From its earliest days as a home to the Cherokee Indians through its popularity as a healing retreat during the Gilded Age to its current status as one of the nation’s top arts destinations, Western North Carolina has a storied past and present. Today, countless museums both big and small share the stories of Southern Appalachia and its people via in-depth explorations of the art, science, culture, technology, music and history that echo through these mountains.
Asheville’s largest museum is Biltmore. America’s largest home has a priceless collection of artwork by the likes of Pierre-August Renoir, Maxime Maufra, Giovanni Boldini, John Singer Sargent, Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini and James Abbott McNeill Whistler, as well as countless pieces of antique furniture, housewares and clothing. Don’t miss the gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, widely considered the father of landscape architecture. Be sure to check the Biltmore website for special exhibits, which in the past have included costumes from “Downton Abbey” and an immersive Van Gogh exhibit.
To explore the region’s rich artistic history, stop at the Southern Highland Craft Guild’s Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This facility features works by many of the guild’s 800-plus members in its permanent collection and rotating exhibits. Members present daily craft demonstrations from March through December.
The Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center in Downtown Asheville continues the legacy of the college, which operated 1933 through 1957, through its collection of more than 3,000 pieces. It showcases these works in rotating exhibits alongside shows by people impacted by BMC alumni.
In recent years, the Asheville Art Museum has undergone a stunning transformation both inside and out, with a dramatic renovation and expansion that increased exhibition space by 70 percent. At 55,000 square feet, the museum is home to more than 7,000 works by notable American artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. More than half of its collection is by creators from Southern Appalachia.
In nearby Cherokee, N.C., the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, tells the story of the Cherokee people through state-of-the-art animation and special effects, as well as an extensive collection of artwork and artifacts as well as live demonstrations by artisans preserving Cherokee handicrafts.
Asheville’s fascinating story is immaculately preserved in the new Asheville Museum of History, located in the city’s first mansion and oldest surviving structure. When it opens in the fall of 2023, the museum will feature a permanent, interactive timeline that gives an overview of the region’s history through stories, photographs, artifacts and more.
Back downtown, the Thomas Wolfe Memorial preserves the childhood home of the author of “Look Homeward, Angel.” This Victorian masterpiece and adjacent exhibit hall contain hundreds of artifacts that pay tribute to Wolfe and life in Asheville in the early 20th century.
Perhaps no name is more synonymous with Asheville’s legendary music scene than Robert Moog, inventor of the first commercial synthesizer, and the Moogseum is chock full of interactive exhibits honoring his legacy.
Several area museums are a perfect stop for families with children of all ages. A popular destination is the Asheville Museum of Science (AMOS) – an 8,000-square-foot wonderland with interactive exhibits about physical, earth and life science – while the Asheville Radio Museum has vintage radios, TVs, jukeboxes and more. Nearby Hendersonville is home to the Hands On! Children’s Museum and the Aquarium & Shark Lab by Team Ecco.
This is just a small sampling of the museums in Asheville and Western North Carolina. Ask your friends who know the area or the concierge at your hotel or bed-and-breakfast for their favorites, and you’ll likely add a fascinating new destination to your travel itinerary.