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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Sick of Movies? Unleash Your Inner Artisan With These Valentine's Ideas

Posted by on Thu, Feb 11, 2016 at 10:13 AM

click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY CHRIS WILLIAMS
  • illustration by Chris Williams
Greeting card aisles saturated in pinks and reds. Inflated tasting-menu prices. Flowers that wilt in the trash. Instead of dinner out and a dozen roses, why not be a crafty Valentine and try something unique? Creative Cupids around the Triangle have a few opportunities for that this weekend.

Durham artisan printer Brian Allen created a Valentine’s Day event to foster “an environment that prompts others to express themselves.” Allen’s letterpress class (Feb. 14, 1:30 p.m., $100 per couple) allows couples to create custom valentines on cotton paper with an Albion iron hand press, more than a century old. Allen pairs the Albion with antique wooden type for you and your sweetheart to “print sweet words to each other.” If you feel challenged to craft a message, he’ll provide guidance, and the candlelight leads to romantic ideas while harking back to printers past.

Allen’s work with letterforms ranges from calligraphy to digital font development. “I’ve got one foot in the fifteenth century and the other in the twenty-first,” he says. He provides wine glasses along with the vintage press, so you’re welcome to bring your own vintage libations.

Couples who already have plans for Valentine’s Day proper, or have trouble making last-minute reservations, can take advantage of a class held on the unofficial “Valentine’s Eve.” Chatham County artist Chana Meeks leads a Shape and Design pottery workshop at the North Carolina Arts Incubator in Siler City (Feb. 13, 7 p.m., $55 per person, chanameeks@gmail.com). For those who appreciate locally sourced items, the class uses clay from less than forty miles away. Plus, Meeks has refined her own custom formula for the glaze. She lets students handle the creative side of sculpting a serving tray with Carolina clay while she coordinates glazing and firing.

As with Allen’s printing class, couples are welcome to bring wine. Sweethearts can also enjoy chocolate-covered strawberries and gourmet snacks while etching a monogram or inscribing their names on platters that will last for many shared meals to come—and are dishwasher and microwave-friendly. If Meeks's pottery looks like art, which it does, it’s not intentional.

“I prefer to make pieces that are functional,” she says. If you’ve dined at the Pittsboro Roadhouse, Meeks’s garlic bowls have graced your table. Like most of her pottery, they’re conveniently ornamental.

click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY CHRIS WILLIAMS
  • illustration by Chris Williams
For something strictly decorative, consider the steel roses crafted by Haw River Forge. “These roses will not die, I promise you that,” says owner Ches Stewart. Stewart completed an intense yearlong blacksmith certification at the Virginia Institute of Blacksmithing, condensing three years of apprenticeship into one. He commuted to school from his home and shop, west of Chapel Hill, in Graham.

He started making roses with simple leaves and vines, but changed his style after seeing a rose made with the French blacksmithing techniques repoussé and chasing, hammering methods that yield a decorative surface. Now he carves and layers six steel petals by hand and hand-forges stems for each rose. Stewart offers the roses year-round, but demand doubled this Valentine’s season, and he’s shipping them nationwide ($100–$125 per rose, info@fromthehaw.com).

After dinner out in Chapel Hill, take your sweetheart for a short, surprise drive to Saxapahaw, through bucolic farmlands, to pick up Stewart’s one-of-a-kind roses. (Order ahead, though.) This time next year, couples may be able to craft a rose together. Stewart starts offering blacksmithing classes this spring. 

Any of these artisanal dates is a great way to celebrate living in such a crafty, creative area—together.

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