western north carolina

Favorite Hikes (Inspiration in the Making)...

Asheville Hikes

Hiking and exploring are a huge, huge part of how I regenerate when I'm "spent". Fresh air, exercise and immersion in nature -- that's where I go to recharge and I usually go home inspired with a new idea for my artwork. What does a mountain trail have to do with oil painting and my art studio? Everything.

So if you're visiting Asheville, here are a couple more hikes I am always recommending: Graveyard Fields and Skinny Dip Falls. Both are a wonderful way to spend the day and are both easy hikes (no excuses not to enjoy!).

Graveyard Fields

Graveyard Fields is a super popular hiking destination on the Blue Ridge Parkway (Milepost 418.8). The Yellowstone Prong is the water source for two waterfalls in a mile-high valley filled with wildflowers and surrounded by Blue Ridge mountains with 6,000-foot peaks. The area got it's name years ago from the tree stumps and surrounding trees that looked like grave stones in a graveyard setting. The trees were toppled by a huge wind several hundred years ago. Then in 1925, an intense fire burned the recently logged area, and the forest has been slow in recovering since. This provides a stark contrast to most hiking in the Asheville area.

Their beautiful hiking trail (Graveyard Fields Loop) is about four miles. Start from the overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There is a map on the sign at the parking area. Take the trail at the lower end (right side looking away from Parkway) of the parking area. This descends down a paved path through a thick patch of rhododendron, down some steps and to a bridge. Cross the bridge, turn right along the trail until you come to the first trail intersection to the right, and descend a long flight of steps to viewing platform for Lower (or Second) Falls. You can get a closer look from the boulders at the base of the falls. You can even slide down a portion of the waterfall!  This beautiful waterfall is just short hike from the parking area. It's a popular swimming hole to get splash around in the cool mountain water and slide down part of the waterfall. The rocks are slick and there are no lifeguards on duty. So be careful!

Skinny Dip Falls

Skinny Dip Falls are beautiful. Really one of our favorites. It's a refreshing swimming hole and soaking spot on a hot summer day with clear, cold water. And it's a beautiful waterfall setting to enjoy any time of the year without getting wet with multiple cascades and pools. Located on the Blue Ridge Parkway (at Milepost 417 at Looking Glass Rock overlook), it's easy to find at the end of a 1/2 mile hiking trail from the Parkway overlook.

Sorry, Skinny Dip Falls is not clothing-optional.  And In addition to a nice "jump off rock" into a deep pool (about six feet deep), there are several places to wade or have a seat in the cool mountain water.

"Where should we eat tonight?"

When people visit Asheville, North Carolina, there is a big decision they make every day: "Where do we eat dinner?" Now you could decide to picnic just off the Blue Ridge Parkway and enjoy a amazing and restful mountain view (this is about my speed), but if you want to find a restaurant downtown, oh my...there are so, SO many choices, and everyone has their own opinion as to the correct answer to this question so...I figured this would be fun to talk about, since I definitely have my favorite hangouts around here. And just a quick note: the list and descriptions below are not in any specific order. I am listing local restaurants as they come to my mind...

Chai Pani

This place is honestly probably my number one favorite restaurant in Asheville. This is a celebration of Indian street food. Heck, some of the best food of any country is its street food, and Chai Pani features chaat - crunchy, spicy, sweet, tangy, brightly flavored Indian street snacks. And because there's nothing more comforting and delicious in any culture than a home cooked meal, Chai Pani also serves thalis - traditional family meals highlighting India's amazing culinary diversity. Either way you go (the chaat or thalis), you won't be sorry.


22 Battery Park Ave
Asheville, NC 28801

(828) 254-4003

The Market Place

The Market Place has been a fixture in downtown Asheville since 1979. Though it’s beginnings rose in the streams and mountains of western North Carolina – a place of mountain trout and small farms – it also has a hand and heart inspired by traditions far from our borders. This mélange of local food prepared with other worldly traditions of the table may have helped the Market Place garner national attention but the keen reverence for the heritage and roots of Appalachia has always remained at the center of what we do. Joy took me here for my birthday last year and it was truly remarkable.


20 Wall Street
Asheville, NC 28801

(828) 252-4162


Cúrate is a celebration of traditional Spanish cuisine. If you have ever visited Spain, Cúrate’s menu will transport you back to the country of flamenco, olives, almonds, and sherry. If you’ve never been to Spain, Cúrate will introduce you to the country’s lively tapas bar tradition of small plate dining on foods flavored with a touch of sherry, or perhaps smoky paprika, and always the choicest olive oil.  Cúrate should definitely be on your short list of awesome restaurants to try in Asheville.


13 Biltmore Ave
Asheville, NC 28801

(828) 239-2946

Wicked Weed Brewing Pub

If you like great food and amazingly interesting beer, then you need to try Wicked Weed Brewing Pub. Located in downtown Asheville, the Brewpub is the original home of Wicked Weed Brewing housing a full restaurant, downstairs beer bar, bottle shop, and original 15 barrel brewery. If the weather is nice, I'd recommend sitting outside in their ample patio area.


91 Biltmore Ave.
Asheville, NC 28801

(828) 575-9599

The Admiral

This is on my list so that Joy doesn't yell at me. If I want to really celebrate and my my wife happy, I take her to The Admiral. But I have to remember to make reservations several days in advance). I'm not kidding about that. The restaurant itself is absolutely and completely unremarkable. It's a shoddy cinder block building. But OMG, go inside and sit down and look at the menu. It's absolutely amazing. This chill West Asheville American dishes up a globally inspired seasonal menu that changes frequently, featuring plates like Korean fried chicken, duck leg adobo and elk loin. 


West Asheville
400 Haywood Road
Asheville, NC 28806

(828) 252- 2541

For more recommendations and things to do in the area see my page about the River Arts District.  

Spring in Western North Carolina

Spring is one of the big reasons we enjoy living in Western North Carolina. Asheville is amazing this time of year. Visitors begin besieging the Biltmore Estate to see the tulips and daffodils and tourists are beginning to swarm downtown Asheville, creating a congenial commotion as they wander around our streets, shops, restaurants and art galleries. Ahhhh. I love this time of year. Growing up in southern California, spring and autumn were pretty much just "theoretical" seasons. But the character of Asheville and all of western North Carolina completely changes with the turning of the gentle seasons. Joy and I are working in earnest this time of year, finishing up winter projects while there's still time, building up our inventory of oil paintings so we are ready for a new summer season.

So plan a trip! And when you visit Asheville, stop into St.Claire Art studio in the River Arts District and see what we're up to. There are more than 200 artists here and we will happily part with a map to keep you from getting lost! 


Now Spring Has Clad The Grove In Green
by Robert Burns

Now spring has clad the grove in green,
And strew'd the lea wi' flowers;
The furrow'd, waving corn is seen
Rejoice in fostering showers:
While ilka thing in nature join
Their sorrows to forego,
O why thus all alone are mine
The weary steps of woe?

The trout in yonder wimpling burn
That glides, a silver dart,
And safe beneath the shady thorn
Defies the angler's art --
My life was ance that careless stream,
That wanton trout was I;
But love, wi' unrelenting beam,
Has scorch'd my fountains dry.

The little flow'ret's peaceful lot,
In yonder cliff that grows,
Which, save the linnet's flight, I wot,
Nae ruder visit knows,
Was mine; till love has o'er me past,
And blighted a' my bloom,
And now beneath the with'ring blast
My youth and joy consume.

The waken'd lav'rock warbling springs,
And climbs the early sky,
Winnowing blythe her dewy wings
In morning's rosy eye:
As little reckt I sorrow's power,
Until the flowery snare
O' witching love, in luckless hour,
Made me the thrall o' care.

O had my fate been Greenland snows,
Or Afric's burning zone,
Wi' man and nature leagu'd my foes,
So Peggy ne'er I'd known!
The wretch whase doom is, "hope nae mair,"
What tongue his woes can tell!
Within whase bosom, save despair,
Nae kinder spirits dwell.

You're From Where?

I grew up in the crowded suburbs of Los Angeles in the sixties and seventies. Los Angeles was hot, crowded and smoggy. I remember days when it hurt to inhale deeply. I remember days when you couldn't see the mountains five miles away. I never liked Los Angeles. I remember coming back from vacation in the High Sierra's and breaking down in tears when I saw the San Fernando Valley stretching out endlessly in front of me. 

Asheville: Home Sweet Home

I chose Asheville, North Carolina because it's such a great place for an artist to do their art thing. Asheville is a small city, located in the Blue Ridge mountains of Western North Carolina. Everything my wife and I like to do is right here: camping, hiking, exploring trails and cool old towns. 

The City of Asheville celebrates the arts in so many, many ways. We celebrate food, beer, fine art, music and literature. It's awesome. It's been voted one of the best places in America to live. Why? Here are some thoughts by Matt Carmichael, a contributing editor of Livability.com. 

Why is Asheville, NC one of the best places to live in America? One consistent truth for the cities atop Livability’s Top 100 Best Places to Live is that there is no one answer to that question. For some, it’s the moderate climate. For others, it’s the arts and crafts in the ever-expanding River Arts District that has long been a draw for visitors and residents alike. For others, it’s the family-friendly atmosphere.

Increasingly, however, the answer is that it’s a great place to live because it’s a great place to eat and drink. In addition to being a two-time honoree on our overall Top 100 Best Places to Live, it also made two of our Top 10 Foodie Cities lists.

“We’re a major foodie city, so you have to go out some place great to eat, which isn’t hard to find,” says Mayor Esther Manheimer,  “but it might be hard to get a reservation.”

Even just 20 or 30 years ago Asheville didn’t see as much investment and “revitalization” as other parts of the state, which turned out to be a good thing. Its population didn’t explode during a time when tearing down and building new was fashionable. Instead its renaissance came during a time of historic preservation and reuse. That means that while the city now is home to a thriving restaurant and brewery scene, it all takes place along streets lined with historic buildings.

Asheville isn’t a big place. Its 90,000 residents and 9 million annual visitors can walk across the downtown in an afternoon, stopping to shop or grab a snack along the way. The Blue Ridge Mountains offer hiking and biking opportunities for the active outdoorsy types and a rolling scenic byway for those who like to take in their nature from behind a windshield. The fall foliage is spectacular enough to have landed Asheville on our Best Places for Fall Foliage ranking, too.

Residents have access to a solid public school system (Great Schools give it an overall 8 out of 10) and traditional health-care options at the Mission Health Systems. However, many residents choose from the array of alternative healing options, such as meditation and yoga at the Asheville Salt Cave.

Despite its popularity and rapid growth, housing remains affordable for most in Asheville with a median home price of less than $200,000. New development is an ongoing concern in town, but the city is doing its best to address the need for new housing with the desire to keep the city livable.

“We’re not creating land-locked sprawl situations,” says Mayor Manheimer. “We want things to be integrated, so people can get out, move around, and interact in their community in meaningful way and a healthy way.”

Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail is the longest "hiking only" footpath in the world, and extends from Georgia to Maine. Some of our favorite places to hike in North Carolina cross-cross the AT here and there. This painting is from one of my favorite balds near the border of Tennessee.

Living as an artist in Western North Carolina, the Appalachian Trail is never far, and is always an inspiration for my oil paintings. I simply never run out of creative fodder! In thinking about this awesome trail, and the amazing adventures found upon it, the landscapes, the trees, the rivers and the mountains, it seemed like I needed a poem to really do it justice.  (See some of my favorite hikes in the area)

Endless Ranges

The month of February I will begin

a trek through woods as wide as the seas,

from the foothills of Georgia 

to rock altars in the mountains of Maine,

a pilgrimage of whole hearted discovery.


I shall walk on this Appalachian trail,

following the blazes of white,

beneath the wide open sky,

gazing north, always north 

across wide rivers, rocky ridges, and green meadows.


Twenty-two hundred miles it is,

twenty-two hundred miles to reach the end.

From this point on I now must find the will

to go onward every day until Autumn’s chill,

with the last days my youth has left to lend me.


And in these lonely months of walking,

when I’m lost amidst fog draped mountain peaks

timeless truths I hope to find as I am quiet and just listen --

to the whisper of branches, the gurgling of the stream,

the roaring wind -- listen for The Voice. He is here.


This trail I trek not because I’m bold or brave,

but from fear of that days when I've grown old,

I will with regret, I’ll only quietly sigh

because of the unlived life that has passed me.

This is an adventure is not one I can ignore.


While I do not know if I shall succeed,

I do ask the reader -- listen!

Live your one-time Life. Really live!

And should you find your path twine across my own,

Welcome home. 

Asheville Channel Interview

Asheville Channel Interview

Last week, and again yesterday, some really nice folks from the Asheville Channel came out to my studio for an interview (so I tried to sound like I was super interesting) and to take photos and video. So if you're interested in my work, or interested in practically anything to do with Asheville, check out the Asheville Channel: https://ashevillechannel.com/blog/st-claire-studio/. And...thanks Mario! You're team is awesome!

Transformation of an idea...

Old Idea, New Painting

A year or so ago, I did a painting that was sent to the gallery in Charleston that represents me (Mitchell-Hill Gallery). It's title was "Through Gates of Splendor". The painting was inspired by a photo I had of a road through coastal pines (originally taken on a road on the central California coast). Living now in the south, I tweaked the pines and transformed them into gnarled old oak trees. Now it's reminiscent of a road to any number antebellum plantations (pretty tricky, eh?)

Well, I recently had some clients from California and they loved the original painting, but asked if I would be offended if the color scheme was changed to a more "autumnal" feel. I explained that I am NEVER offended when I client gets involved. That's really the fun of a commission -- people can have a hand in their artwork and then it's not just "my" painting -- they have ownership of it as well.

There is this prevailing idea that artists are super-sensitive about their creations (because by and large, people are very reluctant to ask me to change this or that in their painting). The opinion seems to be that since I am an artist, I am probably temperamental (hence the term 'temperamental artist'). "You are the professional, and you painted coastal evergreens and maybe it would insult you to ask for autumn colors (since pines do not turn orange and red, hence the term 'evergreen')." But as an artist, I can look at a beautiful road through Monterey coastal pines and see southern oak trees. Why couldn't we bring autumn's mantle to the trees? That's really the joy of being an artist...you can create.

So NO, I'm not temperamental about taking an idea and tweaking it. I do that myself all the time, and at least in this case...I am extremely please with the result.

"Through Gates of Splendor"

"Through Gates of Splendor"

"Autumnal Arms Enfolding"

"Autumnal Arms Enfolding"



My Marathon

Future "Cullasaja Falls"

Future "Cullasaja Falls"

Bigger is Better

Have you ever decided to do something and then wonder, "Oh my gosh. What was I thinking?"

A few days ago, I ordered a 6' x 8' panel for a new project I want to undertake. I knew it would be big. Then today it was delivered.

Oh my gosh. What was I thinking? 

This thing is truly huge.  At 6' x 8', this monster is the largest painting I've ever done. Most paintings take between 3-4 weeks. This one will take six months. I wanted something larger, more intricate and more challenging than anything I've ever done before. I'll take you along step by step until it's complete.

"Is this a commission?" you ask. No. I'm just doing it. It will hang in my Asheville studio until someone adopts it.
"WHY are you doing this?" you ask. "Are you crazy?" Yeah well...

You know how some people get into running and they end up running a marathon? If you ask them WHY the HECK they'd do that, a lot of them will simply answer "to see if I could do it".

So that's my answer. I want to see if I can do it.

This is what I am painting...Cullasaja Falls, North Carolina.

This is what I am painting...Cullasaja Falls, North Carolina.

Hominy Valley

"Hominy Valley" (16" x 26")

"Hominy Valley" (16" x 26")

Local North Carolina Scenes

Some of our favorite hiking trails in western North Carolina are just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, southeast of Mt. Pisgah. Waterfalls, streams, amazing vistas and BLUEBERRIES are what make this part of the Blue Ridge landscape so special. The fastest route to the top of the Parkway here is on the back side of Mt. Pisgah. Gradually making your way through rolling hills and Hominy Valley, (a beautiful place filled with wildflowers) you approach the hulking mountain (our local landmark). Many such drives through Hominy Valley have inspired this oil painting. I hope you enjoy it and next time you're in Asheville and feel like exploring, come by the studio and I'll pull out a map and point you in the right direction.