Arts community finds a home in Watauga County ::

By Abbey Slattery, WRAL Digital Solutions

This article was written for our sponsor, Watauga County Economic Development Commission.

With numerous art galleries, pottery studios, museums and more, North Carolina’s High Country is a magnet for artists and art lovers alike.

In Boone, locally owned and family-operated Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff has been a pillar in the arts scene since the 1980s.

“In the mid-1980s, my father was a pharmacist and a partner in Boone Drugs. In about 1981, he was gifted watercolor lessons from an artist named Noyes Long, a friend of his. He had always been artistic — when I was a kid, we were always doing crafts – and he owned a small business called the House of Joseph where we sold resin casts of mushrooms, flowers, wildflowers, little figurines and that kind of stuff,” said Joseph Miller, CEO of Cheap Joe’s.

“For the watercolor lessons, Noyse gave him a supply list, so he drove down to Charlotte and ended up spending about $600 on art materials. At that point, he was like, ‘Wow, there’s got to be a better way,’” he continued. “He had gotten the mailing list from the North Carolina Watercolor Society and went to the Xerox machine at the drugstore, printed off a bunch of flyers showing what he had and what the sale price was, and mailed it out to them under the name of Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff. That’s how it got started.”

Since then, Cheap Joe’s has grown exponentially. What began as an operation in a small corner of a drug store has grown to have a distribution center with retail stores all across western North Carolina.

Cheap Joe’s is more than just an art supply store, though — it’s an artistic gathering place. In fact, the shop typically offers around 25 workshops a year, and that number grew to over 50 during COVID, thanks to online flexibility. The in-person and remote classes are taught by instructors from across the country and are mainly focused on watercolor techniques, with skill levels ranging from beginner to advanced. For in-person classes, participants get access to individual workstations, an HD camera/large-screen TV monitor for demonstrations and discounts on lodging and art supplies.

Some of the store’s equipment and supplies are even custom-made by artists, including a watercolor station that was designed by Miller’s father.

Whether it’s buying supplies, attending workshops or supporting local artists, the Watauga County area has been a major factor in the store’s success, according to Miller.

“The artists in Watauga County have been very supportive of us for many years, and they’re a wonderful group of people. The arts councils over the years have done a good job at promoting the arts, and we certainly appreciate the work that they’ve done,” said Miller. “We’re a small, family-owned company, and we have three generations of our family working here — my dad, myself and my oldest daughter. We just really appreciate the support that we’ve gotten from the arts community.”

Common Good Co. serves, builds Boone’s community of artists

Access to the classes, materials and expertise at Cheap Joe’s allows local artists, like husband and wife Jacob Daniels and Melina LaVecchia Daniels of Common Good Co., to thrive. Inspired by the active arts scene they were familiar with in Asheville, the Danielses opened Common Good Co. in a multi-story, historical building in downtown Boone.

“There was such a young community of artists and emerging artists that were coming out of school or just starting and trying to make a career out of it. We started with an artisan market in 2013, and it was a seasonal popup that connected the community to local artists. We used that to highlight brand new businesses and artists and create a professional culture of artists, and we also hosted internships through our studio,” said LaVecchia Daniels. “Fast forward to 2019, and with the experience with the artisan market and trying to sell our work professionally, we had the dream to open a gallery, and we had one building in mind. It was just pretty supernatural how the doors opened for us here.”

The couple is currently finishing renovations on the building’s third floor and hopes to start offering small classes and live drawings. They’re also in the process of sponsoring an interior design firm in partnership with another local artist.

For LaVecchia Daniels, the success of Common Good Co. is supported in part by local partnerships. For example, the gallery is looking to source coffee from a local roaster and is working on graphic design elements with a screen printer located just a few miles down the road from the gallery.

“What’s unique about this area is that it’s very collaborative. We all really try to connect, partner and collaborate on events and ideas,” said LaVecchia Daniels.

In addition to teaching classes and offering internships, LaVecchia Daniels hopes to continue connecting with local artists and encouraging recent graduates to pursue their passion. She hopes to see Common Good Co. become a gathering place for artists of all levels.

“We’re in such a technological era, and we want to be able to go back to creating with our hands — I feel like it’s not only beneficial for our culture, but beneficial for people’s psyche, as well,” said LaVecchia Daniels. “We’re excited to continue teaching and inspiring the next generation to create.”

This article was written for our sponsor, Watauga County Economic Development Commission.

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