There’s an alchemy to art: Finished pieces are a blend of inspiration, meaning and form. But seeing art in action is often even more profound. When you watch artists at work — whether on canvas, at a potter’s wheel or in a forge — it’s like getting a rare glimpse into their creative sparks.
Here are seven spots across the country where your group can enjoy the beauty of original art and interact with artisans while they work.
Asheville River Arts District
Asheville, North Carolina
Scattered along a one-mile stretch of the French Broad River in Asheville, North Carolina, the River Arts District is home to more than 200 artists working within roughly 25 studio buildings, all of them happy to open their doors and interact with visitors while they create.
“One of the reasons I chose to move here from New York City was that it was one of the friendliest artist communities that I had ever visited,” said Nadine Charlsen, a watercolor artist and the River Arts District’s current president.
While exploring the area, you’ll find artists of all types, from painters and ceramicists to jewelry-makers and metal workers, with many offering open studios daily roughly between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Guidebooks available throughout the district offer exact studio times and color-coded maps to ease your navigation of the area, which will be enhanced by a fully completed French Broad River Greenway walking trail next year, Charlsen said.
While in the city, consider also stopping by Lexington Glassworks to see glassblowers at work or to visit Village Potters, where groups can schedule a Get Your Hands Dirty workshop to create their own pottery.
Seattle Glassblowing Studio
A visit to the Emerald City wouldn’t be complete without a trip to one of its many glassblowing studios.
“Seattle is the epicenter for glassblowing in North America,” said Sarah Tollefson, office manager at the Seattle Glassblowing Studio, where guests can watch professional glass artists at work daily. “There are more glass artists and glass studios here than anywhere else on the continent.”
Seattle Glassblowing features both an art gallery and a hot shop, so you’ll get a chance to see both finished and in-process pieces there. The art gallery showcases work from more than 80 glass artists, from sculptures and vases to jewelry and wall art, including many pieces made on-site.
Small groups can take self-guided tours whenever the studio is open. Prearranged, guided tours are recommended for groups of 10 or more. On the second Friday of each month, groups of up to 18 can schedule a three-hour workshop to make their own glass masterpieces.
Museum of Arts and Design
In Manhattan’s Columbus Circle, the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) boasts four floors of exhibit space featuring art and objects that epitomize innovative craft and design. But what sets MAD apart from other museums is the opportunity to interact with artists while they create.
“We’re the only museum in New York that has artists at work in the studios every day that the museum is open,” said Marissa Passi, manager of MAD’s Artist Studios and Docent Programs.
Since 2008, MAD’s Artist Studios program has helped provide studio space and financial support to more than 170 artists, many of them multimedia artists who have gone on to esteemed careers. On any given day, visitors can expect to see at least one and sometimes two of MAD’s six daily-resident artists working in studio, and the rotation of artists changes every six months. Guided group tours are available.
“Often when you go to a museum gallery and you look at a piece, you think, ‘I really wish I could ask the artist what they were thinking when they made that, or how they made this,’” Passi said. “Here, you get to have that chance.”
Santa Fe Studio Experience 365
Santa Fe, New Mexico
An offshoot of the popular once-yearly Santa Fe Studio Tour — formerly in June but moving to October in 2020 — the Santa Fe Studio Experience 365 (SFSE365) is a new initiative, launched in May, that offers year-round studio access to Santa Fe’s active artist community. Already, there are nearly 20 artists involved, representing an array of media, from paper collage, jewelry and ceramics to mixed media, painting, photography and sculpture. Artists set their own open-studio hours, which are posted on the SFSE365 website.
“A lot of times, people want to see the artists at work, doing what they do,” said Sara Miller, a painter and mixed-media artist who helped launch the SFSE365 initiative. “They want to see what their studios look like and how they do their work. We understand that now, more than ever, people don’t just want to go look at things, they want to experience things.”
Museum of American Jewelry Design and Manufacturing
In Harrisonburg, Virginia, visitors to the Museum of American Jewelry Design and Manufacturing can experience the time-honored craft of jewelry-making. At the museum, which operates as a working factory, artisans create vintage-inspired rings, bracelets, pendants, earrings and more using authentic materials and historic processes. Operated by jewelry craftsman Hugo Kohl, the factory, filled with equipment dating to the 19th and early 20th centuries, can accommodate groups of up to 10 at a time.
“What we have here are bits and pieces [of equipment] from many of America’s early Industrial Age jewelry factories,” Kohl said. “All of our machines still work and are still in use, and guests are allowed to walk through and see things being made.”
Both self-guided and guided tours are available, and visitors can purchase finished pieces at the museum’s adjacent boutique or online.
Stoneware and Co.
Since 1815, Stoneware and Co., formerly known as Louisville Stoneware, has been producing handcrafted stoneware pottery that perfectly balances beauty, form and function.
“We are the last standing great American stoneware factory,” said owner Steve Smith.
Now undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation, Stoneware and Co. will launch a new retail space, museum, cafe and factory tour next January at its Louisville location. “The tour takes everyone through all the steps of creating our pieces, from raw clay through slip casting to glazing in the art department, and then firing,” Smith said.
Tour visitors can see artisans at work crafting plates, mugs, bowls and more, and also touch the clay in its various states. Factory tours are available weekdays or by appointment for groups. Following the tour, visitors can opt to create their own pieces through the factory’s Paint Your Own Pottery experience. After firing, finished stoneware pieces are delivered to your door in under two weeks.
In Memphis, the Metal Museum is the “only museum in the country dedicated to the art and craft of fine metalwork,” said Kim Ward, the museum’s marketing manager. In addition to an outdoor sculpture garden and an indoor gallery space, the museum also has a working foundry where visitors can see metal artists at work on commissioned pieces. Though guests are free to observe the artists creating their professional pieces whenever the museum is open, for a more interactive experience, it’s best to visit on weekends, when the museum offers structured metalworking demonstrations.
“During the weekend demonstrations, our artists typically work on simple tools or housewares that don’t take a whole lot of time to complete,” Ward said. “So they’re able to explain the process of what they’re doing, explaining the difference between forging and casting, and more.”
The museum also features a retail store, which showcases metal pieces created by artists from across the country, as well as art created on-site.