjoy hiking, shopping in Blowing Rock and visiting the Ashe County Cheese Factory in West Jefferson.
“We celebrate our anniversary in March with a trip to the mountains,” she shared. “We’ve been to large B&Bs in our travels, but they are always so busy with lots going on. We like the quiet atmosphere of Lazy Bear.”
The Painters first visited in 2017, shortly after John and Marsha purchased the inn. The place they usually stayed was booked, and Penny found Lazy Bear online.
“We’ve been going back ever since,” she said. “We fell in love with John and Marsha. They are such sweet, genuine people. We were the only guests in the inn that first visit, and we invited them to sit down and eat with us. We got to know them really well.”
18 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE April 2023
Marsha and John Speer purchased The Lazy Bear Lodge in 2017. The couple moved from their home in Ohio, where John had retired from a career in corporate accounting and Marsha had worked in customer service. With a lifelong love of travel, the two decided to operate their own bed and breakfast, and chose the High Country for its beauty and tourist appeal. Photo by Jan Todd
John and Marsha have a heart for doing what they do. They have a natural curiosity about people and their lives and make everyone feel welcome.
- LEA WILKES
Now, whenever the Painters arrive for a visit, Penny opens the front door and calls out, “Honey, I’m home!”
“The Speers have a real passion for hospitality,” Penny said.
Love of Travel, Love of People
Neither Marsha nor John had a background in the hospitality industry prior to purchasing the inn. John earned an accounting degree from Ohio State and was a financial executive with a large public manufacturing company in Columbus, Ohio. Fellow Ohio State Buckeye Marsha graduated with a degree in home economics with a specialty in textiles and clothing. She worked in retail and in customer service, then stayed home to raise their two boys.
Marsha and John met during high school, when they both worked at McDonald’s in Lancaster, Ohio, southeast of Columbus. “We didn’t go to the same high school,” John said. “She attended a Catholic school and I was at the public school.”
Marsha asked John to her senior prom, and “the rest was history,” she said. They have been married for 42 years. Their son Joshua lives in San Francisco, and their son Justin and his wife Leslie live in Asheville with their baby, Isaac.
Travel was always important to the Speers, and they vacationed all over the country. “We took our boys out west to National Parks, on beach trips to Hilton Head, to Boston and New York. Every year we’d plan a trip,” Marsha said.
Both of her sons spent time in Germany during college. “That changed who they were. They really grew up and
April 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 19
photo: The Lazy Bear Lodge, custom built with a modern log cabin style in 2005, is located on a 7-acre site off Dewitt Barnett Road in Vilas. It has five guest rooms, a cozy front porch and expansive back deck overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains. Photo by Jan Todd
The inn overlooks layers of the Blue Ridge Mountain, beautiful in any season. Photo by Jan Todd
It’s like a home away from home. We celebrate our anniversary in March with a trip to the mountains. We’ve been to large B&Bs in our travels, but they are always so busy with lots going on. We like the quiet atmosphere of Lazy Bear.
- PENNY PAINTER
- JOHN SPEER
gained a new perspective of the world, working and living abroad,” she said.
As the boys grew up and Marsha and John became empty nesters, they frequented bed and breakfast inns (B&Bs) in their travel. “We’ve probably stayed in 70 B&Bs,” Marsha shared. “Our most memorable was one in Bath, England. It was a historic home, a beautiful yellow house with 14 foot ceilings. It was an amazing experience.”
Their passion for travel and their social nature kindled a desire to operate an inn of their own. John was considering an early retirement from the corporate world, and he and Marsha started talking about what kind of business they could run together — one that would marry their skill sets.
20 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE April 2023
A hand carved mantle with lounging bears adorns the wood-burning fireplace in the dining room at The Lazy Bear Lodge. Above the mantle is a tribute to Marsha and John’s home state of Ohio. Photo by Jan Todd
My grandfather built homes and my dad taught me skills in carpentry. Marsha’s dad was a plumber and taught me how to do some basic plumbing as well. You need to be handy, because an inn requires constant maintenance.
“We kept coming back to the idea of running a B&B,” John said. “I have plenty of business experience, and Marsha has cooking skills and knows how to take care of people.”
After John retired, the couple spent three years planning the business, searching for a property and preparing their own home to sell. They remodeled baths and updated other rooms in their house, doing all the work themselves.
“My grandfather built homes and my dad taught me skills in carpentry. Marsha’s dad was a plumber and taught me how to do some basic plumbing as well,” John said. These skills have come in handy as an innkeeper, he added. “You need to be handy, because an inn requires constant maintenance.”
They began their business planning by attending a trade conference for innkeepers, where they attended a
seminar targeted to potential B&B owners. They learned a lot about what to look for when purchasing an inn, how to make the venture profitable, which internet and software tools were best to manage the property, best practices and mistakes to avoid.
“We still go to conferences and trade shows. There is always something more to learn,” John said.
The Speers quickly decided to purchase an inn rather than start one from scratch. “You have to have really deep pockets to build or renovate a property and open a new inn,” John explained. “It probably takes about two years of work before you even open, and you start with no clientele. The first year you might expect about 20% occupancy — and you really need about 50% occupancy rate to make the business financially viable. So with a new inn, you’ll likely have several years with very little cash flow.”
“There was no lag time in the operation when we bought The
Lazy Bear,” Marsha recalled. “The Winkelmans were moving out, we were moving in, and guests were at the front desk checking in all at the same time. It was chaos!”
Ann Winkelman stayed around a couple of weeks to train the Speers and help with the changeover. “They were good innkeepers and had a lot of repeat guests,” Marsha said about the Winkelmans.
“Many people romanticize the thought of owning a B&B. They picture socializing with guests, serving meals. They don’t stop and think about managing the house,” Marsha said. “After the pandemic, we worked 130 consecutive days. John and I were staining the outside walls, I was taking care of guests and doing most of the inside work because we lacked staff. It was the nitty gritty side of the business.”
The best part of the business is getting to know their guests, the Speers said. “We’ve made a lot of friends. We’ve even gone to visit some of our guests
April 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 21
Wes and Kathryn Salisbury, guests at The Lazy Bear Lodge, relax in the inn’s living area prior to breakfast.
Photo by Jan Todd
- MARSHA SPEER
in their own homes on our time off,” John said.
In the winter of 2022, a big snowstorm stranded a houseful of guests at The Lazy Bear for two days. “It snowed for 30 hours straight,” Marsha remembered. “Nobody could go anywhere. I cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner. We had chicken and noodles in the crock pot and made pizza for dinner. It was actually a lot of fun — a highlight we’ll always remember.”
“We had one couple who had come to ski, so they snowboarded down our driveway,” John added. “I was clearing the parking lot and the driveway with a snowblower and one of the guys staying here pitched in and helped. After the weekend was over, one of the other guests was leaving and asked the name of the assistant innkeeper so he could thank him, too. I told him it wasn’t a staff member — it was another guest!”
Making the List
During their first year of operation, the Speers redecorated and refurnished each guest room and the common areas. They spruced up the gardens outdoors and later remodeled the dining area to include a large self-service station — with a selection of snacks and beverages and a refrigerator for guests to use.
The Speers’ hospitality and attention to detail did not go unnoticed. Select Registry — the “gold standard” of boutique lodging listings — reached out to include The Lazy Bear Lodge on its prestigious list.
Select Registry includes properties offering “outstanding accommodations and one-of-akind experiences,” according to its
22 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE April 2023
Tucked on the lower floor of The Lazy Bear Lodge are the owners’ quarters, with two bedrooms, a kitchen and living area and a private porch overlooking the mountains. Photo by Jan Todd
The dining room offers cozy fireplace-side tables for breakfast on a cold winter’s day, or outdoor seating overlooking the mountains. Photo by Jan Todd
There was no lag time in the operation when we bought The Lazy Bear. The Winkelmans were moving out, we were moving in, and guests were at the front desk checking in all at the same time. It was chaos!
April 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 23
Marsha Speer assembles Monte Crisco sandwiches for the morning breakfast at The Lazy Bear Lodge.
Photo by Jan Todd
Marsha Speer’s Monte Crisco sandwiches are a guest favorite at Lazy Bear Lodge. Layered with thinly sliced ham and Jarlsberg cheese, the sandwich is dipped in an egg batter, fried on a griddle and then sprinkled with powdered sugar. Marsha serves hers on a swirl of raspberry preserves with a hint of cayenne, and garnishes with fresh raspberries and a sprig of rosemary. Photo by Jan Todd
website. Properties must offer personalized service, unique architecture, cleanliness, outstanding food and characteristics that are “a step above the rest.”
From their own travel experience, the Speers were familiar
with the Registry prior to purchasing The Lazy Bear. “You’re not going to have a bad experience in a Select Registry inn,” John said. “They send inspectors out every two years to stay overnight in the inn, just to make sure everything meets their standards.”
Marsha’s breakfast entrees include pecan encrusted French toast, puff pastry with sausage, Monte Crisco sandwiches and other delectable delights.
“I alternate between sweet and savory every other day,” she said. “I try not to replicate a meal when we have returning guests.”
Beth and Richard Davis, from Chapel Hill, are regular guests at the inn. “Marsha is always looking for new recipes, so we never know what we’re going to be served, but it is always delicious,” Beth said. “Lazy Bear is our favorite Bed & Breakfast.”
John and Marsha live on the premises, in the owners’ quarters located downstairs from the inn’s main floor. They have two bedrooms, a living area with a kitchen, and a private deck. Their living quarters offer a quiet space for the Speers to retreat and replenish their energy, while providing access if the guests need anything.
They do hang out upstairs sometimes to mingle with guests, particularly in the mornings after breakfast. “We tell them about the area, suggest places for them to visit,” Marsha said.
“It is really important for us to greet guests when they come in,” she continued. “We’ve stayed at plenty of B&Bs where our check-in information and keys are in a dropbox, and we don’t even encounter the innkeepers.”
The Speers have a dropbox for those instances when they can’t be at the inn when a particular guest arrives but do their best to provide a personalized welcome.
“You really have to care about people in this business and enjoy serving,” Marsha said. Marsha said people often ask them about being an innkeeper, and how she feels after over five years of entertaining “constant houseguests.” Would they do it all again?
“Yes,” she said. “Definitely. We’d do it all again.” t
24 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE April 2023
While Marsha handles the breakfast meal, John makes a cappuccino for a guest. Photo by Jan Todd
Marsha is always looking for new recipes, so we never know what we’re going to be served, but it is always delicious. Lazy Bear is our favorite Bed & Breakfast.
- BETH DAVIS
Brewed coffee and a variety of teas are available for early risers on the self-service station at The Lazy Bear Lodge. During breakfast hours, guests may request cappuccino and espresso as well.
Photo by Jan Todd
The Dynasty Continues
Avery County High School Wins State Wrestling Championships
STORY BY TIM GARDNER
erriam-Webster describes a dynasty as a "succession of rulers of the same line of descent or a powerful group that maintains that position for a considerable time" and a sports dynasty as a "sports franchise which has a prolonged run of successful seasons."
Dynasty aptly fits the Avery County High School Wrestling program in general and as a sports franchise in particular. Continue reading for evidence to back up the hefty claim.
The North Carolina High School Athletic Association State 1-A Wrestling Championship Tournaments could as aptly be
Mcalled the Avery High Invitationals in recent years with the successes the Vikings have earned in them.
Avery captured both the dual-team and the teamtournament state titles in 2020, winning the team tournament in 2021 when dual-team was not available due to the Coronavirus (COVID) Pandemic and the dual-team and team titles again in 2022. Avery made it back to the 2023 season dual-team state championship, although the Vikings lost to Uwharrie Charter Academy by a narrow 39-36 final.
But they won the team-tournament title, which ended the 2022-23 season on the most colossal high. Avery had a record six individual state champions among the 14 weight classes on day three (February 18) of the 2023 1-A Individual State Wrestling Tournament held at the Greensboro Coliseum to propel the Vikings to a fourth consecutive state teamtournament crown.
Matthew Dunn, who has compiled a 111-13 record, while leading those teams to at least one state title in each of his four
26 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE April 2023
Avery's 2023 Individual State Wrestling Champions wearing North Carolina High School Athletic Association championship blue shirts are from left-to-right: Cooper Foster (on shoulders), Tristan Adams, Cael Dunn, Grant Reece, Seth Blackledge and Benjamin Jordan. Also, pictured in the celebration from left-to-right are their fellow-Viking wrestlers Brandon Cabrera and Johnathon Gragg.
seasons as Avery’s head coach, said of his latest championship team: “This was an amazing and unexpected event. We were supposed to be down this season. having graduated eight seniors, six of whom were state finalists. Additionally, we had two number one ranked wrestlers in the state not even come out for wrestling this year. We had a lot of struggles early in the season, but were held together by an outstanding group of leaders. We knew how good these wrestlers could be, but some just waited to the absolute end of the year to show it. This has been an incredibly hard year for all of us, but our team members worked harder than any group I have ever coached.”
Avery finished the tournament with 134.5 team points, seven better than second-place Robbinsville (127.5).
Uwharrie Charter Academy came in third with 112 points. The rest of the tournament's top ten teams were far behind
to pull off a miracle to win this one (state championship), but somehow, they did it. This was the first time in history that any program has had six individual champions in one day, and we needed every single point to pull it out. We narrowly pulled it through in the last matches of the weekend.”
Avery is fortunate to have a feeder program — the Dogtown Wrestling Club — that teaches aspiring wrestlers in the county at early ages until they reach the high school level about the
We had a lot of struggles early in the season, but were held together by an outstanding group of leaders. We knew how good these wrestlers could be, but some just waited to the absolute end of the year to show it. This has been an incredibly hard year for all of us, but our team members worked harder than any group I have ever coached.
- MATTHEW DUNN
the top three. Swain County compiled 56 points, edging Thomasville (55.5 points) for fourth place. Cherryville followed in sixth place with 45.5 points. Pamlico County was seventh, compiling 45 points. Rosewood finished eight with 42 points. Alleghany County came in ninth with 36 points, and Starmount was tenth with 34.5.
Entering the championship round, Avery trailed Robbinsville by five points, before rallying to take the title.
“I’m so proud to have been part of this group,” the coach added. “Our team members competing had
Avery County High School attended the 2023 1-A Individual State Wrestling Tournament held at the Greensboro Coliseum in February, where the Vikings earned a fourth consecutive state team-tournament crown.
sport’s fundamentals, while helping them develop the skills needed to be successful wrestlers.
Dunn declared: “It’s amazing how humbling victory can be. On the ride home (from the state championship) all you think about is how grateful you are to all those that made it possible and how much you owe others for what was just achieved. Our coaching staff and the group that started these wrestlers at the Dogtown Wrestling Club deserve all the credit.
“It (Dogtown Wrestling Club) is the key to our successes. The club allows us to start kids young and develop them consistently over time. The staff that started Dogtown had a vision of what Avery wrestling could become and they are the ones that should be credited with Avery's success.”
Fayetteville Seventy-First High set the previous record for most individual state champions in a single season with five during the 1996-97 season. Avery and Parkland High later
tied that record. But Avery broke it this season with the not only amazing, but astounding six wrestlers earning state championships. Those wrestlers, their individual season record, names of their opponents and their records and how and/or when they won the match were:
Tristan Adams (36-2) repeated as state champion at 152 pounds, taking an 8-4 decision over Cherryville's Chase Miller (42-6)
“Tristan had his best performance of the season at the state championships,” Dunn said. “Tristan never let the pressure get to him as he laughed and stayed super relaxed during the entire event. He is a senior and finishes as a two-time state champion with more than 100 career wins.”
Of his and Avery’s state titles, Adams said: "I don’t even know how to describe the feeling, but to say that both are amazing. It seems like every year we break a record or make
28 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE April 2023
170-Pound Class State Champion Cael Dunn.
195-Pound Class State Champion Seth Blackledge.
152-Pound Class State Champion Tristan Adams.
Head Coach Matthew Dunn and Assistant Coach Brandon Burleson watch from the sidelines during the tournament.
It’s amazing how humbling victory can be. On the ride home all you think about is how grateful you are to all those that made it possible and how much you owe others for what was just achieved. Our coaching staff and the group that started these wrestlers at the Dogtown Wrestling Club deserve all the credit.
some kind of history, but we’ve been wanting to break the record for most state individual champions for a long time. It's sad that it's my last Avery team, but I'm most happy because it's one more state record and one more state championship. I'm so thankful I did it with my team, which is also my family and my brothers.”
Adams declared that Avery has various attributes that sets it apart from other wrestling programs. "No other teams have wrestlers who scraps like ours, and no other wrestlers are as tough as ours. I’m so proud that our teams have been an absolute power house for four straight seasons. We've had many victories and had a few heartbreaks. But when you see Avery wrestle, you witness the tremendous work and drive our teams put into it. Our lives are doing what we do best, and that is wrestling."
Grant Reece (42-3) won by a 4-3 decision over Ryan Mann (56-2) of North East Carolina Prep in the 132-pound class to capture his second consecutive state title.
“Grant won his second state title in the absolute last seconds of the match, almost causing simultaneous heart attacks for our entire aging coaching staff,” Dunn shared. “Grant is one of our team captains and finishes the
season with a 42-3 record.”
When asked about his thoughts about the Avery program's perennial success and about how difficult it was repeating as an individual state champion, Reece replied: “It’s a great feeling to bring another state title back to Avery County after our team had faced lots of adversity this season and everyone counted us out. So, it was nice to make history with six champs. And winning an individual state title means a lot to me as it is proof that all of our hard work was not in vain and shows me that through hard work your goals can be achieved. For me, it was harder to defend my state title because after my first, I got on the radar as everyone wants to beat the returning champ. I found it easier to win a state title my sophomore year because there was far less pressure on me.”
Cooper Foster (52-0) also won by decision (1-0) at 106 pounds against Uwharrie Charter's Ethan Hines (467).
April 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 29
106-Pound Class State Champion Cooper Foster.
120-Pound Class State Champion Benjamin Jordan.
132-Pound Class State Champion Grant Reece.
No other teams have wrestlers who scraps like ours and no other wrestlers are as tough as ours. I’m so proud that our teams have been an absolute power house for four straight seasons.
- TRISTAN ADAMS
Senior Tristan Adams finished as a two-time state champion with more than 100 career wins.
Dunn said: “Cooper finishes the season with a perfect 52-0 record and he is only a sophomore. His father, Kevin, is the founder and operator of the Dogtown Wrestling Club…also known as the Godfather and architect of Avery Wrestling.”
Concerning the grand feat of being one of six Vikings to capture an individual state title to help propel them to state team championship, Foster said: "It’s so thrilling, especially after we have tied the record multiple times in the past few years. I'm just glad that I was part of it after watching it not happen when I wasn't even in high school yet."
Foster listed the wrestling club, coaching expertise and a consistent and an ultra-strong work ethic by he and his fellow-wrestlers as the top factors in Avery building its dynasty, stating: "The reason we are so successful is because of the Dogtown Wrestling Club. It is what grew our amazing wrestling program from 2012 to now. We've also had amazing
It’s a great feeling to bring another state title back to Avery County after our team had faced lots of adversity this season and everyone counted us out. So, it was nice to make history with six champs. And winning an individual state title means a lot to me as it is proof that all of our hard work was not in vain and shows me that through hard work your goals can be achieved.
- GRANT REECE
coaches like Matt Dunn, Kevin Foster, Waylon Griffith, Hank Hardin, Dominic Parisi, Brandon Burleson and Hunter Starling. They really helped grow all our wrestlers to become both individual and team state champions. And myself and all our other wrestlers consistently work our tails off in every practice and match, which has produced our success too."
Seth Blackledge (50-2) won at 195 pounds with a firstperiod pin (1:33) against Uwharrie Charter's Jadon Maness (25-6) for his second state crown.
30 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE April 2023
Grant Reece strives to get a position of advantage over his opponent.
Head Coach Matthew Dunn received the North Carolina High School Wrestling 1A Coach of the Year award.
Sophomore Cooper Foster finished the season with a perfect 52-0 record.
The reason we are so successful is because of the Dogtown Wrestling Club. It is what grew our amazing wrestling program from 2012 to now. We've also had amazing coaches like Matt Dunn, Kevin Foster, Waylon Griffith, Hank Hardin, Dominic Parisi, Brandon Burleson and Hunter Starling. They really helped grow all our wrestlers to become both individual and team state champions.
- COOPER FOSTER
“Seth was the rock of our wrestling program this season,” Dunn stated. “Seth won his second state title and made his third finals appearance. He had three first period pins in the state finals — a very dominant performance.”
Blackledge maintained that an integral part of Avery’s success this season is due to the team’s unity. “I believe that the brotherhood that we established this year was a key to our success,” he said. “In the past our team
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has been close, but it’s always kind of been a ‘fend for yourself’ atmosphere. Wrestling is an individual sport, yes, but to feel the support from your team just pushes you to wrestle even harder. I sincerely believe that this enabled us to win this title and break this record as a true team.”
Blackledge added that he and the entire Avery are delighted to be state team champions as he is to be an individual state champion, while
bringing such major positive recognition to the county.
“It feels awesome; we feel very supported by our community, and we always have,” he said. “When we got back from Greensboro, we saw everyone's faces light up who knew we were state champions. Most knew we had won previous state titles too. And we were greeted with ‘congratulations’ and ‘we’re proud of you.’ Knowing that we are wellknown in our communities and that
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I believe that the brotherhood that we established this year was a key to our success. In the past our team has been close, but it’s always kind of been a ‘fend for yourself’ atmosphere. Wrestling is an individual sport, yes, but to feel the support from your team just pushes you to wrestle even harder.
- SETH BLACKLEDGE
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State champions Seth Blackledge and Tristan Adams pose together with their wrestling brackets.
Seth Blackledge dominates his rival during a match.
- BENJAMIN JORDAN
people are proud of us keeps us working hard and makes us want to make our community proud. I think it’s awesome that my brothers (teammates) and I have been a key part of expanding Avery County’s reputation and recognition.”
Benjamin Jordan (46-3) defeated Pamlico County's Marcus Tyson (49-2) by pinfall (3:45) in the 120-pound match.
“Benjamin is a junior and his dominance is displayed by the fact that he barely made it out of the first period for the entire regional and state tournament to win his second consecutive state title,” Dunn noted.
Jordan remarked about Avery’s teams and his individual success: “I think that our continued success as a team just shows that we put in the most work and that we have one of the best (wrestling practice) rooms in the state. And as individuals, I think our success has been mostly attributed to having good
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Junior Benjamin Jordan won his second consecutive state title.
I think that our continued success as a team just shows that we put in the most work and that we have one of the best rooms in the state.
partners and coaches to practice and train with. And it feels great to get the recognition we deserve and to see all of our hard work pay off.”
Cael Dunn (56-1), freshman son of the Vikings head coach, won by decision (1-0) in the 170-pound match over defending state champion Grayson Roberts (50-5) of Uwharrie Charter.
Coach Dunn said of Cael: “Cael finishes the year with a 56-1 record. He defeated a returning state champion and senior in the finals and was our sixth champ of the day, breaking the previous record. Cael has had a great season and finishes the season as the top ranked freshman in the state, according to Rank Wrestling, among all weight classes and all classifications (1-A, 2-A, 3-A and 4-A).”
Cael Dunn commented about how it feels to be an individual state champion: “Winning a state title has been huge for me! It has always been a dream, and this year turned into sort of a vision. I wanted to win obviously, but I wanted to see that the hard work had paid off. I had to learn this year that you have to love the journey more than the destination. It is about seeing how much better I can make myself, winning is a byproduct. I wanted to bring a title back for my family and continue a legacy, my father's and my own. The greatest part of it was seeing each of my teammates and family after winning. So many people had helped me get there, and getting to see them with a gold medal around my neck made it that much better!”
He then expressed his thoughts about being part of a team earning a state crown and helping the Vikings set a new record for individual state champions. “Being able to continue the greatness
that the past teams started feels great,” he said “I have been so excited to be a part of this (program) ever since I saw Avery win the first state championship four years ago. I am so glad to be able to help my team in keeping a legacy going and breaking a record!”
In the tournament's consolation semifinals, Avery's Mason Bentley (4114) lost by decision (9-5) to Eastern Randolph's Adrian Lopez (35-7) at 126 pounds.
“Mason did not win a state title, but he did a great job at the tournament and scored vital points for our team,” Coach Dunn said.
And in its consolation first round, Mount Airy's Alex Cox (24-9) won by a 5-2 decision at 138 pounds over Avery's Staley Griffith (17-22).
Coach Dunn said of Griffith: “Staley actually had not wrestled for several years. (He) came to the team and really struggled early in the season. He was able to persevere the hard times and make it to the state tournament … A
34 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE April 2023
Head Coach Matthew Dunn hugs his son, Cael Dunn, in celebration.
Mason Bently before a takedown in wrestling.
Winning a state title has been huge for me! It has always been a dream, and this year turned into sort of a vision. I wanted to win obviously, but I wanted to see that the hard work had paid off.
I had to learn this year that you have to love the journey more than the destination.
- CAEL DUNN
huge success for him and evidence of great improvements this year.”
Besides winning either the dual-team or team-tournament state championships, or both, the past four seasons, and having six state individual champions crowned this year, the Vikings have many more milestone achievements in their elite wrestling history. Those include winning Western Highlands Conference dual-team and team-tournaments the past five seasons (2019-2023), having numerous other state placers and individual state champions, All-Americans and the 1997 National Prep Individual Wrestling Champion in John Mark Bentley, currently the head wrestling coach at Appalachian State University.
And as a component of Avery's consistent success, the word "rebuild" has become foreign to its program. It’s been proven there is no need for such during the last several years regardless of personnel lost from a previous season. Instead, the word "reload" is the norm for Avery from season-to-season, as aided by the Dogtown Wrestling Club, Coach Dunn keeps a continuous flow of outstanding wrestlers — freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors — who continue to hone their talents and skills under his guidance. And they keep producing stellar individual accomplishments, while continuing Avery's team dominance in the NCHSAA’s 1-A ranks as the program to beat and that
other schools seek to emulate. And neither doesn’t seem likely to change any season soon. t
All photos courtesy of Avery County High School Wrestling.
April 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 35
The Avery High Wrestling team members pose with their state team championship trophy and individual champions wearing their champion medallions and t-shirts and showing off completed state tournament brackets they won in their respective weight classes. From left-to-right: (Top Row) Mason Bentley, Benjamin Jordan, Seth Blackledge, Cael Dunn, Grant Reece, Cooper Foster and Assistant Coach and Dogtown Wrestling Club Founder and Operator Kevin Foster; (Middle Row) Hunter Starling, Head Coach Matthew Dunn, Assistant Coach Brandon Burleson and Brandon Cabrera; and (Bottom) Tristan Adams.
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Photographers of the Year
The timing for Burton Photography could not be better. Just as the business prepares to celebrate its 30th anniversary, owners Jonathan and Bonnie Burton were recognized in February as Photographers of the Year during a national conference.
Having long been known and respected as highly skilled and talented photographers in the High Country and beyond, the husband and wife team recently captured the coveted title during the annual four-day (High School) Senior and Youth Sports National Conference, also known as SYNC, held in Orlando, Fla.
Produced by Darty and Michelle Hines, who founded the event in 2008, SYNC is a professional photography conference that specializes in high school senior and youth sports photography. Entering its 16th year, SYNC brings together industry-leading speakers, innovative companies and over 500 attendees to the annual conference from across the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and Ireland.
“Education is so vital to our continued success as portrait artists and studio owners,” the Burtons agreed. “This conference fills up our fuel tank for the coming year.”
And, of course, sweeping the competition added to their excitement, they humbly admitted.
A major highlight of the conference, the Burtons said, is the print competition, which broke all precious records with 1,076 portraits entered to be evaluated and scored by a panel of expert judges.
STORY BY SHERRIE NORRIS
“The competition was intense. And, as usual, we were again so inspired by the creativity and innovation of the artists and their entries,” said Bonnie Burton.
Of those 1,076 entries, 10 the Burtons portraits received the Award of Excellence; two of their portraits were picked as Judges' Choice. The couple was also awarded both first-and thirdplace in the senior portrait on-location, outdoor division, and first place in senior portrait on-location, indoor.
As the most prestigious award presented at SYNC, Photographer of the Year is chosen by the judges in a headto-head competition of the top five
photographers with the highest averages from competitors who have entered six or more entries.
“We’re grateful for the opportunities that we have and are so humbled by this amazing recognition,” Bonnie said. “We give thanks to all our
38 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE April 2023
As Burton Photography celebrates 30 years in business this year, owners Bonnie and Jonathan Burton start the year celebrating some huge wins at a national competition in February. Not only did 10 of their portraits win top honors, but the dynamic duo was also named Photographers of the Year. Photo submitted.
We’re grateful for the opportunities that we have and are so humbled by this amazing recognition. We give thanks to all our clients who trust us to create portraits for them that they’ll enjoy for years to come. We celebrate our incredible seniors who make creating their portraits a joy.
- BONNIE BURTON
clients who trust us to create portraits for them that they’ll enjoy for years to come. We celebrate our incredible seniors who make creating their portraits a joy.”
Simply put, she added, “ We continue to educate ourselves in our craft, and put that education into practice in order to provide the highest quality of portraits possible to our clients. Entering print competitions causes us to stretch our talents, ideas and skills. In both victory and defeat, we continue to grow as artists.”
Individually and Collectively — A Winning Duo
The Burtons began working together in 2010 and joined forces officially when they were married in 2011. Having lived in Winston Salem for 30 years with her own studio at the time, Bonnie was happy to move to the High Country and help build a new chapter at Burton Photography.
Jonathan started Burton Photography in 1993 when he was in his 20s. “This year marks 30 years in business,” Bonnie shared. “Together, we have 46 years of combined experience as professional photographers. We specialize in creating portraits of all kinds — high school seniors, families, babies, children, professional headshots and personal branding.”
But, as a popular song confirms, there’s more behind the picture than the wall.
As a youngster growing up in Avery County, Jonathan loved photography. At the age of 15, he participated in a cross-country adventure with Teens Camping Tour of the West. Already an enthusiastic landscape and scenic photographer, it was on that particular trip that he
April 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 39
First Place, Senior on Location - Indoor: Page Turner, Alyssa Thams. Photo by Burton Photography.
Judges Choice: A Place for Me, Alyssa Thams. Photo by Burton Photography.
Our daughter, Alyssa, chose to go to App State (from Iowa!) and we came to Boone for a college visit. Bonnie and Jonathan took her senior photos on that trip — and we loved them! They were so easy to work with and found the best locations that reflected Alyssa's personality. This past October, we went back to visit Alyssa at school and had the Burtons take family photos for us. They are amazing! The Burtons really personalized our shoot and got to know our family to create photos that really reflect who we are. We are so thankful to them for capturing our family and will cherish those photos for years to come.
- Emily Thams (mom of Alyssa, Class of '22). Alyssa's portrait, Page Turner, won 1st Place Senior Portrait on Location; Alyssa's other portrait, A Place of My Own, won Judge's Choice.
had several commercial locations, but for the last 16 years it has been a residential-based studio. He’s the first to admit that he enjoys the short commute to work. But, when he's not working, Jonathan enjoys hiking, golfing and watching football.
Bonnie has been enchanted with photography since her childhood days of looking over her older brother's shoulder in the darkroom of the recreation center near their home. Combining the magic of photography with her love of people put her on the path to becoming a portrait artist.
discovered just how much he enjoyed photographing his friends.
Today, he doesn’t hesitate to admit that his appreciation of God's creations plays a part in his desire to create portraits of people, especially in what he describes as “the beautiful environment of the Blue Ridge Mountains.”
Jonathan moved to Boone when his two children were school-aged; through the years, Burton Photography has
A lover of all the arts, Bonnie enjoyed an accomplished career as a music teacher and choral conductor before devoting herself completely to photography.
Bonnie grew up in Fayetteville and Long Island, New York, before moving to Winston-Salem to attend and graduate from Wake Forest University, magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa. She loves to hike, listen to music and spend time with family and friends, especially her nine-year-old granddaughter.
Having now worked together for over a dozen years, Jonathan and Bonnie share an artistic vision for the portraits they create — but each has his and her own flair and creative energy.
The Burtons’ sincere approach brought out the best in Maddie and made the beautiful images they captured possible. We'll cherish the portraits and the experience of creating them as one of the highlights of her senior year.
- Megan and Tom Ellis (parents of Maddie Ellis, Class of '23.) Maddie's portrait, Sweet Breeze, was chosen to be printed and put on display in the SYNC gallery during the conference.
“Working together, side by side, has been a joy,” they admit. “We feed off of each other's strengths.”
Plus, they say, the mutual respect and the deep love they share for one another have been important ingredients in their ability to successfully work together so closely on a daily basis.
Jonathan and Bonnie stay current with trends and advancements in
40 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE April 2023
Sweet Breeze, featuring Maddie Ellis, was chosen for display during the SYNC conference in Florida.
Photo by Burton Photography.
portraiture and keep their business skills sharp by attending several national educational events each year, such as Imaging USA put on by the Professional Photographers of America, and SYNC.
The couple has a trip to Minnesota planned for June , during which they will study with one of their favorite portrait artists to hone their skills and ignite their creativity.
“Continuing education is the fuel that keeps us moving forward on a successful path,” Bonnie says. “Learning new techniques for both shooting and post-processing, understanding advancements in technology, and taking deep dives into the creative process with other accomplished artists have kept our work fresh and up to date.”
Bonnie and Jonathan strive to create portraits that are timeless, authentic and storytelling. Each person has their own unique story and the Burtons approach each session open to fresh ideas. They believe that each person they photograph is “fearfully and wonderfully made — and have their own unique value and voice.”
Bonnie and Jonathan believe in the “superpowers of printed portraits,” they described, and specialize in creating art for their client's homes in the forms of customdesigned albums, handcrafted portrait boxes and canvas and metal wall art. All of their printed portraits are of archival and heirloom quality. Upon receiving their recent award, Jonathan said, "I felt shocked to be recognized with such an incredible award, given the high
Having senior portraits was important to me, because I wanted to make sure to remember that season of my life, although I already graduated in May of last year and am now a freshman at NC State. I still thoroughly enjoy looking through the pictures and reminiscing on all the fun I had taking them alongside my best friends. My favorite part of working with the Burtons is how much fun I remember having while taking these pictures. I was so nervous going into the session because my mom and I decided to do a group session with some of my close friends from high school, I was a little uneasy about everyone watching me, but Bonnie and Jonathan made sure I felt confident and beautiful the entire time.
April 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 41
Carlton Dyer featured in God’s Garden. Photo by Burton Photography.
- Carton Dyer, Watauga High School Senior Class of '22; Carlton's portrait is titled God's Garden.
From a young age, I have always loved working with the Burtons. Their talent has never failed to amaze me — even when I may not look my best! Their working environment is always positive and so fun to be around. I am thankful for how well they plan ahead so I always know how to dress. And, I swear, they know every spot in the High Country to take the best photos possible! Jonathan and Bonnie are some of the best photographers I know and are the most deserving of these awards!
quality of portraits entered by gifted photographers I greatly admire."
Bonnie said, "Being recognized as SYNC Photographers of the Year puts us in the company of immensely talented
42 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE April 2023
Simply stated, Brooke Scheffler loves working with the Burtons and helped add yet another winning entry to the photographers’ collection of awards. Photo by Burton Photography.
- Brooke Scheffler (class of ‘23), featured in the winning photo titled Brooke.
A Rare Accomplishment —Photographer of the Year and 10 Awards of Excellence
When asked about the Burtons, Darty Hines, co-founder/owner of SYNC had this to say:
“Jonathan and Bonnie Burton have been a part of the Senior and Youth National Conference (SYNC) for many years. They have been attending annually since 2019 and were one of our featured speakers at in 2021. The Burtons are well respected in our photography community and are always willing to help other attendees better their craft and continue to support and uplift our industry.”
Hines elaborated, “SYNC offers an image competition to all attendees of the conference. This year, we celebrated our 15th year of the conference and competition. Attendees have the opportunity to enter images of their work to be judged by a prestigious group of industry leaders who have been trained to analyze the images and score them based on the provided criteria by our organization. Scoring is based on a scale of 0 to 100. When an image scores 80 or higher, it is considered above average and is awarded an Award Of Excellence. There were 12 primary categories at this year's competition. Once scoring has been completed, the Top 10 in each category are brought back in front of the judges for a head-to-head discussion to determine the trophy winners.”
Hines continued, “The most prestigious trophies in the SYNC competition is the Photographer Of The Year and Best Of Show. This year, the Burtons were the judges' choice to win both of these awards, which is rare at our competition. The Photographer Of the Year receives a trophy and over $1,500 in prizes donated by our vendors and sponsors. “
Furthermore, Hines explained, “Jonathan and Bonnie Burton entered 15 images; 10 scored 80 and above for an Award of Excellence; two scored 90 and above. The Best of Show image scored 98 — just two points from a perfect score. Only 29 images scored 90 and above out of the 1,076 entered. The Burtons had (two) 90 and higher. Both images scoring 90 or above from the Burtons were from the High School Senior Outdoor on Location category, which this was the most popular category. with over 400 entries.”
The competition is entered by professional portrait photographers from all across the United States, Hines added. “Most of those who enter specialize in high school senior photography.”
April 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 43
The Burtons had the capability to really listen and understand the vision I had for a specific shot I requested for Skylar’s senior photos. We worked together and collaborated with ideas, and it resulted in a beautiful, breathtaking image. These pictures represent a moment in time. Crossing over from childhood to becoming a young adult. They skillfully capture playful, youthful glimpses alongside images of a young woman. It’s an obvious talent, and we are very lucky to have their work on our walls for years to come.
44 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE April 2023
- Fushia and Gary Moss, parents of Skylar Moss.
Best of Show: Repose, Skyar Moss. Photo by Burton Photography.
As one of Burtons’ Top 10 photos during the SYNC competition. Chase Dixon and Charlie are captured in a breathtaking scene that drew the attention of the judges.
Photo by Burton Photography.
It’s easy to see how “Easy Breezy,” featuring Laurel West, was among the winners during the recent competition. Photo by Burton Photography.
high school senior portrait artists. Achieving this level of recognition jointly with Jonathan makes it all the sweeter. Being validated in this way is thoroughly satisfying."
Jonathan and Bonnie keep company with many wonderful professionals in the industry and appreciate their friendship and influence. "We don't operate in a vacuum, and we are grateful for our photographer friends who help make our success possible."
And, family support means everything, the couple agreed. “We feel as though we always have a cheering squad behind us, urging us to keep going!”
“We work together seamlessly joined at the hip like a three-legged race,” Bonnie described. “Operating a studio together presents expected challenges, but more importantly, opportunities for growth and improvement.”
Giving back to the community is a cherished part of their lives in the High Country, they added. They use their talents and skills regularly to raise funds for the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, Watauga
High School Student Government, Oasis and others.
To learn more about the Burtons, visit their website at NCphotographer.com and @burtonphotographyseniors on Instagram. t
April 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 45
Third Place, Senior on Location - Outdoor & Judges Choice: Here Comes the Sun, Max Midgett.
Photo by Burton Photography.
In another of Burton Photography’s Top 10, “Close to Heaven” with Emmy Reams says it all. Photo by Burton Photography.
Casting Bread's Inaugural
Kentucky Derby No Tea High Tea
5:30-7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 6, 2023 Green Park Inn
Hollywood & The High Country 1987-1993
The year was 1987, more precisely a multi-year span between the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the Hollywood movie industry discovered the North Carolina High Country. In rapid succession, several notable films were produced either partially or entirely within the High Country region, namely The Last of the Mohicans (Daniel Day-Lewis); The Handmaid’s Tale (Faye Dunaway); Chapter Perfect (Wilford Brimley); The Green Mile (Tom Hanks) and the television series Rescue 911, among other productions such as television commercials.
If you missed the action, which is not surprising given movie-maker’s desires to remain anonymous, here’s a bit of a rundown: Last of the Mohicans was filmed adjacent to Grandfather Mountain, utilizing nearby Lake James for its military fort setting; The Handmaid’s Tale incorporated scenes atop Sugar Mountain, where law enforcement snowmobilers’ raced across frigid dunes adjacent to the condominiums of Sugar Top, with other scenes filmed on Grandfather Mountain; The Greene Mile which utilized the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Cone Manor Estate; Chapter Perfect (Wilford
48 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE April 2023
STORY BY PETER W. MORRIS
They're gonna put me in the movies; They're gonna make a big star out of me.
- Buck Owens, Singer
Winter People cast of extras. Photo by Peter Morris.
Brimley, Lucky Vanous) was filmed entirely in Blowing Rock; and a segment of Rescue 911 was produced across from the New Market Center, in Boone, where a house was set afire for a scene depicting the rescue of several children.
All of these films utilized “local talent” in the form of extras and featured extras (more screen time) and others in varied roles including production assistants, craftsmen and medical technicians.
This brings us to the one film which captured the High Country’s attention for a full two-months back in the late 1980s, The Winter People. During the fall of that year, residents were literally obsessed with all the film’s goings-on. The newspapers were filled with the actions taking place in Avery County’s Plumtree, which was taken over with constant production venues.
Winter People starred Kurt Russell, Kelly McGillis and Lloyd Bridges, in addition to other well known headliners including Mitch Ryan, Eileen Ryan and Don Michael Paul.
Many dozens of local wannabe actors from Watauga, Avery and Ashe counties had signed up for appearances in Winter People, most of them being hired on the spot as extras. “Yes, you are all actors!” noted Pam Plummer from Fincannon & Associates of Wilmington, North Carolina, the agency responsible for casting.
Everybody was seeking a moment of fame (Their 15 minutes?) and were especially enticed when they found out that they would be paid daily for their participation, making them, of course, professional actors!
One family of four, who had saved their checks until the end of filming, went to the bank to deposit some 72 checks they’d received for acting, each of the children purchasing new bikes with their portions.
Unknown to many, Winter People was directed by Ted Kotcheff who, while not as easily recognizable as the likes of Steven Spielberg, was soon to attain his own level of fame as the director of Rambo First Blood, which propelled Sylvester Stallone to even greater superstar status after his Rocky films.
Winter People was written by High Country native John Ehle.
The “tiny” community of Plumtree was literally changed over a few weeks’ time from mountain hamlet to a Depression Era community where a young clockmaker, Wayland Jackson (Russell) and his daughter, Asheville’s Amelia Burnette, accidently wander into it to become both unexpected and distrusted residents. They are welcomed by Collie Wright (McGillis) and her baby, Jonathan, who provide shelter from the winter storms. Thus begins a feud between families, one of monumental proportions, with death and hate playing factors in exciting detail.
“Being an extra in Winter People was great fun for this longtime film aficionado, who’d always wanted to be an actor but, unfortunately, never had the opportunity or, I’m afraid, the talent required,” said JP Huston. “We spent six days a week on set, occasionally getting a call to appear before the camera (or way, way behind it) for a segment of the film. I made a lot of friends doing my time in the movie and kept in touch with a few over the years. But,” he continued, “many of them have now passed since the late 80s, and I’ve lost contact.”
Noted extra Ann Randall, of Boone, in a recent interview, “I ran across newspaper clippings I had saved of the time the Winter People movie was filmed on location in Plumtree. My
We spent six days a week on set, occasionally getting a call to appear before the camera (or way, way behind it) for a segment of the film. I made a lot of friends doing my time in the movie and kept in touch with a few over the years.
- JP HUSTON
April 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 49
Movie poster for Winter People, directed by Ted Kotcheff. Photo courtesy of the Winter People press kit.
family, in November of 1987, had been extras and featured extras in different scenes. It was so interesting to see how much time and effort was spent creating and filming the movie,” she added. “We developed friendships with many other extras as we sat around waiting for the next call to action; many fun stories were shared as we passed the hours as we waited. Interacting with the Hollywood stars at times, we found some were very gracious. It was all a most interesting experience.”
Numerous extras at the time of production highlighted their own feelings of potential instant fame and glory.
Joe Rhodes: “I’m just interested in anything going on in the mountains; I want to see that these mountain areas are accurately portrayed. There are a lot of good folks here and beautiful country.
Clara Dixon: “You can’t imagine how excited I’ve been. I’m a middle-aged extra. When you’re 46, you’ve got to have something in life to give you a life!”
Kathleen Robbins: “I haven’t acted in 50-years, when I had the lead in three high school productions. I still have the acting bug; I just hope I can still cry on cue!”
While there were rumors among the extras after the film was shot and released—talk of Oscar wins and the like—Winter People was not received well by critics.
Said Roger Ebert, nationally famed critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, “The Campbells (Winter People’s reigning family) are large, unkempt, bearded hillbillies who ride around on horses and shoot their guns and drink moonshine and would have been drawn by Al Capp
with flies buzzing around their heads. They have no human dimension.”
Another stalwart of journalistic renown, the New York Times suggested, “One of these days, maybe Kurt Russell and Kelly McGillis will look back at Winter People' and laugh. It has some very funny moments, though it is meant to be an utterly serious drama. It is a historical drama, set in the Depression. It is a family drama, with a HatfieldMcCoy-type feud and pained facial expressions. It is a bad drama, in which a gentle clockmaker goes on a bear hunt to prove his love for a skeptical woman with a backwoods accent.”
While film criticism doesn’t always make or break a movie, there are many other viewers who hailed Winter People as a most enjoyable film.
These anonymous Internet filmgoers hailed it as, “Thoroughly enjoyable! I
I’m just interested in anything going on in the mountains; I want to see that these mountain areas are accurately portrayed. There are a lot of good folks here and beautiful country. I love it!
- JOE RHODES
50 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE April 2023
I love it!”
Joe Rhodes and Anna Randall. Photo by Peter Morris.
Female extras stop for a rest on the steps of the general store's front porch. Photo by Peter Morris.
I haven’t acted in 50-years, when I had the lead in three high school productions. I still have the acting bug; I just hope I can still cry on cue!
- KATHLEEN ROBBINS
can’t think of any flaws whatever with this film. The scenery is beautiful as well.” And, “This was a surprisingly wonderful movie. I love the mountains, and the way these people lived was incredibly awesome.”
However, all High Country actors and visitors hailed the film with enthusiasm. Endearing incidents were a day-to-day delight as activities were passed around to those associated with the filming.
I ran across newspaper clippings I had saved of the time the Winter People movie was filmed on location in Plumtree. My family, in November of 1987, had been extras and featured extras in different scenes. It was so interesting to see how much time and effort was spent creating and filming the movie.
- ANN RANDALL
April 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 51
Lanny Flaherty and Lloyd Bridges with Bridges's grandchildren for the film, J.L. Morris at the front. Photo by Peter Morris.
Extras for the movie purchased business cards that read "Yes, I am a movie star," some giving them to star-struck visitors. Photo courtesy of Peter Morris.
High Country Magazine writer Peter Morris was among the group of locals who were extras in Winter People. Photo courtesy of Peter Morris.
Extras were expected to be at the old Cranberry School, outside of Newland, by 5AM daily except Sundays. They were then dressed in Depression Era costume clothing by Academy Awardnominee Ruth Morley (Annie Hall). They were later transported to the Plumtree production site, 10-miles distant, by a Greyhound charter bus.
One Saturday while the filming of Winter People was delayed, townspeople from Avery and Watauga counties flocked to the otherwise cordoned-off set. Extras all mingled with the star-struck visitors. Some handed out “Yes, I am a movie star!” business cards obtained from a local merchant. One extra was approached by a visitor, who asked, “Are you a movie star?” But, before she could answer, the visitor said, “Oh, autograph my book anyway!”
All extras were housed in the Plumtree Presbyterian Church, which had an exterior designed to resemble a barn with a hayloft, where they were housed between takes.
Every High Country local found it hilarious when Winter People set dressers added snow and ice textures to the set in October and November, after not using natural snow earlier when it was available.
A clerk in a Boone store exclaimed that Kelly McGillis had bought a few cards at her register. “Oh, I couldn’t put her check in the register, I just had to keep it for myself for her signature, paying the small amount myself!”
Star sightings were taking place around Boone and Newland each and every weekend throughout the filming, mostly on
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Kurt Russell and his film daughter, Amelia Burnette, who was from Asheville, NC. Photo courtesy of the Winter People press kit.
John Ehle, author of the book Winter People. Photo by Peter Morris.
Sundays when production was halted. “Kelly McGillis and Lloyd Bridges were seen everywhere, with Kurt Russell and longtime lady Goldie Hawn were seen together shopping for crafts.
Winter People extras eagerly purchased logo-themed sweatshirts at the end of the shoot, happily wearing them in blue, red and white at soon as they got back home.
When Winter People finished shooting, “antique” merchandise cans which lined the shelves in the film’s country store were in popular demand; they had all been donated for the movie by the Mast Store, in Valle Crucis.
Extras were all treated Hollywood-style when lunch time rolled around for on-site catering by a California company, enjoying specialized culinary offerings for the crews who insisted on healthy entrees.
After Winter People was wrapped, edited, and publicized by Castle Rock Entertainment, a private showing for all High Country locales involved was premiered in Spruce Pine on a cold and snowy Saturday. The crowd went wild!
Later in the year, after Winter People was distributed nationally and internationally, a special showing was staged at Boone’s Appalachian Theatre for all those willing to pay the then-unheard-of-price of $10.00 per-ticket. It turned out to be a festive occasion with speeches by the film’s extras, door prizes and communal good cheer. One lady, in exiting the theatre was heard saying, “It was worth every penny!”
While Winter People has lived long in local history and folklore, many of its regional actors were infected with continuing star-status longings.
Some of the extras went on to greater film endeavors. Several appeared in Chapter Perfect, The Green Mile, Last of the Mohicans and Trapper County War, which was filmed in Asheville. One actor, whose name escaped memory, proudly proclaimed after filming a scene in the under-siege fort in Last of the Mohicans, “I got to die in Madeleine Stowe’s arms!” speaking of Daniel Day Lewis’s costar in the film.
April 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 53
Film director of Winter People, Ted Kotcheff, who went on to film Rambo First Blood.
Photo by Peter Morris.
One actress, who chose to remain anonymous, followed up her Winter People experience by hiring a Charlotte talent scout, the Nancy Watson Agency, which immediately offered a speaking role in a film titled Black Rainbow, which starred Jason Robards and Rosanna Arquette.
“I was paid a ridiculous amount of money for two-day’s work!” she laughed. Although this role led to her becoming SAG (Screen Actors Guild) eligible, she nonethe-less decided to leave acting to join Boone’s Samaritan’s Purse, from which she recently retired.
For those seeking more information about the “nuts and bolts” of Winter People, the Avery County Historical Museum, in Newland, has an extensive display of movie
54 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE April 2023
Kelley McGillis of Winter People. Photo by Peter Morris.
Lighting technician doing his thing.
Photo by Peter Morris.
Part of the "hostile clan" ride into town.
Photo by Peter Morris.
memorabilia from the film. They are open limited hours during the winter; their phone number is (828) 733-7111.
Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, most of the High Country cast of Winter People have passed away in the decades since the film was released, as most were “middle aged” during the production in the late 1980s. However, there were three Watauga and Avery County children filmed who are now themselves in their mid-40s and doing well, two having gone on to other film and commercial roles. The fourth child, Amelia Burnette, who appeared as Kurt Russell’s daughter, did herself continue her acting career in The Ryan White Story and other films.
Winter People still stands fresh in the minds of residents, as many children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews still talk about when their relatives were short-term movie stars back in the “good ol’ days.” t
April 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 55
Blowing Rock Historical Society Preserving the Past
STORY BY KRIS TESTORI
With its majestic scenery and charming, quaint downtown, the Village of Blowing Rock has a storied history of captivating people from all over. The Blowing Rock Historical Society (BRHS) plays a vital role in protecting and documenting the town's historic character. Founded in 1985 by local residents, the foundation's mission is to preserve and protect the historical character and charm of the village.
"We preserve the area's past while working towards the future," said BRHS president Tom O'Brien. BRHS offers multiple opportunities to explore Blowing Rock's history, whether learning about historic Main Street, visiting the town's history exhibit at the Blowing Rock Arts and History Museum, or touring the charming Edgewood Cottage to view the art displayed as part of the Artists in Residence at Edgewood Cottage program.
O'Brien joined the Blowing Rock Historical Society in 2018 after chairing the Artist in Residence program and learning about the town's history. "I became a huge fan of Blowing Rock's historic charm and culture after reading Dr. Barry Buxton's book, 'Blowing Rock A Village Tapestry.'
This was a startling turnaround for a guy who generally didn't enjoy history classes," he shared. Buxton authored "A Village Tapestry," publishing it in 1989. The book explores the complete history of Blowing Rock and offers an engaging insight into the town's colorful past.
After O'Brien became more involved with the Blowing Rock Historical Society, he said he felt the organization had tremendous potential that needed to be met. "We had most of our history stored in a locked closet, our membership was aging and declining, and our community wasn't being served as effectively as it could have," he said. O'Brien felt his decades of leadership experience would benefit the BRHS. "Since getting involved, we as an organization have successfully brought our history to life for our community. That inspires me to be as active as I have been."
When speaking with various members of the BRHS, a clear theme weaves through each individual's account of the importance of the group– bringing history to life. O'Brien summarizes, "Our first and most important goal is to continue bringing history to life for our community. Finding places and ways to present interesting aspects of Blowing Rock is the most
56 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE April 2023
The Village of Blowing Rock has a storied history of captivating people from all over. Photo by Lonnie Webster.
Our first and most important goal is to continue bringing history to life for our community. Finding places and ways to present interesting aspects of Blowing Rock is the most important service we can provide our community. We stay focused on making more history available to our community and visitors every year
- TOM O'BRIEN
important service we can provide our community. We stay focused on making more history available to our community and visitors every year." Blowing Rock Mayor Charlie Sellers, also a board member of BRHS, agrees, "I think every community must embrace their history and find a way to share it," he said. "Every community needs to remember their history; When you forget history, good, bad or indifferent, you are more likely to repeat it."
Blowing Rock History Walk
O'Brien explains that various individuals, throughout the years, have contributed significantly to capturing the town's history. He considers the upcoming Blowing Rock History Walk one of the most important contributions BRHS will make to preserving the community's heritage in recent years. "It is a marvelous way to bring our history to life," he said.
The Blowing Rock History Walk will consist of 21 stations, each with a historical narrative and many with seating. We were looking for places and ways to bring Blowing Rock's past to our visitors and the entire community," O'Brien said. "We intentionally pulled many compelling aspects of our history that tell the story of our evolution and people, events, and places that have made Blowing Rock what it is today."
The self-guided tour will begin on Laurel Lane near Main Street, taking visitors on a trip through the town's history. It will proceed to Broyhill Park, around its beautiful lake, and then back up Laurel Lane to Main Street. The signs have QR codes so people can get more information on each location. O'Brien said he also hopes the Blowing Rock Elementary school will use the history walk for educational purposes and that it will draw in tourists looking for cultural and heritage activities when traveling.
"This will be yet another community asset," O'Brien said. "We believe a wide variety of people will enjoy the walk, including families that have lived here for generations, newcomers, and visitors. It will be one more
thing for our visitors to do while in town, and we think it may help move some of the crowd from Main Street into our beautiful park one block away. We envision this will be a great place for picnics."
On June 1, the town will celebrate Blowing Rock History Day. At this event, Mayor Charlie Sellers, along with the BRHS and the Village Foundation, will host the ribbon cutting for the 21 stations of the History Walk. "The town of Blowing Rock is throwing a party," said O'Brien. "This is going to be a hell of a party," he added.
The History Walk is a partnership between the town, the Blowing Rock Historical Society, and the Blowing Rock Village Foundation. The town provided the land for the stations. The Blowing Rock Village Foundation was the fundraising arm, soliciting individual contributions from local families and organizations. BRHC significantly contributed to the funds required to build the project, and its members authored the history walk content. O'Brien shared, "Dr. Barry Buxton has been a very active participant in many of our recent initiatives and wrote over half of the history walk narratives."
April 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 57
BRHS president Tom O'Brien (left) stands with Dr. Barry Buxton, author of A Village Tapestry. Photo by Lonnie Webster.
Every community needs to remember their history; When you forget history, good, bad or indifferent, you are more likely to repeat it.
- CHARLIE SELLERS
Maintaining Two Historic Cottages; The Edgewood Cottage and The 1888 Museum
Historic home and gathering place for artists:
Edgewood Cottage, located on Main street across from St. Mary's of the Hills Episcopal Church, was the first home and studio of artist Elliott Daingerfield. Daingerfield spent his summers in Blowing Rock for more than 50 years and said he found a source of inspiration for his art in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Currently, Edgewood Cottage serves two crucial roles for BRHS. First, it houses the Artist in Residence Program in the late spring and summer months. "This is such a great program," said O'Brien. "It gives high country artists a chance to sell their art and to have it on display," he added. During the 15-week program, rotating artists create their own personal art gallery inside the Edgewood Cottage for one week. While some artists set up easels and paint, all of the artists interact with the visitors and sell their work. This program draws more than 6,000 visitors a summer to the historic Edgewood Cottage. The 2023 Artists in Residence Program runs from May 27 to September 10.
For many years the Cottage sat empty after the Artists in Residence Program ended in September. Members of the BRHC decided they wanted to find more uses for the Cottage because it was such an outstanding asset. In 2021 they opened it up as a professionally curated museum; operating daily, the Cottage now hosts exhibits telling the story of Blowing Rock's development and personalities through the ages. The current exhibition is labeled "A Giving Village - The History of Philanthropy in Blowing Rock.
The Edgewood Cottage was restored under the direction of BRHS, using the original architectural drawings Daingerfield sketched. The reconstruction was done using much of the original lumber and board. Completed in 2008, many people consider the home's most interesting architectural feature: the four-room fireplace rebuilt from the original bricks. Inside the Cottage, the original sketch by Daingerfield of the floor plan design is on display.
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Edgewood Cottage was the first home and studio of artist Elliott Daingerfield. Photo courtesy of BRHS.
Operating daily, the Cottage now hosts exhibits telling the story of Blowing Rock's development and personalities through the ages. Photo by Lonnie Webster.
The Edgewood Cottage was restored under the direction of BRHS, using the original architectural drawings Daingerfield sketched. Photo by Lonnie Webster.
1888 Museum Historical Hotel Cottage:
When Blowing Rock started as a resort community more than 125 years ago, the Watauga Hotel was built to take advantage of the growing tourism industry. Located in the middle of Main Street, where Memorial Park now sits, tourists came to escape the industrial life of late 19th-century American cities and the heat of lower elevations.
In 1888, the Watauga Hotel was so popular they added several small cottages to the perimeter of the hotel property, where single rooms with room and board were rented for fifteen dollars a month. The 1888 Museum is one of the last remaining examples of these small cottages, which the town purchased in 1939. Today the building serves as a museum that emphasizes Blowing Rock's long history of supporting tourism. One room is furnished similarly to what one would have rented, complete with a wash basin and chamber pot. The second room features photos and items from Blowing Rock's early hotels, including Mayview Manor (1921-1966) and the Farm House Inn (1951-1998).
In 2020, the BRHS improved and completely re-curated the museum, adding an ADAcompliant side porch facing Memorial Park and a second door. "We will be doing more work on the cottage soon," said O'Brien. "We want to ensure it is as similar to the Watauga Inn as possible."
The BRHS uses various types of media to preserve and capture the history of Blowing Rock. Beginning in 2019, thousands of historical photos and documents have been digitized and made more easily accessible. Members of the BRHS continue to add photos each year. In 2022, more than 11,000 photographs and 550 historic postcards of old Blowing Rock were digitized.
The program, "Blowing Rock in Transition," is a photographic record of the evolving changes to Main Street and Valley Boulevard. Every two years, photos of buildings and events on those two streets are compiled, creating a record of our wonderful village, and its changes, over time. The program, started in 2009 by the former Blowing Rocket Editor Jerry Burns, is continued today by BRHS board member and photographer Lonnie Webster.
In addition to preserving historical photos and documents, BRHS is tracing its historical roots through video production. Last year,
April 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 59
The 1888 Museum emphasizes Blowing Rock's long history of supporting tourism. Photo by Lonnie Webster.
One room in the museum is furnished similarly to what one would have rented in the Watauga Hotel. Photo courtesy of BRHS.
In 2020, the BRHS improved and completely re-curated the museum, adding an ADA compliant side porch facing Memorial Park and a second door. Photo by Lonnie Webster.
Barry Buxton, in a joint project with BRHS and the Blowing Rock Civic Association, created a video titled "A Village Tapestry."
"I identified eight topics and vignettes and produced a video about each," Buxton said. "I chose topics that were interesting and fun for people.” The historical narrative, shot on location, was a big success with two public showings. Buxton was encouraged to do another series after the success of the first. "I decided to create a video called "Queens of Blowing Rock," he said. The video will showcase eight women who made substantial contributions to Blowing Rock. "Some of these stories were lost to the fog of time, and their story may not be prominent," Buxton added. "As I identify the women, I get into their lives and their psyche and understand who they were, what motivated them, and where their passion was." Buxton plans to shoot and edit the video over the summer and is planning for an August debut.
While the videos are mainly Buxton's projects, he works with the BRHS to locate documents and historical photos to help illustrate the stories. The Broyhill Family Foundation is the underwriter for the associated costs.
The BRHS, in collaboration with the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum (BRAHM), brings Blowing Rock's history to life with two educational resources; the Historic Marker Program and a history museum exhibition.
Downtown Blowing Rock Historic Marker Program:
This program recognizes buildings and sites within the community
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Located in the middle of Main Street, where Memorial Park now sits, The Watauga Hotel was built to take advantage of the growing tourism industry. Photo courtesy of BRHS.
St. Mary of the Hills Episcopal Church has been identified by the Historic Marker Program as a site of significance. Photo by Lonnie Webster.
Dating back to 1912, Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church has been marked for historical significance. Photo by Lonnie Webster.
of Blowing Rock that contributes to Blowing Rock's historical culture and charm. The mission of this program is to assist in educating the public about the rich history of Blowing Rock while adding distinction to individual homes, commercial buildings, and sites of significance.
Large red oval markers are displayed at the chosen locations of historical significance, identifying the year of initial construction, the original owner or builder, and key elements of the property's significance. The marker committee has identified over 125 properties in the downtown area alone that are at least 50 years old.
A map containing all of the historical markers is available at the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce, also one of the historic marker sites. The Chamber is housed in the former Miller Robbins House, constructed in 1903 for the family of Cicero Miller, owner of Miller General Mercantile. In 1919, Blowing Rock mayor and civic leader Grover C. Robbins, Sr., and his wife Lena, Cicero Miller's daughter, acquired the home. Currently serving as home to the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce, the Miller / Robbins house is also a visitor's center and is open to the public.
The Blowing Rock Art and History Museum Exhibition:
The BRHS, in collaboration with the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum, houses a permanent exhibition exploring the history of the town of Blowing Rock and its place in the High Country.
Blowing Rock has many stories to tell, and a section of this exhibition is periodically refreshed to focus on different areas of Blowing Rock's history. This year, BRHS is undertaking
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The property of the historic Blowing Rock Ice House has served many purposes. Photo by Lonnie Webster.
a substantial exhibit refresh. Residing in the Museum's upstairs gallery, the exhibit is named Stevens Gallery in honor of the cofounder of BRHS, Virginia ("Ginny") & David Stevens of the Blowing Rock Historical Society.
A tremendous number of people shaped and continue to shape the history of Blowing Rock, too many to mention. The recent leaders, who made significant contributions to preserving and documenting the town's history, stand on the shoulders of pioneers who came before them, including Grover Robbins Sr., Dr. Davant, and the Broyhill, Robbins, Tate, Harper, Bernhart, and Cannon families.
Virginia “Ginny” Stevens
The co-founder of the Blowing Rock Historical Society, Stevens was once described in "Our State" magazine as the "sprightly attendant at the tiny white cottage-turned history museum adjacent to the town's picturesque Memorial Park." For many years, Ginny Stevens diligently worked with the BRHS to preserve and promote Blowing Rock's history; she also spent a great deal of time working at the 1888 Museum (housed in the last remaining cottage of the historic Watauga Hotel.) Under Ginny's leadership, the BRHS restored and opened the Edgewood Cottage, home of artist Elliott Daingerfield.
After her death in 2010, The Friends of Ginny Stevens Committee was formed, memorializing and showing appreciation for Stevens' contributions to the town. The committee petitioned the Blowing Rock Town Council to give Chestnut Street her
name, and in June 2018, they were ready to dedicate the street. Ginny Stevens Lane runs in front of the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum and along the side of Edgewood Cottage.
Jerry Burns, who died in 2010, played such an essential role in preserving the history of Blowing Rock that each year the Blowing Rock Historical
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Virginia “Ginny” Stevens, co-founder of the Blowing Rock Historical Society.
Photo by Lonnie Webster.
Known as "Mr. Blowing Rock," Jerry Burns donated all of his collections of photos and archives to the BRHS. Photo by Lonnie Webster
Each year, the BRHS celebrates Jerry Burns's life and dedication to Blowing Rock with Jerry Burns Day on June 18. Photo by Lonnie Webster.
Society celebrates his life and dedication to Blowing Rock with Jerry Burns Day. Known locally as "Mr. Blowing Rock," Burns was the editor, chief writer, and photographer for the Blowing Rocket for 44 years. He was also active in numerous civic, religious, and community organizations, including Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church, the Blowing Rock Stage Company, the Blowing Rock Historical Society, the Blowing Rock Hospital, and Blowing Rock Fire & Rescue, among others.
"Jerry was a native of Blowing Rock, and the town's history was very important to him," said his widow, Janice Burns. "He had lots of stories of growing up in town and lots of fun. At the Blowing Rocket, he did a lot of historical articles about the history of Blowing Rock. When he retired, he donated all of his collections of photos and archives to the Blowing Rock Historical Society. He loved his town, and the history was really important to him."
April 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 63
Joseph Dulaney is the grandson of artist Elliott Daingerfield. Photo by Lonnie Webster.
Jerry Burns, who died in 2010, played such an essential role in preserving the history of Blowing Rock. Photo by Lonnie Webster.
Dulaney is the grandson of artist Elliott Daingerfield. "He has made tremendous contributions to BRHS through his efforts and insights into our history," O'Brien said. "He shares his family history in honor of his grandfather, which is one more way we can bring Blowing Rock's history to life." On Main Street, one can tour the restored Edgewood Cottage, the Impressionist artist's first home, and the artist's studio in Blowing Rock. Daingerfield spent more than 50 years traveling between Blowing Rock and New York until his death in 1932. In 2017, a life-size bronze of the Elliott Daingerfield was unveiled to the public. Dulaney, bearing a remarkable resemblance to his grandfather, was the model for the periodstyle sculpture. Dulaney is a lifelong resident of Blowing Rock.
Mayor Charlie Sellers
Whether it's leading the Fourth of July Parade, emceeing the Jerry Burns Day Ceremony, or cutting the ribbon at a new business, it's unlikely you will find a bigger supporter of the town of Blowing Rock than Charlie Sellers. Sellers is a Blowing Rock native and is the current Mayor of Blowing Rock. He is a descendant of the Robbins Family and the grandson of the late Grover Robbins Jr., who started the Chamber of Commerce in Blowing Rock in 1928 and is often credited with bringing the tourist trade to Blowing Rock. Grover Robbins Jr. also started the Blowing Rock attraction; In 2014, Sellers took over the attraction and has been the proprietor ever since. "Charlie Sellers has made a major contribution to leading BRHS," O'Brien said. Sellers and his wife, Deatra, sponsor the Stevens Gallery exhibit in the Blowing Rock Art and Science Museum in honor of his grandfather. Sellers serves on the BRHS Board of Directors and is also a member of the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce.
Dr. Barry Buxton
Barry Buxton was born and raised in Blowing Rock. "It will always be my home," he said. Buxton has been a teacher, researcher, publisher, editor, and community leader with extensive international experience. He served as the president of Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, NC. from 2010-2018. Prior to his tenure at the college, Buxton authored the book "A Village Tapestry, The History of Blowing Rock" in 1989. The book was reprinted several years ago by the BRHS and continues to be available for those wanting to gain engaging insight into the town's colorful history.
Buxton joined BRHS in 2018 after retiring from Lees-McRae College and moving back to Blowing Rock. "I was very proud of their work," he said. "I wanted to help preserve the unique history of Blowing Rock. There is no other place like it,” he added. When asked why he thought preserving history was important, Buxton replied, "Remember, Geroge Sanyayan said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” History is very, very important. We natives [of Blowing Rock] were concerned Blowing Rock's history would go by the wayside if we didn't document it.”
Buxton shares he is concerned that local history is very often the forgotten part of history. "The Blowing Rock that you love would not be what it is today without the amazing people, developments, and its natural beauty. I champion the notion that in our branding of Blowing Rock, we emphasize that rich history and natural beauty go hand in hand. It is an excellent combination for us to keep in mind going forward into the future.” t
64 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE April 2023
Mayor Charlie Sellers speaks at the Symphony by the Lake at Chetola. Photo by Lonnie Webster.
Dr. Barry Buxton has been a teacher, researcher, publisher, editor, and community leader with extensive international experience. Photo by Lonnie Webster.
April 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 65
Great Southern Gothic:
STORY BY HARLEY NEFE
When strolling the streets of downtown West Jefferson, there’s a hidden gem of a business that visitors may miss if they don’t look closely – a place where imaginations run wild and paranormal beliefs are discovered.
Guests are encouraged to look for a purple building with a red awning because what is beyond the entrance may just blow one’s mind. Ascending the red stairs, which have been painted with descriptions like “oddities” and “curiosities,” folks are able to enter a different realm that sparks wonder.
“Come up the red steps for a healthy dose of novelty and fun. I guarantee you have never seen anything quite like it,” invited local business owner Zeea Jones.
Zeea is the creator of Great Southern Gothic, a curiosity shoppe and escape room which “embraces everything southern, from the mysteries of the Appalachian Mountains all the way to the genteel deep south.”
“I am an Ashe County native with a humble background just tryin’ to make a livin’ in a town I grew up in,” Zeea said. “A lot of people leave, but I’m still here … and for good reason.”
According to the business’s description, this magical place meshes light and dark, raw and refined, and natural and fantastical to create a unique experience. After all, its tagline is “It’s not just a shop, it’s an experience.”
“From the decorations to the displays, the music selection, and the overall atmosphere, it is an experience,” Zeea described.
And this experience is celebrating its eight-year anniversary as Great Southern Gothic emerged from the shadows on April 4, 2015.
“In the summer of 2014, I decided I wanted to try opening a shop in West Jefferson,” Zeea shared. “The shop would be based around the theme of southern gothic, and it would draw from different influences of southern culture, from the haunted southern
Appalachian Mountains down to the voodoo of New Orleans. I wanted it to be kind of a mix of a general store, curiosity shop, apothecary, and art gallery. It’s a strange and quirky blend of light and dark. It’s a place dedicated to history, alternative art, ghost stories, superstition, folk magic, and ‘old timey’ remedies – a purveyor of all things to satisfy the curious mind.”
Curiouser and Curiouser
The steps that lead up to the curiosity shop advertise the wide variety of local and U.S. handcrafted novelty items and mystical gifts that can be found at Great Southern Gothic.
“I want to encourage people to at least come up and see what’s in here,” Zeea said. “I know some people actually aren’t able to come up the stairs. I understand that, but some people see the stairs and get discouraged or they see the name. They just don’t get it or understand what I have. I try to write on the steps – this is what we have – to make it more friendly and inviting.”
Terms like herbs, tea, salve, candles, incense, crystals, jewelry, beard care, soap, bath bombs, lotions, perfumes, posters, local art, t-shirts, and more decorate the path to the store.
“I do tend to cycle out the merchandise pretty frequently,” Zeea described. “I have a section of bath and body care – soaps, lotions, and perfumes. Then I have a jewelry section, where I made some of the earrings and necklaces. I also have different antiques and stuff I find that’s interesting – old bottles, figurines. I create one-of-a-kind pieces too.”
The store specializes in handmade apothecary goods but has expanded to include books and divination tools among a plethora of other products. Zeea’s goal is to find and collect unique objects that people don’t see elsewhere.
“People go to shops like this a lot or have similar stores in their areas, but they say I have the most
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It’s not just a shop, it’s an experience
unique selection,” she said. “I think it’s because I try to source from all different areas.”
Zeea also strives to keep her merchandise affordable.
“A lot of my customers are local teens who come in after school, and they get a few little things to make them happy,” Zeea shared. “I don’t have anything in here that’s too obscene. I keep it family friendly.”
She further said, “I want people to be more openminded and look at what’s here before they judge and to not take stuff so seriously. It’s not for everybody, even though I like to say that there’s something here for everybody. Some people don’t get it or it’s not their thing, and that’s okay. It’s a niche market. It’s a curiosity shop. I want people to come in with curious minds and be openminded.”
Parents are encouraged to stay with their children while in the store in order to give guidance. The many
different objects often spark the opportunity for conversations.
“I have all different styles of items available in the shop, not just gothic – that’s just more of what the shop is named,” Zeea explained. “My mission with the shop is to help people have
I wanted it to be kind of a mix of a general store, curiosity shop, apothecary, and art gallery. It’s a strange and quirky blend of light and dark. It’s a place dedicated to history, alternative art, ghost stories, superstition, folk magic, and ‘old timey’ remedies – a purveyor of all things to satisfy the curious mind.
April 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 67
- ZEEA JONES
Zeea Jones, owner of Great Southern Gothic, poses during a photoshoot for shop promo. Photo by Cassondra G Photography.
fun and provide my customers with products to help them care for and express themselves.”
This is an appropriate mission as Great Southern Gothic is a compilation of Zeea’s life experiences and is an example of one pursuing their passion and not being afraid to be their authentic self.
“I used to be really shy but wanted to talk to people,” Zeea said. “So, this has helped me really branch out. I don’t want it to be something that can be taken away from me easily. This is my passion, and I’m doing what I can to keep it going … With the business that I am in – the entertainment business – I might as well be wacky and crazy and go all out to find my actual audience because that’s who is going to want the stuff.”
She further said, “I feel like it’s my life. Southern gothic encompasses me and my personality, so I called it Great Southern Gothic. And people were like, ‘You probably don’t want to call it that because of where you live. It’s a small town, and people won’t really understand,’ and I’m like, that’s just what it is – it has always been Great Southern Gothic.”
Zeea first learned about the genre of southern gothic in high school, and at that time, she had already found interest in the gothic subculture.
“The concept of gothic can be summed up with the words dark, romantic, mysterious, and supernatural with elements of horror,” Zeea stated. “And this concept can be used to describe novels, movies, music, and fashion, etc. As far as southern gothic goes, it applies gothic to the culture and landscape of various locations in the American South. People often tell me my shop reminds them of some of the shops in New Orleans.”
Zeea further shared that the concept of Great Southern Gothic came about when a few different ideas, arising from various types of media, melded together at once.
“Season 3 of American Horror Story came out October 2013, and I loved it,” Zeea explained. “It is about witches in New Orleans. I also had recently watched Practical Magic, and in the movie, one of the witches has an herbal apothecary store where she sells her handmade creams, shampoos, and bubble baths. From a young age, I identified with the ‘witch' archetype of being powerful, knowledgeable, and most of all, mysterious. I always liked mixing up potions.”
When she first started, Zeea called her business an apothecary to place focus on the herbal goods and elixirs that exist. However, it has since grown to become a curiosity shop.
Zeea stated she knew she always wanted to be an artist as she has been interested in making and selling items since the age of 18, and maybe even before then. Zeea, who also goes by the artist name of “Darling,” began her journey as an
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Hand poured candles with a variety of scents can be found among the shelves. Photo courtesy of GSG.
Hand dipped incense is ready to be burned to release its fragrant smoke. Photo courtesy of GSG.
entrepreneur by starting an Etsy account where she sold handmade items in the past under various shop names and themes.
“I always tried to figure out ways to start little businesses,” Zeea said. “I always had ideas when I was younger. I figured out how to get pictures from online and print them and make them into iron ons, and I knew I could sell those.”
She further shared, “I had different stuff I tried to sell or make and do when I was in my early 20s, and then I decided I wanted to open an actual business.”
Zeea knew the new business venture was meant to be just after she signed the lease because she happened to have purchased some skeleton keys from an antique dealer around the same time. Two of the keys that she bought unlocked doors to the space.
“I like the idea of keys because what do they go to? I like the mystery of it,” Zeea described. “I felt like this was destiny. I don’t feel like anything is a coincidence. Synchronicity – everything is connected. It felt like a very magical moment and that I was on the right path.”
Another neat revelation Zeea experienced relates to her name.
“I recently found out that my name translates to shine, light, and splendor in other languages,” Zeea explained. “My mom didn’t know that when she named me. Life is magical to me.”
In relation to her name, the business has an overarching theme of light and dark as Zeea stated she feels her purpose is to convert darkness to light.
“There’s a weird thing that when it says gothic, people don’t understand,” Zeea said. “It does have to deal with death, but I feel like people who want to identify with gothic maybe want to feel like they are closer to death so
For me, I feel like my personal journey in life is to transform darkness into light. I have that balance in my shop too. I don’t go too dark with the theme. I have lightheartedness and silliness – it’s funny.
- ZEEA JONES
April 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 69
Stunning mushroom suncatchers made with agate slices and crystals brighten up the space. Photo courtesy of GSG.
T-shirts with GSG branding are available for purchase in the shop.
Photo by Harley Nefe.
that they can understand it and accept it maybe and not be so scared by it.”
She further explained, “It’s not necessarily being drawn to evil or anything. It’s accepting the darkness as it is. For me, I feel like my personal journey in life is to transform darkness into light. I have that balance in my shop too. I don’t go too dark with the theme. I have lightheartedness and silliness – it’s funny.”
Throughout the store, customers can find novelty trick items, which are dear to Zeea’s heart because her birthday is in April.
“I’m an April fool,” she declared.
Zeea further said, “I try to keep it lighthearted and silly and colorful. Southern gothic itself does have dark subjects, and it sheds light on change. It also has a dark humor aspect. That’s very important to me.”
Zeea’s purpose in life and the theme of her business venture are both symbolic of life – the good and the bad. Over the years, Great Southern Gothic has evolved into what she envisioned.
“When I start an art project, I don’t exactly know what it’s going to look like at the end,” she described. “I’m always brainstorming ideas, and then I realize I have so many ideas that I just need to write them down instead of trying to do each one I think of on a whim. That’s what I have learned over the years –
things don’t always pan out.”
It’s all about the artistic journey – the ups and the downs – and the different events and associations that influence the final destination.
“I’ve been trying to think about my inspirations and what led me to this,” Zeea said. “I’ve always had different interests in funky, novelty things, and I think one of the things that led me to that was Pee-wee Herman and the movie Pee-wee's Big Adventure directed by Tim Burton. I’m highly influenced by Tim Burton and his gothic style. I definitely have a wacky and novelty approach to life. I have very interesting tastes, as you can see.”
Apart from Tim Burton productions like Beetlejuice, other big influences include The Twilight Zone and the Harry Potter series.
“My generation grew up with that,” Zeea said. “Anything fantasy and witch,
but in a positive way, has inspired me. Some people were demonizing the Harry Potter books just for the fact that it was witchcraft. It’s a fantasy series.
People love it, and I’m glad because I want to build this to share it with other people.I like to have a very visually interesting shopping experience. Setting an atmosphere to explore is important to me.
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Zeea stands behind the counter eager to meet new customers with curious minds. Photo by Harley Nefe.
Beard care products await for any facial hair needs.
Photo courtesy of GSG.
A perfume bar and a cabinet full of curiosities and oddities give guests much to explore. Photo by Harley Nefe.
- ZEEA JONES
Obviously, we can’t really do those things, but in that book series, there was good and evil that was highlighted.”
When it comes to feedback, Zeea shared that it has been positive overall.
“People love it, and I’m glad because I want to build this to share it with other people,” she said. “I like to have a very visually interesting shopping experience. Setting an atmosphere to explore is important to me. Things to look at – color and texture.”
Some of the best sellers in the store include the array of crystals that are offered as well as stickers, which act as little pieces of art people can personalize their belongings with. Keychains and buttons also provide the opportunity for quick and easy expression.
“I’m glad people like it,” Zeea shared. “I have had a positive response. I rarely have anyone say anything bad. If they think anything bad, they just keep it to themselves.”
An Escape from Reality
After the curiosity shop opened in the spring of 2015, Zeea’s first escape room debuted months later in September of the same year.
“It’s funny because I never actually played an escape room anywhere,” Zeea shared. “I was just pioneering it and was the only one in the area in the beginning. Of course, they weren’t all good in the beginning, but that’s how I learn – by trial and error and asking people and listening to criticisms of it. I’m getting better as I go along with it.”
April 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 71
Players must be brave if they think they can make it out of the escape room. Photo by Harley Nefe.
The initial idea of an escape came about from a comment Zeea overheard from one of her customers who was discussing a display in the store.
“Someone said it reminded them of a Nancy Drew game or an escape game that they played on the computer,” Zeea recalled. “I started hearing about escape rooms. That was really the beginning of when escape rooms were becoming popular and coming to the U.S. in 2015. A lot of people still haven’t even heard of
escape rooms now.”
By definition, an escape room is a game in which a team of players discover clues, solve puzzles, and complete tasks in order to accomplish a specific goal in a limited amount of time. The goal is often to escape from the site of the game.
From an early age, Zeea has always been intrigued by puzzles.
“I would do stuff like draw out treasure maps for people and hide treasure for them to find,” she described.
The whole business –that’s why I call it a curiosity shop, because it combines my interests together. And the escape room – it connects my interests in games. It also gives the town something to do, like a tourist attraction within the town, because we don’t really have too much activity like that, or we didn’t at the time, so I thought that it was a good opportunity.
- ZEEA JONES
These activities along with I Spy books and word puzzles, such as the ones that can be found in Highlights magazines, piqued Zeea’s fascination with games and evolved into her hobby of designing escape rooms.
“Some of the attractions I went to as a kid inspired me as well, like Tweetsie Railroad, specifically the mine ride,” Zeea reflected. “I was also influenced by Mystery Hill.”
She further described, “The whole business – that’s why I call it a curiosity shop, because it combines my interests together. And the escape room – it connects my interests in games. It also gives the town something to do, like a tourist attraction within the town, because we don’t really have too much activity like that, or we didn’t at the time, so I thought that it was a good opportunity.”
Over the years, Zeea has witnessed just how much West Jefferson has grown.
“We’ve done pretty good getting tourism in the past few years that I’ve been here,” Zeea said. “When I first got here, there wasn’t too much going on downtown. But thankfully, I stuck it out until it started building up around me.”
Zeea changes the theme of the escape room from time to time to keep players
72 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE April 2023
Journey through the Booger Woods, which draws inspiration from the song “The Legend of Wooley Swamp” by Charlie Daniels.
Photos by Harley Nefe.
coming back, and the current escape room is aptly called Great Southern Gothic Tourist Trap.
She purposely chose to correspond the theme with the name of the business this time.
“I didn’t want to do the Southern Gothic theme right away,” Zeea explained. “I wanted time to figure out how I really wanted to present it after I got established.”
Previous escape room themes have included Space Cowboy Rescue Mission and Madame Belchere’s Haunted Parlour Escape Room.
“I was mainly inspired by music for the themes,” Zeea shared. “For Space Cowboy Rescue Mission – it was an alien theme. I
April 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 73 Todd Bush Photography bushphoto.com 828-898-8088 banner elk nc Serving the High Country with Premier Scenic, and Commercial Imagery for over 25yrs Scenic photos available at Banner Elk Artists Gallery in the historic BE elementary school near the heart of town
Ignatius P. Chromesprocket, the Martian, greets guests as they travel up the stairs to GSG. Photo by Harley Nefe.
Willow waits on the wall for photo opportunities with visitors. Photo by Harley Nefe.
was listening to retro futurism type of music, and it sounds like a sci-fi kind of movie type of music. That’s what inspired that one. Then the other was Madame Belchere’s Haunted Parlour, which was inspired by Jazz Age type of music and electro swing. That’s where they are mixing that old music with new techno beats.”
Another deciding factor that helps sway the concept of the escape room is current events. For example, when Zeea chose the alien theme, storming Area 51 was a trending topic.
“As a business owner, you have to see what is trending to be successful,” she said. “I personally don’t go with trends just because – it has to be something I like.”
There’s a lot of thought and hard work that takes place behind the scenes in order to develop and build an escape room. However, Zeea wouldn’t be able to complete the challenge without her support system including her close family and friends.
“I’m close with my family, and they helped influence me,” Zeea shared. “My papaw would take me to flea markets and auctions, and he taught me how to get good deals and be smart with my money. My mamaw took me to yard sales and thrift stores, and we found lots of treasures and unusual things. They both taught me to be resourceful and use what I could find without much cost to me.”
Utilizing skills that she acquired throughout her life experiences, Zeea continues to visit antique stores and auctions to gather materials and resources. These special finds are then transformed into the creative plans her mind comes up with. She also uses sentimental memorabilia from her childhood to help bring the wonders to life.
One rarity that guests can find at Great Southern Gothic is an Appalachian Granny Witch, a Zoltar fortune teller machine that was custom built in Boulder City, Nevada. The machine came with 1,500 fortunes.
“I said I wanted the head they use for the granny in The Beverly Hillbillies,” Zeea explained. “I wanted my character to be based on that.”
Zeea further described, “She’s also based on stuff my grandma used to say. She’s a granny witch, and the granny witches of Appalachia were the midwives, the healers – that’s who you
I have been open for eight years now, and I have had no idea what I am doing, though I know more than I did when I first started. It has been a learning process. I will continue to learn and grow through this process. I am happy to have created a place where I feel comfortable. Great Southern Gothic has become something more than its original idea. It is an ever-evolving art project that I am investing my heart and soul In, and I am committed to it. I want it to become a beloved amusement attraction where memories are made for years to come.
- ZEEA JONES
74 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE April 2023
A ouija board and other props helped bring previous escape rooms to life.
Photo courtesy of GSG.
GSG is located just beyond the red stairs that Zeea hand painted to advertise the variety of items for sale. Photo by Harley Nefe.
had as a doctor in Appalachia. The real actual hospital was a long way away if there was one, or there were no local doctors, so you had to have the granny witch help birth the babies or give herbal solutions for any kind of sickness. They were just hard working – the wise women of the Appalachians. They noticed weather signs or signs of animals around them. They were in tune with nature and the stars. And they did fortune telling.”
Not only does the Granny Witch character in the escape room connect to the history of the Appalachia area, it also relates to Zeea’s great grandma and Zeea’s personal interest in herbalism and being self-sufficient and in control of her health. The notion of family is a common theme that weaves throughout Great Southern Gothic.
“It took a long time to install the escape room, and I had a lot of help with it,” Zeea shared. "Thank you to all my friends, family, and customers for their help, support, and belief in me. They know who they are, and I wouldn't be anywhere without them."
It took Zeea and her support system about 10 months to complete the game. There are many details, like lighting, sounds, bubbles, and mist, that work together to create the extraordinary effects.
“I do things that are sneaky or mischievous,” Zeea described. “Nothing is at all what it seems.”
Zeea wants her visitors to feel like they were transported to an outdoor setting with an outhouse in
April 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 75
Zeea admires the many treasures she has accumulated over the years.
Photo by Harley Nefe.
It took a long time to install the escape room, and I had a lot of help with it. Thank you to all my friends, family, and customers for their help, support, and belief in me. They know who they are, and I wouldn't be anywhere without them.
- ZEEA JONES
76 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE April 2023
An Appalachian Granny Witch Zoltar fortune teller machine was custom built in Boulder City, Nevada. Photos by Harley Nefe.
Some of the best sellers in the store include the array of crystals that are offered.
Photo by Harley Nefe.
An updated display showcases tea leaves and cups.
Photo courtesy of GSG.
the escape room. The simple and bold features of the landscape materialize with fake grass, trees, and even what seems like glowing lightning bugs.
The eclectic environment inspiration comes from the song “The Legend of Wooley Swamp” by Charlie Daniels, especially where the lyrics read, “Well, if you ever go back in the Wooley Swamp, well, you better not go at night. There's things out there in the middle of them woods that make a strong man die from fright.”
“I tried to make it good enough to where they wouldn’t need too many hints, but at the same time I know I will have to clarify what I’m meaning,” she said. “I have heard that this is pretty difficult, but people always have fun. They love it!”
She further said, “I think I am a valuable asset to West Jefferson because I have created that escape room. People love it, and they have so much fun in there.”
As for what the future holds, Zeea sees herself expanding her business.
“I have been open for eight years now, and I have had no idea what I am doing, though I know more than I did when I first started,” Zeea reflected. “It has been a learning process. I will continue to learn and grow through this process. I am happy to have created a place where I feel comfortable. Great Southern Gothic has become something more than its original idea. It is an ever-evolving art project that I am investing my heart and soul in, and I am committed to it. I want it to become a beloved amusement attraction where memories are made for years to come.”
For more information about Great Southern Gothic and to view hours of operation, visitors are encouraged to explore the website at greatsoutherngothic.com or social media platforms under the same name. The Curiosity Shoppe and Escape Room are located at 103 North Jefferson Avenue in West Jefferson.
As Zeea asked, “So, what are you waiting for? Come on up and sit a spell.” t
April 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 77
Zeea shared how southern gothic encompasses her and her personality, and she's happy to have created a place where she and others can feel comfortable to express themselves. Photo by Cassondra G Photography.
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April 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 79 ADVERTISERS INDEX ADVERTISER PAGE ADVERTISER PAGE Abode ................................... 20 Alchemy ................................. 63 Appalachia Cleaning Co. .............. 55 Appalachian Football Club .. ......... 25 Appalachian Regional Health ............42 The Appalachian Theatre ..................09 The Art Cellar .... ..... 04 Banner Elk Realty ........................ 32 Bee and the Boxwood ...... Inside Back Cover Bigfoots Baseball ...................... 46 Blue Ridge Realty ................Back Cover Boonerang ........................... 31, 65 Booneshine .............................. 23 Carolina West Wireless .................... 61 Chetola Resort ........................... 02 Consignment Cottage Warehouse ........ 35 David Patrick Moses, Architect .......... 53 Dianne Davant & Associates.. Inside Front Cover Dino’s Den Moving ................. 71 Doc’s Rocks .............................. 61 Doe Ridge Pottery ....................... 23 Eleven80 Eatery ....... ............. 55 Engel & Völkers ....... ............. 03 Floyd Fest 2023 ...... .............. 15 Grandfather Vineyard ................ 11 Green Park Inn ........................... 33 Greystone Eye ....... . ............. 45 High Country at the Movies ............... 78 High Country Caregivers .... ..... 13 Jeff’s Plumbing ........................69 Magic Bound ........................ 75 McCoy’s Minerals Inc. .................... 61 Mountain Tile .......... .............. 36 New River Building Supply ............ 05 No Tea High Tea ........................... 47 Precision Printing & Signs ............ 71 Stonewall’s Restaurant ................ 07 Sugar Mountain TDA ................ 01 Todd Bush Photography 73 Village Jewelers ....... .............. 43 Windwood Home Furniture ............. 37
The Cockman Family Is Among Regional Musicians Inducted into Blue Ridge Hall of Fame
STORY BY SHERRIE NORRIS
Certainly, no strangers to the High Country, the multitalented musical group known as The Cockman Family is among several regional artists to be inducted into the 2023 Blue Ridge Hall of Fame.
The Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame exists to showcase and preserve the rich musical heritage of the greater Blue Ridge Mountains area from northern Georgia to northern Virginia. The organization defines and interprets the history of music in the region with exhibits, an annual celebration of inductees, recordings of performances and an interactive database.
John Cockman, spokesperson for The Cockman Family, shared that while his family band is now officially retired, the group continues to perform at a few special events throughout the area. They have been invited to perform, on two previous occasions, at the Blue Ridge Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
“The first time was in 2015, when we introduced and performed a song for one of our greatest musical influences, the Lewis Family, from Lincolnton, Ga.,” Cockman said. “The second time was in 2019 when we introduced and performed two songs for the induction of the Union Grove Old Time Fiddlers’ Convention.”
While they’ve always enjoyed performing at the Wilkesboro-based event, of course, the 2023 ceremony is special for the Cockman Family for several reasons.
“We’ve been performing publicly since March of 1988, and March marked our 35th anniversary of making music together.”
From nearby Sherrills Ford, The Cockman Family is a true family group, consisting of four brothers, a sister and their father, all known for their unique
style of traditional bluegrass gospel music. Each member is a fine musician and with their arrangements of older gospel numbers, original songs and tight family harmonies they have become popular in and around North Carolina. Audiences have always appreciated the genuine faith and family unity which is so obvious in their performances. They have been nominated and won many awards, both individually and as a band, and have participated in several PBS programs.
“Although we are retired, the Cockman Family still performs many concert dates in western NC, including a few in the High Country,” Cockman shared. “We regularly play for the Independence Day Festival in Blowing Rock on the Saturday closest to the 4th of July, Fred’s Summer Concert Series at Fred’s Mercantile on Beech Mountain the second Saturday of July, and Blowing Rock’s Lighting of the Town festival on Black Friday.”
The Cockman Family has just recorded a new album, which will be out sometime in April.
As a more familiar face to the High Country than are his family members, perhaps, John Cockman, lives in Blowing Rock with his family, which includes six children — four of which are adopted. “That brings the total number of Cockman grandchildren to seventeen,” he said. “The cousins are all musical and have formed several bands of their own.
The Cockmans are active in several local fostering and adoption charities and ministries, John added.
Having retired last year after 23 years of teaching physics at Appalachian State University, John operates a website for fiddle instruction, “bluegrassdaddy. com;” for the last 12 years, he has offered a free summer fiddle camp for local children that has now grown to include about 100 students. t
80 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE April 2023
The Cockman Family consists of four brothers, a sister and their father, all known for their unique style of traditional bluegrass gospel music. Photo submitted.
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