Tucked away on the eastern edge of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community represents a vibrant and enduring hub of American craftsmanship. This unique enclave, established over eight decades ago, hosts the largest independent organization of artisans in the United States. The organization offers a rich tapestry of handcrafted goods along an 8-mile loop road known as the “Arts & Crafts Loop”​​.

Craft shop

How it Got Started
The community’s roots can be traced back to a group of independent artisans who began selling their crafts in the area. As Gatlinburg grew into a tourist destination, the demand for local crafts spurred the development of this artistic community. However, over time, the town became too crowded and the shops charged too much in commissions. As a result, the craftsmen moved their operations to a part of Gatlinburg known as the Glades, where most of them still live and work. What began as a cluster of artists selling their work has blossomed into a full-fledged artisan community, complete with shops, galleries, eateries, and accommodations​.

Craft shop

The Artisan Experience
Visitors to the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community can explore a wide variety of crafts. The artisans here specialize in traditional and contemporary crafts including woodworking, pottery, quilting, broom-making, glass-blowing, candle-making, and blacksmithing. Each shop offers something unique, reflecting the personal style and skill of the artisans​​.

One of the most compelling aspects of the community is the opportunity to see artisans at work. Many craftsmen welcome visitors into their studios to observe as they create their wares, making the experience interactive and educational. This openness provides a deep connection to the craft, as visitors witness the skill and dedication involved in each piece​.

Inside craft shop

Engaging with the Community
The community also hosts several annual events that allow visitors to engage more deeply with the arts and crafts. Events like “Hands On Gatlinburg” offer workshops where participants can learn crafts directly from skilled artisans. These workshops cover a range of activities, from pottery and jewelry-making to more unique skills like flint knapping.

Seasonal shows such as the Easter Arts & Craft Show, the Thanksgiving Arts & Crafts Show, and the Christmas Arts & Crafts Show provide platforms for artisans to showcase and sell their unique creations, often themed around the holiday seasons​. The shows all take place at the Gatlinburg Convention Center, making it even easier for Gatlinburg guests to pick up some unique, hand-made items to take home.

Sugar Shack

Why Gatlinburg?
The location of Gatlinburg is significant not just for its scenic beauty but also for its history as a gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This backdrop has not only inspired artists but has also attracted tourists, creating a steady audience and market for the crafts community. The natural beauty of the area complements the handmade, earthy quality of the crafts produced here, making it a perfect fit for artisans who draw inspiration from their surroundings​.

Big Foot

How to Get There
Visiting the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community is facilitated by its well-organized layout along the Arts & Crafts Loop. Access is easy via car or the dedicated trolley service that runs along the loop. There are several trolley stops downtown. The easiest place to catch the trolley is probably Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. If you’re driving, just head out of town on Highway 321 toward Cosby. It’s easy to find.

With over 100 artisans scattered along this route, visitors can enjoy a day-long excursion immersed in creative expression. There are also plenty of places to eat and relax within the community, so you can take your time​. It’s a great way to spend a day! You will find free maps of the area at most of the shops to make it easier to get around.

The Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community in Gatlinburg is not just a place to buy handmade crafts; it is a living gallery where art is made, displayed, and lived. It offers a unique glimpse into the heart of American craft tradition, maintained and renewed by a dedicated community of artists who cherish their heritage and the natural beauty of their mountain home.