Our recent stay at 200 Main hotel in Highlands, located in the North Carolina mountains, put us within walking distance of the much-touted Bascom Center for the Visual Arts, located next to the Nantahala National Forest.

The Bascom Center for the Visual Arts, a gem in Highlands, especially for the 50-plus luxury traveler

The Bascom Center for the Visual Arts is a gem in Highlands, especially for the 50-plus luxury traveler

A magnet for young and old

This gem is extremely popular with 50+ luxury travelers not only for its pastoral setting—including an entrance over one of the oldest wooden bridges in the United States—but also for its outstanding gift shop; free, changing exhibitions; and especially, its on-site classes in ceramics, painting, woodworking and photography. There’s even an artist residency program that features residents working in photography, ceramics and more.

The Bascom sits on six acres, which include the Horst Winkler Sculpture and Nature Trail.

Some portions are part of a StoryWalk inspired by the paper collage illustrated children’s nature book, “Pond Babies” by Cathryn Falwell. StoryWalk, explains signage, “combines the healthy activities of walking and movement with the healthy activity of reading a book.”

The sculpture walk at The Bascom

The sculpture walk at The Bascom

The Bascom’s 27,500-square-foot main building has three floors that include four galleries plus a gift shop and educational space. There are both adult and youth classes (and specific community outreach programs that target children and seniors) and the arts center works with community groups, organizations and educational institutions.

As visitors approach, what really draws attention is the covered Will Henry Stevens wooden bridge entry that then leads to the reconstructed Dave Drake Studio Barn. Here, you’ll find artists at work, from beginners to advanced, and you’re encouraged to observe, ask questions and examine works in progress.

Bascom Center for the Visual Arts: Permanent and temporary exhibits

Among exhibits as of this writing are:

“A Matter of Taste,” one of the current exhibits

“A Matter of Taste,” one of the current exhibits

—A Matter of Taste examining the correlation of food with art, spanning 400 years and multiple continents, A set table, for instance, features place settings from different parts of the world and vastly different cultures—from the simple and rudimentary Appalachian pieces to high-society bone china from England.

Drawn from southern museums and private collections, the exhibit showcases more than 35 paintings, decorative arts, and works on paper by artists such as Andy Warhol, Wayne Thiebaud, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Claes Oldenburg.

Native American baskets, part of the current “Interweaving Southern Baskets” exhibit

Native American baskets, part of the current “Interweaving Southern Baskets” exhibit

—Interweaving Southern Baskets features dozens of baskets from Gullah Geechee creations to modern and contemporary designers.

The exhibit curator notes: “Baskets were integral in daily life, as agricultural equipment for gathering, sifting, storing, and serving the finished product or as receptacles for tools, clothes, sacred objects, and even infants. Initially, each culture had its own preferred basket material and method of manufacture – twilled rivercane for Native Americans, plaited oak for Europeans, and coiled grasses for Africans…Baskets were woven not only for use in the fields and homes or for sale in art galleries but also as a connection to ancestors and spirits, as designs were said to come from inside one’s head, from memories of one’s mother’s motifs, or from the Creator.”

—In the Joel Gallery is Selections From Our Permanent Collection Made Possible by Bel Canto. This is the Bascom’s private collection and includes artwork by Julyan Davis, The Moulthrops and others. It is on display indefinitely.

Artists in residence and their work are an integral part of the Bascom

Artists in residence and their work are an integral part of the Bascom

The Bascom Center for the Visual Arts is very much part of the community, hosting local artistic groups and clubs such as for the Art League of Highlands-Cashiers, the Highlands Writers Group, Book Club, Western North Carolina Woodturners, Photography Club, Studio Alive (with live models for artists to draw), and Community Knitters.

An in-town option: 200 Main

Exterior of 200 Main overlooks Main Street

Exterior of 200 Main overlooks Main Street

 For those planning to visit the Bascom Center, 200 Main is in the heart of the action on Highlands’ Main Street, one of several properties in the Old Edwards Hospitality collection.

With 20 new rooms among the 65 in total, an added waterfall feature and fire pit, it has touches that are quite unexpected for the price – for instance, heated Carrara marble bathroom floors and quality bedding. Plus, this property has the largest pool in the Old Edwards Collection, its own fitness room and golf course privileges at Old Edwards Club.

A few steps away is the Highlands Plateau Greenway, popular with locals and visitors looking for easy access to a five-mile trail system.

On the lower level of 200 Main is a spacious commons area that has a full kitchen and refrigerator, large dining table, couches, chairs and TVs, all available for guests. There are also two high-tech meeting rooms, one with a fireplace.

A king bedroom with fireplace at 200 Main

A king bedroom with fireplace at 200 Main

Landscaping adds to the hillside location, including a slate patio with seating and that fire pit, perfect for meeting other travelers. Chilly nights there, toasting marshmallows to make s’mores comes to mind.

The Main Street location is perfect for walking to eateries, shops, historic churches (as well as to the excellent Bascom Center) and to the wonderful outdoor provisions and outfitters store with fly-fishing guides available for hire.

Staying at any of the Old Edwards properties will be memorable as will dining at Madison’s Restaurant at Old Edwards Inn, which has earned a stellar reputation for its farm-to-table freshness and creativity thanks to its own organic gardens and greenhouse, plus ongoing relationships with regional farmers and producers.

Main lobby at 200 Main

Main lobby at 200 Main

The next acquisition for the company is a historic home to host guests on a 160-acre property that’s part of a sustainable farm dating to the early 1800s. We hear there is a well-stocked trout lake. Can’t wait. 

All photo credits: Kathy M. Newbern and J.S. Fletcher, Bascom Center and 200 Main


The center offers changing exhibits, and the hotel offers package specials like romantic mountain escapes, golf, hiking and spa retreats.

What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?

  • The Bascom’s variety of artwork and the chance to speak with working artists
  • The aesthetic of the art center’s main building, which combines modern contemporary glass and steel with rough-hewn threshing floors and massive overhead beams from historic barns
  • The chance to participate in Art by Appointment by signing up in advance for painting, ceramic or photography, for instance, if a resident artist in those fields is available
  • The Highlands community, which has a reputation for attracting well-traveled seniors who enjoy nature, art, culture and more
  • 200 Main’s convenient location in the town center

Take note

  • Check hours before you go. Seasonal hours are in effect at The Bascom Center for the Visual Arts during January, February and March (open Friday thru Monday, closed Tuesday thru Thursday).
  • The art center has an elevator, but exploring its sculpture/nature trail involves slight inclines on dirt and gravel. The center does offer free, on-site parking.


The authors were overnight guests of Old Edwards Hospitality Group’s 200 Main property.

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Bascom Center for the Performing Arts in Highland, NC