• Kristi Burke

Three States And A Mural

Updated: Sep 22, 2019

I really love a good adventure. Especially anywhere in Appalachia. I'm gripped by the clean, crisp air. I love the perpetual change in elevation, the fern covered mountains and the cool, blue lakes. Fluffy clouds of Virginia Creeper adorn the hills, competing with the flowing river valleys for top spot on my list of favorite sights. There's this foreign aroma that translates to a leafy, sweet cinnamon from a yet-to-be-discovered source; my husband's favorite scent. We just can't get enough of it. We yearn for it daily and plan our lives around our next trip to second-home. One day we'll live there. Unfortunately that time isn't now.

Lake Views In Dandridge, TN

Virginia Creeper

Atlanta, GA

Atlanta (Olympic Park) At Night

Although we only had less than 24 hours in Atlanta, we certainly made the best of it. We enjoyed drinks at Hop City, a friendly bottle shop and tasting room downtown. Dave had his fair share of samples, as the bartender was eager to let him taste the entire menu. I'm not a beer drinker myself but they did have a nice apple cider - unfortunately the name of it escapes me.

Hop City Beer Flight

Easily, the highlight of this place was their abundant selection of mead! If you haven't heard of it, mead is a fermented honey beverage, and happens to be one of my favorite things to order at the bar. It's typically pricey and strong (average ABV is 12%), but it's usually quite refreshing and smooth. I love trying new flavors, but this time just picked up a nice, plain honey blossom by Charm City. If you look to the top right of the photo below, you'll find my favorite mead by Superstition appropriately named "Peanut Butter Jelly Crime" as it's as close to PB&J in a glass you'll ever get. If a heaven exists, it has endless shelves of delicious, craft mead.

A Mead Lover's Paradise at Hop City

After prying ourselves away from the treasures of Hop City, we spent the rest of our night trying out the city's scooter rentals. The app was fairly easy to use, and the price wasn't too high. Little did we know, those things get speed! We were rolling up to 15 mph, which felt seriously quick if you've never been on one. They were really easy to use and gave us the ability to see more in a smaller amount of time than if we had simply walked. I did feel cheated out of a good workout, though. We both agreed that they seemed a bit unsafe, especially since you're *technically* not supposed to use them on sidewalks (which we did, especially when we were first learning to use them). But they were fun as hell. So much so, we decided to rent them again the next morning before we left.

We were lucky enough to stay directly across the street from an oddly-placed coffee shop, right in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. So the next morning we munched on croissants and oatmeal, sipped on freshly brewed coffee, and made the short drive into downtown for a morning at the High Museum of Art. Dave was really excited to bring me here, and made it top priority on our list of things-to-do. There were definitely pros and cons to this experience. The art was beautiful, and we were fortunate to see original pieces from highly acclaimed artists like Claude Monet and Georgia O'Keeffe. I loved being in the presence of such rich history and timeless talent.

Here's what I didn't like: All the damn, stuffy rules.

Okay, so I get why the rules exist. I know that there are millions upon millions of dollars decorating the walls of the museum. I understand that these pieces are sensitive and fragile and historic. I know that it's better to be safe than sorry, and the urgency for caution and care is necessary. I'm not complaining about the rules - but I kind of am. We were closely watched and followed in most exhibits we observed. The attendants kept their eyes on us and were quick to approach us for any small infraction. We were firmly reminded to keep at an arm's length away from the art, while an older lady beside us stood with her nose inches from the pieces she was admiring (I'm not sure what gave her such privilege). A bit later, Dave was asked to wear his backpack on one shoulder alone. As we stepped into an exhibit shortly after, the attendant just happened to show up around every corner, with his eyes steadily tracking us. Following that, we were approached by an employee who demanded to see our ticket stickers. Although we were warmly greeted by the desk staff, they failed to let us know that our stickers needed to be worn and seen. Dave had a little fun with it, and decided to wear his sticker in the middle of his forehead for the remainder of our time there. We did have a lovely time, but our inner anarchists were getting a bit tired of being followed and commanded every few minutes. It was difficult to feel relaxed enough to simply take in the art.

I hope I make art that lasts centuries. I hope I create pieces so powerful they one day hang in galleries long after I'm gone, for future generations to admire or detest. And I hope they put a giant sign next to them that says: PLEASE TOUCH THE ART!

MY kind of museum was found unintentionally along our route out of town, and onto our next stop. Still in Georgia, not far from Atlanta, we found School bus Graveyard; A place where buses go to die, and then get resurrected as canvas to artists all around. The art was beautiful, colorful, insightful and creepy. I loved how honest, raw and real it felt. We stopped alongside the road, and walked up a hill to see the buses up close. There were signs all around warning all to keep out, although I was itching to see inside. We took some photos and quickly left. After getting on the road and doing a quick google search, we learned that you can actually visit inside, and see a lot more painted buses. We have that on the list for next time

Knoxville, TN

Downtown Knoxville

We set out to spend some time in Knoxville because we're considering eventually moving to that area later down the road. We researched the town and realized it was close to all of our favorite adventure spots in North Carolina, but without the pesky state tax. We didn't spend much time here, but what we did see, we really enjoyed!

Our Airbnb was about a half an hour away from Knoxville, in Dandridge. There isn't much going on in Dandridge, except churches and food city - their version of a "food lion" aka grocery store. However we stayed right on a beautiful lake with a cozy little spot to sit on the rocks and appreciate the sunset.

Our Path To The Lake - You Needed A Rope To Get Up And Down, As It Was Exceptionally Steep

Taking In The Views In Dandridge, TN

Hot Chicken Breakfast From Tootsie's Food Truck

We visited Downtown Knoxville on a game-day, but the streets weren't too busy. We found parking quite easily and biked into town where the weekly Farmer's Market was set up. We had a delicious breakfast from a food truck called "Tootsie truck", which served a plate of eggs, cheesy grits and hot chicken. Dave ate every bite of his, and I consumed most of mine. Hot sauce for breakfast isn't typically my style, but it was actually the perfect way to start the day, because it wasn't too spicy but had incredible flavor. My mouth is tingling as I type this - It was that good. We strolled around the market where we met an adorable dog named Ruby who would do tricks and take tips right out of your hand. There were flower vendors and CBD shops, artisan tents and tasty homemade treats. We also really enjoyed the park alongside the market, decorated with a little creek and beautifully crafted sculptures.

Ruby, The Tip-Loving Pup

We didn't spend much time in town, but did get to visit the Urban Wilderness trail, which connects the city to nature through hiking and bike trails. My husband loves mountain biking, and had a blast shredding the trails. I, on the other hand, did not. It was hot, and the trail was far beyond my experience level. I decided to sit it out, and enjoy the pretty garden set up by the pump track. We also checked out Mead's Quarry at Ijam's nature center. Free swimming and a beer garden - does it get any better?

Panorama of a quiet day at Mead's Quarry

Jumping In For A Swim

Gatlingburg, TN And The Great Smoky Mountain Expressway

Along The Smoky Mountain Expressway

$10 Mead Tasting At Savannah Bee Co.

Gatlinburg was an unplanned break en route to North Carolina. Dave had never been before, and it'd been about 15 years since I'd visited, so we decided to stop and see what kind of trouble we could get into. It's mostly a tourist trap, and it didn't take long before my crowd anxiety kicked in, but we did enjoy the plethora of free wine and cider tastings, as well as a mandatory mead tasting at Savannah Bee Co., one of my favorite places to shop in the South.

Along our route, we drove along the Great Smoky Mountain Expressway where we found beautiful views, grazing elk and the meeting point of Tennessee and North Carolina. It was such a beautiful drive, and I highly recommend it to anyone who's staying in the area.

Elk On The Expressway

Murphy, NC / Barn Quilt Murals

My First Out-Of-State Mural

The Holler House At Night

Easily the best stay on our journey was at The Holler House, in Murphy. It's an adorable, cozy tiny house run by Chad and Emilie of Appalachian Wedding Photography, our wedding photographers and friends. They've built this charming getaway on their property a bit into the woods. They rent it out on airbnb and even host events and tiny weddings. It's dressed in pretty, shining lights that illuminate the porch and welcome you inside. The country-chic decor, attention to detail, comfy bed, and clawfoot tub make up what I've deemed my forever favorite way to escape. In addition to the multiple hammocks, outdoor shower, fire pit and picnic area, there is also a treehouse and hut for camping and play. Which brings to me to my purpose for visiting: The barn quilt murals.

A Painting Of The Holler House, Gifted To Them From Our Last Trip And Hanging In The Kitchen

When Emilie found out that I was an artist, she asked that I come paint on the treehouse sometime. More recently, her family put a pleasant little camping hut beside it and she requested that I spruce it up with a geometric design. If you've ever visited the North Carolina or Virginia Mountains, you've likely seen the "barn quilt" murals decorating barns all over rural areas. She wanted one of her own on the hut, and I was excited to work up some designs. After a little consideration, I knew exactly what I wanted to paint.

Inspired by the rolling hills and happy sunshine, I designed the hut piece to be simplistic and bright. Never leaving behind my love for color, but altering my illustrative style to better suit a geometric feel. To match the hut, I added a small barn quilt, in the same color scheme, to the treehouse as well. When you pull up, on your way to your Holler House escape, the bright, happy colors welcome you.

The Treehouse And Hut, Prior To Painting

I was lucky enough to have help from Dave, which made it easy to finish the hut in a day. Although I sketched a concept beforehand, I altered it and slightly improvised once I began. The hut was easy, as it had a ready-made grid system with the screws perfectly placed in a way that gave me a guideline without the use of measuring tape. I used Frog tape to make my lines, then filled in the color, layering several times to ensure that the colors stayed bright and long-lasting. There wasn't a PPG nearby, which is what I usually use, so I used sample paints from Ace Hardware, and sealed it with an enamel spray.

The Treehouse barn quilt was entirely improvised. I didn't sketch a rendering, but instead decided to trust myself and let my heart guide my hands. I'm really happy with how it came out, especially with it being my first time experimenting with this style. It was so therapeutic, and I loved the freedom of the design process. I see many more like this in my future, and am contemplating a series of barn quilts on canvas when I get back home.

There Wasn't Room For A Step Ladder, So I Stood On A Log

Treehouse Barn Quilt

Camping In Style

Timelapse Of Hut Mural

Ocoee River, TN

On our last day, we drove back into Tennessee and explored the Ocoee River, while the water was very low. Typically, you can kayak through these waters, and most of the rocks are covered. But on this day, the water was so low - and in some places, nonexistent- that it was more of a rocky wonderland rather than a river of rapids. We walked and took a couple dips in the swimming holes, but after a close encounter with a snake, we decided our time was up.

Forever A Mountain Mermaid

In the mountains, I feel inspired, free, and motivated to create more. I hope to find myself painting barn quilts and murals all over Appalachia, expressing my love for this region with vibrant hues and happy designs. This trip has motivated me to put myself out there more, and turn visions of art and travel into a full-time reality. My newest goal: Leave a piece of my creative heart in every single state, and use my art to bring light, love, inspiration and happiness to communities all over the United States. There isn't anything you can't do when you work hard, love life, and live your passion.

With love and creativity,


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