Charlie Frye is a fifth generation North Carolinian artist with a deep love and respect for the people and the place he calls home, the charming town of Lenoir in the spectacular Blue Ridge Mountains. His bearded face is a welcome sight in the heart of downtown where he and his talented artist wife, Susan, opened the unique Folk Keeper Gallery back in 2008.
For all of us who live in the mountain towns in North Carolina, or who are lucky enough to visit Lenoir from time to time, they know that Frye’s place is far more than a gallery. It’s a little bit studio, a little bit classroom, and also a whimsical place to shop for one-of-a-kind folksy art. Charlie is self-taught and didn’t venture into life as an artist until he was twenty-five years old. Perhaps it’s his raw talent and everyman persona that lends itself so well to all the artistic mediums he touches—from found art sculptures, to woodblock prints, to acrylic paintings and ink drawings—all that this guy creates is incredibly genuine and full of joy. No wonder when folks are looking for things to do in Lenoir NC, the Folk Keeper Gallery makes the top of our list.
Charlie’s award-winning work is everywhere throughout the south, whether his paintings are hanging in highly-regarded folk art galleries, are displayed at popular shows and exhibits, or throughout Lenoir’s cafes, restaurants and professional offices—it’s clear that his art brings this small town a great deal of cheer and reflects all that makes life rich in North Carolina. Some noteworthy shows—Kentuck Festival of Art, Finster Fest, and Fearrington Village Folk Art Show are where his work has been shown.
His resourcefulness and ability to repurpose scrap wood or metal, like pot lids, is a testament to his genuine soul and his love of the North Carolina land. Susan also turns to old buttons, scraps of tin wood, and discarded kitchen utensils. There is a sense of whimsical nostalgia in their work, and this is something people relate to…after all…living in the mountain towns of North Carolina brings out the nostalgia in all of us. Charlie likes to create images from his memory; very often he chooses farm scenes, animals, and musicians and it’s no surprise that his regional art is collected internationally.
Charlie doesn’t run out of things to do in Lenoir NC—he is painting and teaching full-time. Not all artists make good teachers, but Charlie relates to people of all ages with all levels of artistic abilities. Often his workshop descriptions will read “no painting experience necessary to paint like a true folk artist.” That’s the sort of atmosphere that draws the crowd into Folk Keeper Gallery and makes it a hub in downtown Lenoir.
Not only is Charlie receptive to his students, he is also inclusive of other artists in the region and he makes sure their work is represented beneath his roof. Imagine browsing a good twenty folk artists in one gallery! These are some of the best folk artists around, and viewing their work in one collective space enhances the entire experience. Whether you’re just beginning your folk art collection, or you’re putting the finishing touches on your home in the mountain towns of North Carolina, this is the place to visit. Charlie’s website says, “We represent regional Folk Artists and their Folk Stories,” and they truly do.
Folk art is appreciated by people from diverse areas with diverse backgrounds because at its root it celebrates our very hearts and souls. You may have seen Charlie’s work featured on local television networks, (they were named “Master Folk Keepers” by Life in the Carolinas), or YouTube, displayed at the Morganton City Hall, or Root and Vine, or perhaps his popular and gorgeous quilt blocks that he was commissioned to paint by The Coves Round Mountain Ranch.
Be sure to visit the Frye’s website (they can ship artwork), or their gallery on West Avenue in Lenoir, and take part in one of Charlie’s workshops or gatherings where you can meet a local artist and share the love of folk art. You might get a glimpse of Minnie Pearl, Charlie’s famous old “owl” pickup truck. Charlie’s upcoming event: Love Bird Paint Night at Folk Keeper Gallery where he invites people looking for things to do in Lenoir NC to “Come and paint a pair of love birds with your sweetie” this Valentine’s evening, February 14 from 6-8 pm. The fee is $30.00 per person, and feel free to bring your own snack and beverages.
If you’re simply looking to shop, here’s a bit of what you’ll find in their gallery: folk art, pottery, sculptures, jewelry, antiques, cards, organic and fair trades teas sold by the ounce, essential oils with cool artistic labels by Eric Legge, knitted items, cutting boards, bees wax soaps, paper lanterns and so many more unique items for your mountain home.
Those who have settled at The Coves know and love Charlie Frye. They get to appreciate his quilt blocks on the Round Mountain Ranch barn, they’ve taken art classes with him both at The Cove’s Pisgah Mountain Lodge, and at Frye’s gallery, and life is made more bright, colorful and genuine due to the simple brush strokes and camaraderie of this creative man. Come and visit the Folk Keeper Gallery and The Coves and see how sweet life can be.