Craft hub at N.C. State – News & Observer

You might not know it, but the Triangle area offers a wealth of opportunities to learn new crafts. From spinning yarn to setting gemstones, there is somewhere local to learn it.

Each month for the next year or so we’ll explore the local craft scene, offering up where you and yours can learn new skills and hone old ones.

Tucked away in the basement of Thompson Hall, off a small side street on the N.C. State University campus, is a 51-year-old institution: the Crafts Center. Despite being on the N.C. State campus, the Crafts Center’s many classes and workshops are available to both students and the public, although students are offered reduced prices.

In the past five decades, it’s grown to include eight different departments for clay, woodworking, photography, glass, jewelry and metals, lapidary, fibers and art on paper.

With three semesters a year, the center stays a hive of activity. In the past year, more than 1,500 people have taken classes and about 14,000 people have walked through the door for various events such as exhibitions and craft guild meetings, according to assistant director Jo Ellen Westmoreland.

Westmoreland started out teaching classes at the center before becoming assistant director nine years ago. On the last night of summer classes, she offered a tour of the center, during which she was greeted by instructors and students who were busy making beads, discussing glass designs and using machines both large and small.

Buz Phillips, 73, was in the woodworking shop using a scroll saw to finish a small shelf designed by his wife. Despite being an N.C. State graduate, he didn’t find the center until he needed to finish a project, a bed he started making in Burlington. Today he sleeps in that Shaker-style bed, nestled between two bedside tables that were made at the center.

In the clay studio, Dare Coulter, 22, who will graduate from N.C. State in December, was working on one of two busts used at last month’s African American Cultural Festival in Raleigh.

Desk attendant and rising N.C. State senior Alexis Harold, 20, shared how she has taken pottery classes, but will soon start learning how to make glass beads. She added that she wanted to learn everything on offer, but given all the center’s classes, she jokingly noted that deciding what to take “was a problem.”

The center provides an experience online classes cannot give – the opportunity to learn in person from an expert as well as fellow students. Several students say they feed off each other’s creativity, curiosity and excitement.

That, Westmoreland said, is the center’s strength – not only helping people learn a craft but creating a community. She sees it again and again: “People who never thought they would have anything in common with each other find that they do.”

Betsy Greer writes about craft and activism at Reach her at

More information

N.C. State University’s Crafts Center offers classes to students and the public. Space is still available in several upcoming classes, including acrylic painting, beginning knitting, bike repair, leather working and more. It is at 210 Jensen Drive, Raleigh.

Info: 919-515-2457,