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GUITAR: The Instrument That Rocked The World {Summer Adventure List}

Discovery Place science museum in Charlotte, NC, will always be one of my favorite places to visit in the Queen City. They consistently bring top tier exhibits to our area and I try to attend each one. I was more than pretty excited when they sent me an invitation for GUITAR: The Instrument That Rocked The World. I am an audiophile whose family is filled with musicians (bluegrass) and quite a few of my friends gig professionally in bands.

This traveling exhibit is truly one for every age group. GUITAR explores the history of the world’s most recognized musical instrument in this fully immersive exhibition that showcases nearly 100 historical artifacts, including more than 60 guitars. It has made my Summer Adventure List, not just because of the historical and scientific significance, also because so many schools are cutting funding for music eduction. (And if you know me and Ilina, you know how important education is to us.)

GUITAR: The Instrument that Rocked the World #HandmadeNC

When I walked in, it was wall to wall stringed instruments, along with performance video and audio, as well as hands-on interactive displays. I headed straight over to learn about guitar strings and after strumming each type, now realize why metal strings are preferred over plastic or catgut. The sound is so much better and the tone is clean and pure.

Science and Guitars

But Discovery Place is a science museum, why would they have this exhibit? Because so much of music and guitars have their basis in science. The human brain is uniquiely wired to remember musical patterns better than a series of numbers or letters. Researchers have found that seven times (i.e. numbers, facts, letters, etc.) are about the maximum that most people can keep in their memory. The exception to this is music. Much of popular music is built on riffs, which are groupings of notes that are repeated throughout a song. Our mental ability to embrace musical patterns allows us to remember long riffs when we can’t remember that many numbers.

Electric guitars also rely on electromagnetism to produce sound. Each electric guitar has a mechanism called a pickup that converts the mechanical energy of a vibrating string to an electrical signal, allowing it to be amplified, processed and reproduced. When the magnetic field of the pickup is disrupted by the vibration of a metal string, it creates a current in the copper wire. The current is transmitted through another wire to potentiometers, which are often used as tone and volume controls. The potentiometers, controlled by the knobs, adjust the frequencies in the signal that control volume and tone — just like a dimmer switch that adjusts the level of light from a bulb.

Sound can be measured. Sound waves move through the air, which creates pressure. The speed of sound is around 343 meters per second. You hear noises because your ears respond to this pressure. Decibels are the units for measuring sound pressure, just like the inches are units for measuring length. One a decibel scale, the louder the sound, the higher the number decibels. Zero decibels is the softest sound that can be hears and 194 decibels is the loudest sound that can be created.

Highlights of GUITAR

One of the highlights of the exhibit is the world’s largest playable guitar, a 2,255 pound, 16 foot wide and 43.5 feet long replica of the Gibson Flying V. This Flying V was prototyped in 1957 and released into production in 1958. The list of well-known musicians who have played the Flying V range from Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, Jimi Hendrix, Paul Stanley of Kiss, and Eddie Van Halen, to name a few.

Other iconic instruments include the Rock Ock, the world’s only playable 8-neck guitar; a PRS Dragon guitar inlaid with 238 pieces of gold, red and green abalone, mother of pearl and the ivory of a wooly mammoth; a Ztar Z7S synthesizer guitar with a button for every fret and string (204 in total); and early Fender Gibson, Ovation and Martin Guitars that date as far back as 1806.

In the hands-on gallery, you can:

• Strum the world’s largest playable guitar, a 43-foot long replica of a Gibson Flying V
• Test your musical memory by playing challenge riffs on a virtual fretboard
• Bang out a beat on a variety of wood types. Which sounds the best?
• “Freeze” a vibrating string using a strobe light
• Design your own dream guitar

The rare instrument exhibit includes over 60 remarkable instruments such as:

• Early Fender, Gibson, Ovation, and Martin guitars (from circa 1835 to present)
• A Ztar Z7S synthesizer guitar with a button for every fret and string – 204 in all
• The Rock Ock, the only playable guitar with 8 necks
• A stunning PRS Dragon guitar inlayed with 238 pieces of gold, red and green abalone; mother of pearl; and woolly mammoth ivory
• Guitars with outrageous paint jobs and shapes designed for rockers like ​Steve Vai


Plan you visit to Discovery Place. GUITAR will be on exhibit from May 30, 2015 – September 7, 2015 and is covered by regular museum admission fees.

The following artists, manufacturers, luthiers, and collectors have provided instruments, information, and/or support to the collection: 

  • Steve Vai
  • Joe Bonamassa
  • Liona Boyd
  • Vic Flick
  • Johnny Winter
  • Adrian Belew
  • C.F. Martin and Company
  • Fender Musical Instruments
  • Pete Brown
  • David Hill/Nina Riccio
  • Phantom Guitarworks
  • EKO
  • National Reophonic
  • The Electrical Guitar Company
  • Dan Larson
  • Rich Maloof
  • PRS Guitars
  • Danser Guitar Works
  • Visionary Intruments
  • Starr Labs
  • XOX
  • Cochran Guitars

Six-String Saturdays at Discovery Place:

This summer, Discovery Place is activating Tryon Street with Six String Saturdays, a free music series featuring genres including jazz, pop, rock, sitar, Celtic, country, bluegrass and folk.

Enjoy live music on the patio near our N. Tryon St. entrance every Saturday at 2:00 p.m. (unless otherwise noted). No Museum admission necessary.

May 30 – A Sign of the Times Duo: Van Sachs and Toni Tupponce
June 6 – Sabra Callas
June 13 – School of Rock
June 20 – SITAR from Festival of India by Amrita
June 27 – Shana Blake & Keith Shamel
July 4 – Kevin Jones & Joe Allen
July 11 – School of Rock
July 18 – Tom Billotto
July 25 – Alan Barrington
August 1 – Back Creek Bluegrass Boys
August 8 – School of Rock
August 15 – Bassments
August 22 – The High Ridge Pickers (2:00 p.m.) / Hannah Case (3:30 p.m.)
August 29 – J. L. Davis Duo
September 5 – A Sign of the Times Duo: Van Sachs and Toni Tupponce

Related links:

Summer Adventure List 2015  

April is International Guitar Month -North Carolina Edition 

Guest Post: Artist Art Tyndall in Washington, NC

Walk one block from the waterfront of Little Washington on Water Street and you’ll discover the hidden gem of an art studio where pleinair painter Art Tyndall sells his creations. I stumbled into Art’s studio a few years ago while visiting my aunt, and I make a point to visit his studio on every trek across the state.

Janet and Art Tyndall at his studio in Washington, NC

Art’s studio is a 15×25′ store-front where light streams through the transom windows and his original oil paintings fill the bead – board walls. Looking at the tidewater landscapes, figures and local buildings, you can feel the joy that Art pours from his brush to the canvas. Many would consider painting a second career for Art as he started his self-taught venture at the age of 50.

Each piece that Art creates is one-of-a-kind and very personal. While he enjoys selling his work, even if he did not sell, he would continue to paint. His prices range from $150 to $2,000 and you can commission a special request by contacting him at arttyndallstudio@gmail.com or by visiting him in person at the Water Street Studio on the waterfront of historic Washington, North Carolina.

Washington, NC Waterfront #HandmadeNC

Stop by, say hello and tell him that Janet sent you. I forgot to take him a jar of homemade blackberry jelly, but that’s a great excuse for me to visit in a few months.

Many thanks to my dear friend, Janet Morgan, who introduced me to Art’s art and shared his story with us here at Handmade NC. 

Roundup: Memorial Day Events in North Carolina

Memorial Day honors the sacrifices of those who have served in our military. There are many events held every Memorial Day weekend, and we’re rounding up those happening in North Carolina to make it easier for you to find the events being held on Monday, May 25th, in your town.

  • Celebrate Memorial Day, sponsored by Hope Baptist Church, will feature free North Carolina barbecue, military vehicle rides, live music, a children’s obstacle course, parades and more. This free event is open to the public, rain or shine, at 3721 Quarry Road, outside Wake Forest. Event schedule runs from 9 a.m. to 4:15 pm. Website: www.celebratememorialday.com.
  • The American Legion Post 67, in Cary will hold their annual service from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Hillcrest Cemetery, 600 Page St. Participants are invited to bring lawn chairs. For information, call 919-481-4811 or email carylegion67@aol.com.
  • Johnston County Courthouse has a ceremony scheduled for 11 a.m. at the at Market and Second streets in downtown Smithfield. Mike Wegman, a retired U.S. Navy officer, will speak. He teaches naval science at Smithfield-Selma High School.
  • A wreath-laying ceremony at the War Memorial on the north lawn of the State Capitol in Raleigh begins at 10:45 a.m. with music by the St. Francis Brass Quintet followed by bagpiper Robert White at 11:20 a.m. and the invocation, advancement of colors and the “Star-Spangled Banner” at 11:30 a.m. Speaker is retired Marine Maj. Gen. Cornell A. Wilson Jr. Sponsored by The Tar Heel Detachment No. 733 of the Marine Corps League.
  • The Heartland Hospice Memorial Fund will sponsor a Community Memorial Day Service at noon at Raleigh Memorial Park, 7501 Glenwood Ave. There will be refreshments and a balloon release. For details, contact Kristin Lassiter at 919-877-9959
  • Garner will hold its annual Memorial Day observance at 1:30 p.m. at Lake Benson Park (921 Buffalo Road) near the Garner Veterans Memorial. Free to the public.
  • A remembrance by the Town of Cary is 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. at Veterans Freedom Park, 1513 N. Harrison Ave. Attendees are invited to bring chairs. Parking will be available at Cary Academy across the street. A free shuttle will take guests from the parking lot to Veterans Freedom Park. For information, call 919-469-4061 or search “Veterans Freedom Park Events” at www.townofcary.org
  • The Veterans for Peace will host Memorial Day reflections with poetry, prose and song at 7 p.m. at the Regulator Bookshop, 720 Ninth St., Durham. Free. Speakers include B.J. Freeman, Dale Herman, John Heuer, Joe Moran, the Raging Grannies, Barry Reese, Ahmed Selim, Jim Senter, Douglas Ryder, Vicki Ryder and Sam Winstead. Get more information at 585-314-1413 or peace5942@gmail.com.
  • The annual Memorial Day Concert and Ceremony in Asheville will begin at 2:30 p.m. on the Roger McGuire Green stage of Pack Square Park.
  • The Asheville Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Arts Department will present a Memorial Day Pool-a-Palooza from 12-6 p.m. at the Recreation Park Pool on 75 Gashes Creek Rd.  Celebrate with music, swimming, pool contests, special recognitions, and fun.  General admission is $3. Active and non-active military personnel are FREE with a military I.D. and the first 50 military personnel will receive a Memorial Day goody bag. Contact Randy Shaw at 828-259-5483, or rshaw@ashevillenc.gov for more information.
  • Birkdale Village will hold its annual Memorial Day celebration starting at 7 p.m. Monday. The celebration will include performances by Central Piedmont Community College’s Chorus, a flag-folding ceremony by North Mecklenburg High School’s Junior ROTC, and more. Joseph Reale, senior commander for American Legion Post 321, will speak as the honored guest. Details: www.charlotteonthecheap.com.
  • Gaston Memorial Park and Carothers Funeral Homes will host their annual Memorial Day program, presented by the Gaston County Veterans Council at 10 a.m. Monday. There will be a performance by the Gaston Symphonic Band with ice cream for all veterans and their families at 1200 S. New Hope Road.
  • There will be an open house at the American Military Museum located at 109 W. Second Ave in Gastonia, N.C. For details visit: www.dignitymemorial.com
  • Lake Park in Union County will host its second annual Memorial Day ceremony 11 a.m. to noon Monday at Veterans Pond, 3708 Faith Church Road. Jason Braase of the Wounded Warrior Project will be this year’s keynote speaker. A presentation of colors will be performed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2423 Color Guard. Details: www.members.unioncountycoc.com.
  • The Parade of Veterans will kick off Kannapolis’ Memorial Day ceremony at 11:30 a.m. Monday, beginning at the corner of Laureate Way and Main Street, ending at Veterans Park. The event is hosted by the Beaver-Pittman American Legion Post 115. Norris Dearmon of the Kannapolis Historical Committee will be the guest speaker. Details: 704-920-4311.
  • On Memorial Day, May 25, 2015, at 5:45 pm, people of all generations from across the State will gather together on the deck of the USS North Carolina Battleship to pay their respects. Duke Ladd Music will be performing military and patriotic arrangements. The Battleship is honored this year to have guest speakers Major General Gregory A. Lusk, Adjutant General, North Carolina National Guard, and Senator Richard Burr. The Executive Director of the Battleship, Captain Terry A. Bragg and members of the USS NORTH CAROLINA Battleship Commission invite the public to this free event.
  • The Thomasville Memorial Day Parade and Celebration will begin with a parade at 10 am at the Big Chair on the corner of Main and Salem Streets. This event features 100 American flags in formation and the Army Ground Forces Band. The procession will continue to Memorial Park and Cushwa Stadium. NC Lt. Governor Dan Forrest will speak at 12:30 p.m. The Special Forces Association Parachute Team will jump at 1:15 pm, at 1:30 p.m. there will be presentations, ending with Taps and a gun salute at 2 p.m.. For more information call 336-472-4422
  • The Union County Memorial Day Ceremony and Vietnam Killed In Action Memorial Dedication will take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Veterans Memorial park, located at 322 Veterans Drive in Union.

International Guitar Month — North Carolina Edition

I’m something of an audiophile and couldn’t let International Guitar Month slip by without creating a list of famous North Carolina musicians who have graced the airwaves. This is a list I certainly enjoyed creating and hope you enjoy it as much as I did creating it.

1. James Taylor — While Sweet Baby James wasn’t born in North Carolina, we heavily associate him due to the time he lived here and the one song that brings me to tears each time I hear it, “Carolina in my Mind.” In this video he explains that he wrote the tune due to homesickness and that is all we need to know. He’s a Carolina Boy. He was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2009.

2. Ben Folds — Ben is a multi-talented Winston-Salem native who plays all of the instruments on the song I’m sharing next “Rockin’ the Suburbs.” The littles in your life will recognize this tune from the movie “Over the Hedge.” He was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2011.

3. Blind Boy Fuller — It would not be a list without adding Wadesboro, NC’s own Blind Boy Fuller. An American blues guitarist and vocals, he was one of the most popular of the recorded Piedmont blues artists. I particularly enjoy this track as it sounds like multiple guitar tracks were layered, but that technology did not exist until the 1950’s. He got his name after going blind in 1928 due to the long-term effects of untreated neonatal conjunctivitis.

4. Doc Watson — I grew up listening to bluegrass and it is the music of my soul. I am thankful to have watched Doc Watson perform more times than I can count. Born in Deep Gap, NC, and an eye infection caused him to loose his sight before his first birthday.

According to Watson on his three-CD biographical recording Legacy, he got the nickname “Doc” during a live radio broadcast when the announcer remarked that his given name Arthel was odd and he needed an easy nickname. A fan in the crowd shouted “Call him Doc!” presumably in reference to the literary character Sherlock Holmes’s sidekick Doctor Watson. The name stuck ever since.

I’m sharing Doc’s final performance on April 29, 2012, at Merlefest, accompanied by the Nashville Bluegrass Band. Doc was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2010.

5. Edward “Little Buster” Forehand — Little Buster was born in Hereford, NC. He was an immensely talented blues guitarist and soul singer. Like Doc Watson and Blind Boy Fuller, he was sighted, but developed glaucoma at age of three. By the time his vision was completely gone, he was fluent on six instruments, including the guitar. His music is evocative of the 60’s sound and makes you want to snap your fingers and sway along.

6. Elizabeth Cotten — Born in Chapel Hill, Cotten was a self-taught left-handed guitarist. “Her approach involved using a right-handed guitar (usually in standard tuning), not re-strung for left-handed playing, essentially, holding a right-handed guitar upside down. This position required her to play the bass lines with her fingers and the melody with her thumb. Her signature alternating bass style has become known as ‘Cotten picking’.”  If you love finger picking on the guitar, you’re in for a treat.

7. Etta Baker — Another great Piedmont Blues guitarist was Etta Baker, born in Caldwell County, NC. She played both the 6-string and 12-string forms of the acoustic guitar, as well as the five-string banjo. Baker played the Piedmont Blues for ninety years, starting at the age of three. Her skill, like Elizabeth Cotten’s leaves me a little breathless.

8. Tal Farlow — Self-taught jazz guitarist Farlow was from Greensboro, NC. “Nicknamed the “Octopus”, for his extremely large hands spread over the fretboard as if they were tentacles, he is considered one of the all-time great jazz guitarists.” He learned how to play on a ukelele which influenced his playing throughout his career. I’ve only recently started listening to the work of Farlow, but find it a refreshing change from some of the other jazz artists I have on heavy rotation.

9. Warren Haynes — I’d be remiss not add Asheville’s Warren Haynes. As founding member of Gov’t Mule and long time guitarist of the Allman Brother, he’s also spent time playing with David Allan Coe, Dickey Betts, the surviving members of the Grateful Dead. I’m sharing my favorite Allman Brothers songs with Haynes performing, “Jessica.”

10. Chuck Brown — Born in Gastonia, NC, Chuck Brown was the “Godfather of Go-Go,” a funk music sub genre originating in the Washington, DC, area. If you want some amazing music that will get a crowd out on the dance floor, play Chuck Brown and dare them not to dance. Here’s Chuck performing at the 9:30 club in Washington, DC.

This is by no means a comprehensive look at North Carolina guitarists, but is a snippet of the great musical talent from the Old North State. Share your favorite North Carolina guitarists and musicians in the comments.

East Fork Pottery — A Lesson in Craftsmanship

This is the first piece in my series on East Fork Pottery which will extend throughout 2015 and the first in our new series on North Carolina pottery and the artists who create it.

I recently traveled north of Asheville to meet with the founder of East Fork Pottery, Alex Matisse. A google search led me to his website and I found myself winding up the mountain a few hours from my home in Charlotte, NC, on a bucolic, curvy two-lane road in Madison County. This idyllic scene was compounded by burgeoning spring buds and a rushing brook, all beckoning me to my final destination.

Tires crunched on the gravel as I slowly made my way up the short drive to the East Fork workshop, the massive kiln sitting in silent greeting. Awestruck does not begin to describe my feelings as I took in every inch of the property with it’s massive stacks of firewood ready to fire the kiln, chickens clucking, Zuma barking, and beautiful glazed stoneware staring at me from open doors.

The Kiln at East Fork Pottery www.handmadenc.com

As I pulled out my gear, I mentally prepared myself to meet Alex, CFO/Moral Compass/Potter John Vigeland, and apprentice Amanda Hollman-Cook. I am a pottery novice and was quite nervous, but that, I would learn, was a lesson in futility. In my short time at East Fork, I received an education that would have taken days sitting in a classroom.

Alex Matisse at work at East Fork. www.handmadenc.com

Amanda greeted me, taking me into the workshop where Alex was adding the finishing touches to a large piece. It was magical. I remember playing with clay in the creek below my Grandparents house, and my 70’s era ashtrays wept at the skill and talent on display in front of me. With laser focus and sure hands, Alex completed work on the large piece gently turning on the wheel, craftsman and raw material were one. A blob of clay transformed while I stood transfixed, awestruck by a master who has honed his skill to perfection. After work on the piece was completed, Alex and Amanda moved it to dry and I am pretty sure I held my breath from start to finish.

Completed vase drying at East Fork. www.handmadenc.com

As Alex, John and Amanda move about the workshop, they answered my questions and allowed me to snap photos of their work. As I watched the extruder take blocks of clay and  transform it into ropey clay logs to be carefully manipulated and shaped into another large piece (about 4+ feet tall), all while wishing I had a degree of patience these artisans possess.

Ropes of clay coming out of the extruder at East Fork www.handmadenc.com

Ropes of clay coming out of the extruder

Alex Matisse prepping clay for throwing. www.handmadenc.com

Preparing clay for the wheel

Pottery creation is equal parts brutality and finesse

Having the scope of imagination to be a potter is one thing. Creating an item from a lump of clay while in constant motion is another. The wheel is rotating the soft clay while it is pressed, squeezed, and pulled gently upwards and outwards into a hollow shape. I watched as Alex centered the clay, smacking, squeezing and working it until it was ready for him to create the opening in order to start the throwing process of pulling and shaping the walls to an even thickness. All of this was done while also trimming the excess to create a foot (bottom.) Pottery creation is equal parts brutality and finesse.

Alex Matisse starting to throw a new post at East Fork. www.handmadenc.com

John was experimenting that day. Like Alex, he is a quiet man with soft eyes and laser focus. His style is much different from Alex’s, softer, yet it is definitely “his.” When you see the work of an artist, and then meet the artist, you can glean so much by just shaking their hand and saying hello. Their art is who they are and they pour their soul into it and it is that soul living and breathing in each piece.

I left Alex to his work and followed Amanda to explore the kiln. (The photos don’t do it justice.) Imagine a large brick oven that would bake a 34ft long pizza. I’m 5’5″ tall and had more than enough headspace left over as I stood inside this massive structure. Soon it will be fired for the 17th time, using all of the wood you see in the photos here, and much more that is out of sight.

Inside the kiln at East Fork. www.handmadenc.com

While we were at the kiln Amanda explained the process of how it is heated in increments as they work six hour shifts, until it is necessary for everyone to work continuously. Smaller pieces sit on wads on the shelves inside the kiln, as well as on wads on the floor, while the fire is constantly stoked over the course of many days where it will reach 2500 degrees. This is a labor intensive, demanding process, requiring time and patience.

At at certain point in the process, salt is blasted into the kiln and the pots develop the beautiful glazed sheen. This creates a unique, natural process driven surface on each piece sought after by potters and collectors. I personally prefer what I now know is the “orange peel” pattern created by salt glazing.

orange peel textures at East Fork. www.handmadenc.com

After we explored the kiln, Amanda answered my questions about the types of wood used (pine) and how long was each symmetrical piece (4 ft). We then strolled down the hill to check out Amanda’s work sitting on display at one of the storage buildings. She is coming in to her own right as a working potter, interning and learning the business side of the craft. Her enthusiasm is contagious and it is that enthusiasm that has led me to order several books about the craft and chemistry of pottery.

Completed tea pots at East Fork. www.handmadenc.com

Completed bowls at East Fork. www.handmadenc.com

I found myself headed down the mountain, filled with unanswered questions and even more intellectual curiosity. I’ve even checked out a pottery class at my local community college and am considering taking one in the fall. That will have to wait until after I head up the mountain again for an extended series of interviews with the East Fork Pottery crew.

To be continued…..


Visitors to Asheville will have a new store opening by East Fork soon in the River Arts District. Sign up for updates by clicking here.

Upcoming events at East Fork Pottery:

The spring Kiln Opening is

May 16th 10am – 5pm

May 17th Noon -5pm

Directions to East Fork Pottery: 

#CLTBeer — Staying Local with Great Beer

Great beer under Carolina blue skies is right up our alley over here at Handmade NC, and we want to talk more about great North Carolina beer. In 2009, the beer scene in Charlotte was limited to big brands with little imagination. That changed when John Marrino opened Olde Mecklenburg Brewery in 2009, leading what was to become a booming business across the Charlotte region. North Carolina now has more craft breweries than any other state in the South.

Ilina and I both enjoy a good beer and love that craft beer is a seasonal affair. We go from saisons in the spring to summery IPAs, Oktoberfests in the fall, and round our palette out with stouts and porters in winter. When I’m looking for a new beer to try, I personally head over to my favorite Charlotte purveyor, Brawley’s Beverage on Park Road.

Just how many breweries does Charlotte have? To be quite honest, I’ve lost count. But Charlotte’s Got A Lot has a list of all the breweries in the Charlotte metro area, as well as breweries that will be opening soon. Each one of the breweries are unique, all bringing their own style to the Charlotte beer scene.

Charlotte's Got A Lot!

To celebrate North Carolina’s Brewconomy and the Charlotte craft beer scene, we are going to give away a fun package from Charlotte’s Got A Lot, the official travel and tourism resource of the Charlotte metro area. Entrants must be 21 and over to enter and live in North Carolina.

#CLTBeer Giveaway on HandmadeNC

What’s in the Box?

Lenny Boy Brewing Co. Kombucha

Birdsong Brewing Co. Growler

Smoked Amber Triple C Beer Soap

Lenny Boy Brewing Co. tap handle

Beer of the Carolinas book by Daniel Hartiss

Sycamore Brewing T-shirt (size Large)

Do you want to learn more about the Charlotte Craft Beer Scene? Click here to go to the landing page over at Charlotte’s Got A Lot. There you’ll find out more information about Charlotte breweries, beer and bottle shops, festivals, and beer tours.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Secret Chocolatier

Everyone has their favorite decadent treat(s). Mine are bon bons and sea salt chocolate butter toffee from The Secret Chocolatier in Charlotte, NC. Owned by the Dietz and Ciordia families, The Secret Chocolatier was conceived when Chef Bill Dietz found himself at a career crossroads. He called a family meeting with his wife, Karen, their daughter Robin Ciordia and her husband Andy, and the four foodies decided to take the plunge into entrepreneurship. Three years later, after building a following at local farmers markets and retailers, they responded to public demand for a storefront where customers could get their chocolate moment five days a week.

The Secret Chocolatier #HandmadeNC

How good are they? Famed food critic, Helen Schwab from the Charlotte Observer proclaimed:

“In Timothy Leary’s eight-circuit model of consciousness, the eighth circuit is the one you need to get to for out-of-body experiences. Here’s a shortcut: Truffles from the Secret Chocolatier”

Their use of American craft chocolate, which is chopped and melted with hot cream to be whisked into silky ganache is a beautiful assault on the senses. It is full-bodied with a character akin to Frank Sinatra’s stage act. Saucy, yet robust. Combine that with fillings created in house from all natural ingredients, with nary a flavoring oil or extract in sight, and you have a chocolate ready for its Academy Award.

Andy and I met on Twitter in 2007 and struck up a fast friendship. When I heard about this tasty venture, I headed over to the Atherton Market in the South End section of Charlotte to test their wares. My first purchase was chocolate brownies. What’s so special about a chocolate brownie? When it is the perfectly sized three inch brownie enrobed in creamy chocolate creating a bit of heaven in every bite. More importantly, it passed the test of the pickiest chocolate connoisseur I know, my son.

I spent some time at The Secret Chocolatier before Christmas and learned how to make some of their products. It is a laborious process filled with love and marked by serious craftsmanship. During the time I was there, we created vanilla bon bons. The time to create these delectable treats is one and a half hours from start to finish. It doesn’t matter if it is one bon bon, or twenty dozen, that is how long the process takes.

Chocolate tempering at The Secret Chocolatier #HandmadeNC

Tempering chocolate at The Secret Chocolatier in Charlotte, NC.

Another lady who was with me on this field trip confided “I never understood why chocolate was priced the way it is until today. Now I won’t hesitate buying good chocolate.”

The entire premise behind The Secret Chocolatier is to create artisan chocolates. Chocolate is a family business and the Ciordia and Dietz families want their customers to feel like they are part of the family as well. Amazing corporate gifts are created via the concierge service, along with unique wedding ideas that will satisfy any bride.

Vanilla Bon Bon's at The Secret Chocolatier in Charlotte, NC #HandMadeNC

Vanilla Bon Bons

You can find The Secret Chocolatier at the locations in Charlotte (listed below) or order online from their website.

Each Bon Bon is filled by hand at The Secret Chocolatier in Charlotte, NC. #HandmadeNC

Bon Bons being filled by hand.


Chapel Hill Toffee

Ever tried toffee? I made a happy discovery and found Chapel Hill Toffee while in my local grocers and picked up a box all in the name of research for Handmade NC. Instead of tearing into the box in the car, I brought it home, plated a piece (or three), and sat down to taste test this gorgeous, sugary confection.

Chapel Hill Toffee is definitely a family affair. Karen Graves had perfected her toffee recipe and decided to open a small home-based business. She made her retail debut at A Southern Season in Chapel Hill in 2006 and soon after (2008) son Mark joined her in the kitchen to help scale their business. His wife joined the Chapel Hill Toffee team in 2012. What started as a cottage industry in North Carolina has grown to a much larger family business with products now in 400 retailers across the country.

Chapel Hill Toffee #HandmadeNC

On first appearance, the toffee is a perfect square, robed in dark chocolate and dusted with finely chopped pecans. When you smell the toffee, you are smelling the deep dark cocoa and pecan. The first bite gives you a hint of good dark chocolate and a slight nutty flavor. Not enough nut to overwhelm your palate, but just enough to enhance the dark chocolate. The real surprise is getting through the thin layer of chocolate and getting the first hit of English toffee on your tongue.

Chapel Hill Toffee #HandMadeNC

Imagine your taste buds coming alive and you’ll understand what you will find when you try Chapel Hill Toffee. The dark, earthy chocolate with its hint of truffle, mixes with the depth of the pecan. These flavors meld with the smoky, sweet, caramelized sugar used to create the toffee, with an unexpected hint of salt from the caramelization process. The toffee was brittle enough to have a satisfying crack, but not so brittle that you think you are going to break a tooth when biting into it.

You can find Chapel Hill Toffee in select retailers on their site www.chapelhilltoffee.com. To order online, head over to http://www.chapelhilltoffee.com/shop/.

Disclosure: This post was not sponsored. I bought Chapel Hill Toffee at my local Whole Foods and am quite happy it made it home for me to do a proper taste test. If you see me devouring toffee at the red light the next time I leave the grocery, please look the other way. I don’t want you to witness such toffee savagery. 

Cone Mills {Childhood Memories}

I’ve been thinking about the textile factories that dotted the North Carolina landscape with plumes of steam coming up from their boilers. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about Cone Mills. You see, my entire family is deeply tied into textile manufacturing. Part were Southern coastal landed gentry, the others Scots-Irish who settled in Appalachian mountains and made their way down to the Foothills of North Carolina. Those who dwelled in the Foothills were either farmers, military, or textile workers.

They were proud people who worked very hard for their living. Textile jobs were dirty, loud, potentially dangerous and tough on the body. My late maternal Grandfather was a fixer, and my paternal Grandfather, a weaver. My late paternal Grandmother was a spinner, and my living maternal Grandmother worked in the supply room. My aunt was a doffer. My Father worked his way up through the textile factories in North Carolina to upper management. I could make a super long list that would bore you to tears about my extended family and their roles in textiles, but I shall refrain.

As a little girl, I remember visiting the different factories my family worked at. I was never allowed in when they were operating, but on the rare times they were shut down (the first week in July and Christmas) I would get to see the inner workings.

The smell of cotton and machine oil from these visits is something that will never escape me. It is similar to what you smell when cleaning a gun, but different. Less oily, more earthy. There was also a metallic smell from the multi-ton beasts that took raw cotton fibers and turned them into denim fabric. Smells are something we associate with throughout life. They trigger memories, good and bad, and no matter what, stick with us in such a profound way that, even years later, can rattle us to our core. Even now, when I smell certain scents, I’m taken back to the smell of the cotton mills and the fabric sitting on their looms.

Really, the fabric I’m thinking of is “selvage” denim. An item so popular, jeans made with it today start upwards of $150 dollars each. Most of this “blue gold” is made at the Cone Mills White Oak plant located in Greensboro, NC, and favored by mainstream retailers like Gap, American Apparel to boutique brands and iconic clothing manufacturers such as Levi.

Frankly, I was stunned at the prices commanded by selvage denim today. After all, it seems like yesterday I was a young girl walking among the machines, tufts of spun cotton the floor and machines that wove fabric stopped mid-weave.

Cone Mills Corporation was the world leader in the manufacturing of denim and largest supplier in the world.* Their employees were proud of their work and I’m happy to see Cone still has one plant still running in North Carolina. The hulking ghosts of their empty factories are a consistent reminder of when things were truly Handmade in North Carolina.

*Source: http://www2.lib.unc.edu/mss/inv/c/Cone_Mills_Corporation.html

Dean Smith: A North Carolina Legend

Tonight North Carolina is mourning the loss of legendary University of North Carolina Chapel Hill basketball coach, Dean Smith. It does not matter if you are a fan of rival basketball programs, Dean Smith is a name you know and respect.

I’ve been a Carolina basketball fan since I was a young girl. When I met my husband, I joked my blood ran Carolina Blue to his Maryland red. My toddler cousins, now 26, used to say they were going to “bring Dean Smif out of retirement.”

Originally from Emporia, Kansas, Coach Smith had a 36 year coaching tenure at the UNC-CH, retiring with 879 victories, 2 national championships and 11 Final Fours. In short, he created a basketball dynasty for the University of North Carolina that is still going strong today.

A big proponent of desegregation, Charlie Scott was recruited by Coach Smith and the became university’s first African-American player to receive a scholarship to play while attending UNC-CH. Most don’t realize that UNC-CH was still rigidly segregated in 1959. Smith came to Carolina in 1961 and by 1966 Scott was playing for UNC.

To give backstory to Smith’s integration work, in 1964, he joined a local pastor, Robert Seymour, and a black theology student to integrate The Pines, a Chapel Hill restaurant. Smith was still an assistant coach at the time, but they walked to the restaurants and waited outside until they were seated. The following year, he helped Howard Lee, a black graduate student at UNC, buy a home in an all white neighborhood.

Fred Hobson, a retired UNC English professor who played on the all-white freshman basketball squad the same 1961–62 season Smith took over as head coach, said Smith got involved “not because he wanted to necessarily, but because he felt he had to. His father had led school integration in Kansas when he was growing up and carried that same deep sense of moral right and wrong. He simply had a firm desire to do the right thing and take a leadership role.** ”

Coach Smith retired in 1997, no longer able to give the enthusiasm needed to coach a program like Carolina. He still advised the Carolina basketball staff and worked tireless in his community. On July 17, 2010, his family released a statement that he had a “progressive neurocognitive disorder” and from then on, spent his last years quietly out of the spotlight.

Dean Smith was a memorable man and touched everyone who met him. He was a true leader in the state of North Carolina and that is what will stick with us. More than basketball championships or Final Four appearances, Coach Smith gave himself to North Carolina and served our state with selflessness, strength of character, and leadership. For that, we shall always love him.

MichaelJordanDeanSmith” by Zeke Smith from Chapel Hill, NC, USA – Michael Jordan, Dean Smith. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Source** http://www.unc.edu/spotlight/dean-smiths-courage/