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A somewhat kinder, gentler board of commissioners approve Green Hill, Sunset projects; softens and clarifies new COVID policy
David Rogers / Photo by David Rogers 

Blowing Rock Town Hall is at 1036 Main St., Blowing Rock.

BLOWING ROCK — After three hours and 20 minutes of in-public debate and discussion, Blowing Rock’s town council went into closed session on Sept. 14. Before doing so, though, it was a mixed bag of results, action and even inaction.

There was an obvious empty chair between Commissioner Doug Matheson and town attorney Allen Moseley. That’s because Commissioner Virginia Powell opted to resign last week after the majority of the commissioners voted in a new policy that all town employees get vaccinated, submit to testing, or end their employment by the town. Powell vehemently disagreed with the policy, which passed by a 3-2 vote, the other dissenting vote coming from Commissioner Albert Yount on Sept. 7.

The new policy came up again toward the end of the Sept. 14 meeting, and by a 3-1 vote the commissioners somewhat softened the earlier decision. They established a two-week grace period beginning Sept. 20 in order for the town management to put testing procedures in place and give employees additional time to consider their options.

During the discussion, it was made clear that while the commissioners establish policy, it is the town manager’s job to do the hiring and firing, as necessary and appropriate. While they danced around the subject, no one actually pinned down the question of whether or not the town manager, under the policy, is expected to terminate the employment of a noncompliant worker.

At the beginning of the meeting, several speakers from among the public attendees voiced their opinions, including individuals from both sides of the issue claiming to be health care professionals.

In other business, the commissioners split 2-2 on approval of the Green Hill Estates development project in the ETJ, with Mayor Charlie Sellers supplying the tiebreaker “yes” vote to go along with the affirmative votes of commissioners David Harwood and Doug Matheson. Included in Harwood’s motion was to approve construction of the originally proposed 653-foot private road that will serve all 10 of the lots in the development, if the full density survives the requisite pre-construction testing. One of the design features of the longer road, explained Patrick Warren in representing the developer, was to put the cul-de-sac over the crest of the ridgeline and so mostly out of view of Green Hill Road, which he said improves the aesthetics of the project.

In a unanimous vote, the commissioners voted to approve a request by 140 Sunset, LLC, for special parking consideration in light of their proposed renovation of the property at 140 Sunset Drive in Blowing Rock. The owners plan to keep the lower floor of the building as retail space while converting the upper floor into two, 2-bedroom apartments. They were petitioning the town for the ability to eliminate three “pull-in” parking spaces in the front of the building and replacing them with two parallel spaces along the street, outside of the sidewalk. They also planned to add one or more parking spaces at the back of the building to serve the short-term apartment rentals.

Each of the approving commissioners commented that the current spaces represented a significant safety issue with cars back into the street without a clear view and possibly into pedestrians on the sidewalk. The owners plan to convert the existing spaces, collectively, into a courtyard.

The town council voted to go into closed session to consider a property-related transaction, at 9:20 p.m., but after a 13 1/2 minute break.

editor's pick featured
Croquet royalty delights BRCC audience in exhibition
David Rogers / Photo by David Rogers 

America’s No. 1 ranked croquet player demonstrates a combination shot at Blowing Rock Country Club, Sept. 9.

BLOWING ROCK — With terms like “straight rush” and “over the top cannon,” it might be easy to surmise that the speaker is talking about a card game, or maybe even a beer drinking contest. Those conclusions were not even close to the subject on Sept. 9, when Matt Essick and Tom Balding teamed up at Blowing Rock Country Club for an instructional croquet exhibition.

There were oohs and ahhs and groans, as well as enthusiastic applause. There were astonished wide eyes and even a couple of OMGs. The No. 1 ranked croquet player in the U.S. and No. 5 in the world, Essick is among the sport’s royalty. Balding isn’t far behind, perhaps, as the pro who replaced Essick at Grandfather Country Club. Certainly, they know more than a little bit of what they are talking when the subject of hitting wooden balls with wood mallets through various kinds of hoops comes up in conversation.

David Rogers / Photo by David Rogers 

Matt Essick attempts a long shot where he bounces the ball twice and over a ball blocking a wicket during a croquet exhibition, Sept. 9, at Blowing Rock Country Club. Essick is ranked No. 1 in the USA and No. 5 in the world.

Association Croquet, according to various documents cited in Wikipedia, may have its roots in an ancestral game introduced to Britain from France during Charles II’s reign in England, Scotland, and Ireland between 1660 and 1685. At that time it was played under the name, paille-maille, also spelled pall-mall. Other theories about the modern game of croquet suggest that it arrived from Ireland during the 1850s, perhaps after having been brought to Ireland from Brittany (France), where a similar game was played on the beaches.

One description, an 1828 entry in a dictionary of the English language, suggests that it is billiards played on the ground.

Asked what he thought was the hardest skill to learn in playing croquet, Essick did not hesitate.

“I think it is mental,” said Essick. “Once you have the various shots down, it is about not letting your opponent inside your head. Play your game.”

Essick spends the warm season in Winston-Salem and the colder season in Winter Park, Fla.

“I started playing croquet when I was 3 years old,” said Essick.

David Rogers / Photo by David Rogers 

With the No. 1 player in the world, Matt Essick, looking over his shoulder, Tom Balding makes a difficult shot in the middle of Blowing Rock Country Club’s 6-wicket croquet layout, Sept. 9, in an exhibition for BRCC’s members. Balding has 100 croquet playing members at Grandfather Country Club. BRCC has approximately 60 active members playing croquet regularly.

As recently as May 6, the author of the Croquet wrote an article titled, “Triple Peels Dominate the Finals in the American 6-Wicket PFC Hoop Maker Masters.”

“What a show! In my eight or so years of playing American 6-Wicket, I have never seen a player finish a game with a triple peel, and yet this past weekend, Matthew Essick finished three of his last four games with a triple. In the semi-final match against Zack Watson, Matthew won both games by scoring all of the hoops with his second ball while peeling (scoring his partner ball) through the last three hoops and then pegging both balls out on the center stake winning 26tp-0 and 26tp-13. Essick did the same in one of his games in the finals against current American 6-Wicket National Champion, Randy Cardo, winning 26tp-5 and 26-0.”

In November 2020, Essick scored his first USCA national title.

David Rogers / Photo by David Rogers 

Ranked No. 1 in the USA and No. 5 globally in Association Croquet, Matt Essick was part showman, all player during his exhibition on Sept. 9 at Blowing Rock Country Club.

Balding is now the croquet pro at Grandfather Country Club, where he says that of the 400 members roughly one-quarter, or 100, play croquet.

“About 80 of them take weekly lessons,” said Balding.

A Maryland native, Balding said he took up the game while in college.

“I was attracted by all of the trophies and accolades that came with winning,” he said, “but now I realize it is all about promoting the game, getting other people to enjoy it and understand it.”

Although croquet began to decline in popularity in the late 1800s, giving way to lawn tennis, including at the All England Club at Wimbledon where the croquet lawns were largely converted to tennis courts, in recent years there has been a resurgence, particularly at country clubs like Blowing Rock and Grandfather. According to the U.S. Croquet Association, there are roughly 200 croquet clubs in the U.S. and it is even being embraced as a club sport on many college campuses. Examples include the University of Virgnia, Harvard, Dartmouth, St. John’s, the U.S. Naval Academy, the University of Chicago, Penn State and others.

An entry in the 2010 director of the Croquet Association reports that there are over 170 croquet clubs in England and Wales. The All England Club at Wimbledon may be more famous for lawn tennis, but still retains an active croquet section.

“There are artificial surfaces,” said Essick. “And you have to play whatever the surfaces dictate. Blowing Rock is blessed to have an awesome court and well-manicured, natural lawn surface. This is top-notch.”

Bob Hartnett, an organizer of the Sept. 9 exhibition that brought Essick and Balding to Blowing Rock, said that the game’s popularity at BRCC is growing steadily and that they hope to expand some of the facilities in the future to accommodate more players.

editor's pick featured
Artist in Residence: Born with a paintbrush in his hand
David Rogers / Photo by David Rogers 

The Artist in Residence at Edgewood Cottage from Sept. 13 to 19 is Zan Thompson, a watercolor specialist now based in Conover, N.C.

BLOWING ROCK — Some folks are born with a silver spoon in their mouth. Not Zan Thompson. He claims to have had a paintbrush in his hand before he could even walk or talk.

Thompson is the Artist in Residence at Edgewood Cottage for the week of Sept. 13-19 and, by looking the attention to detail in his watercolor pieces on display, it is easy to believe his claim.

“My parents were artists so it is literally something I grew up with.” said Thompson. “I was born and raised in Atlanta. My parents met at the Ringwood School of Art just before World War II. I have two sisters who are younger than me. Everyone in the family paints. I now focus on watercolors, but I was the last one in the family to figure them out.”

He said he was a slow learner.

“For the longest time, I just made mud puddles when I painted with watercolors. Then I finally took a class from Tony Couch. He watched me paint and then said, ‘You can draw and you can paint, but your problem is that you try to do it too fast.’ He had me start outlining the process, the steps to do the painting, not just paint the sky and then paint the field, including the drying time. He said, ‘You have to wait for the paint to dry before putting on the next application!’” said Thompson.

David Rogers / Photo by David Rogers 

Zan Thompson’s background in urban planning and landscape architecture is very much evident in his attention to detail and his interest in buildings, along with nature. His watercolor paintings are on display at Edgewood Cottage as part of the Artists in Residence series, Sept. 13-19.

Painting plein air outdoors and its breezy and fairly warm, watercolor paint can dry in about 60 seconds, said Thompson.

“If it is a damp, rainy day, well then about an hour,” he said. “So you have to monitor and understand the environment in which you are painting.”

Both parents painted in watercolors, but Thompson’s father had a commercial art business in Atlanta.

“Coca-Cola was a customer. On the side he did watercolors. My mother did watercolors, oils, acrylics, and even sculptures,” said Thompson.

David Rogers / Photo by David Rogers 

A photograph of watercolor artwork doesn’t do it justice, but consider the detail in this landscape, with the shadows and reflections, as well as the use of light in the composition. Zan Thompson’s work is on display at Edgewood Cottage, Sept. 13-19, as part of Blowing Rock Historical Society’s Artists in Residence series.

Whether looking his larger paintings or one of the smaller works, what grabs the viewer is Thompson’s attention to detail — and the fact that buildings often dominate the visuals.

“I am very much an Impressionistic painter. My interest is in contrast, which you can see in some of the paintings that I have here at Edgewood Cottage. Light and dark really fascinates me, shadows, that sort of thing,” Thompson said.

There is a reason, of course.

“My background, professionally, before becoming an artist full-time was in landscape architecture for roughly 45 years. The attention to detail comes from drawing the buildings, drawing urbanscapes.

“In high school, I started working in a plant nursery near the school. I was already starting to think that I might want to go to Georgia Tech after high school, and study architecture. Then I met some landscape architects that came into the nursery from time to time. One of them, who was also a writer for the Atlanta Constitution newspaper, she told me, ‘You don’t want to be a traditional architect. You like art and you like outdoors. You need to be a landscape architect.’

“The only problem I had with that is it meant that I had to go to the University of Georgia instead of Georgia Tech. But I ended up doing that, and ultimately I enjoyed it. After I got my degree, I owned my own business for about 25 of the 44The years that I did landscape architecture,” Thompson said. “It was a good time.”

David Rogers / Photo by David Rogers 

Zan Thompson’s exquisite watercolor paintings are on display at Edgewood Cottage, Sept. 13-19, as part of Blowing Rock Historical Society’s Artists in Residence series.

The Atlanta native who now lives in Conover, N.C., near Hickory, said that while he was still working in landscape architecture plans were already being formulated to go back into painting watercolors.

“I figured that it would be a nice kind of retirement business,” he said.

Thompson said that he spends a lot of time in the High Country, painting, because it is such a scene-rich area. He also teaches various classes and offers workshops in the area. He had special commendation for the Artists in Residence series and the work that Blowing Rock Historical Society is doing to promote art.

“For me, it is hard to say why I like art because it is something that I grew up with. It was all around me. Watercolors always fascinated me because they are so translucent or so loose. It is a medium that offers so many ways of presenting themselves,” said Thompson.

As far as influencers go, other than his parents, Thompson said that dozens of artists have had an impact, but he has a special place in his heart for a couple.

“I will always have a place in my heart for Tony Couch, because he is the guy that set me straight: Take your time, slow down, get it right. But there are dozens of others who I like to look at their art and study them. Some I cannot even pronounce their names. One guy, Vladislav Yeliseyev, like me, was in the architectural field. I took a class from him because I am so detail oriented and I knew that he had already gone down the same path that my journey was taking, from architecture to watercolors. He does very loose, Impressionistic paintings. He was very inspirational and changed my approach. He is also big on contrast, like I am,” said Thompson.

David Rogers / Photo by David Rogers 

Zan Thompson at work, from Sept. 13-19 he is the featured artist at Edgewood Cottage as part of the Blowing Rock Historical Society’s Artists in Residence series.

Thompson said that he teaches his students that when they walk up to a scene that they want to paint, to take out their cell phone and take a picture because the same scene will be different in just a very few minutes.

“The shadows will change. And especially if you are in Blowing Rock, it might be raining in 30 minutes! There are all kinds of reasons to record the scene so that you can go back to see the way it looked when you initially took an interest in it,” said Thompson. “Sometimes you may find that you find the shadows an hour and a half later more to your liking, too. You can also use the phone to edit the image, move it around, so you can come up with the best composition. The cell phone is a marvelous tool that has come along.”

For Thompson, composition of a painting is about entertaining the eye.

“You want to move the eye around the painting,” he said. “You don’t want the eye of the viewer to leave the page. You want the eye to focus in on one part of the painting. I use light and dark 90 percent of the time to make that focal point really pop. I always look at a painting when I am done... your eye follows this tree trunk up, follows a branch over, then follows this roof line back. I am always asking where is my eye moving about the painting. Did I get it right? Or do I need to paint it again?”

Thompson said that most of his work is done in the Southeast U.S.

“But anywhere I go, I take my painting tools with me. I have three different bags with art supplies. One is a full bag with easel and everything, but I also have a small bag with only two brushes and six colors. Maybe I carry the small one out to a beach, sit with a cup of coffee and paint people walking up and down the beach, only painting on postcards,” Thompson said. “The larger one is always in my truck, wherever I go.”

editor's pick
Candidates Forum slated for Oct. 4; questions wanted

BLOWING ROCK — From live music, fresh popcorn, and a students’ “best dressed patriotic” contest, the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce and its Leadership Challenge alumni are pulling out all the stops this year for the “Candidates Forum” it has hosted since 2007.

The event will again be hosted at Blowing Rock School, on Oct. 4, beginning at 5:30 p.m.

“Every time an election comes around, our citizens have questions about who is best qualified for the jobs of mayor and as a member of the board of commissioners,” said Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce CEO Charles Hardin. “While Mayor Charlie Sellers is running unopposed and we expect few, if any, write-in votes in that one, there are four good people running for three commissioner seats. That not only makes it competitive, but more important than ever for voters to be informed so they can best align their own values and priorities with the the candidates for whom they vote.”

From 5:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., Hardin said that early attendees will be entertained by the Roscoe Rose Band. In addition, complimentary fresh popcorn will be available.

A special wrinkle this year to encourage an even larger turnout is a “best dressed” contest for Blowing Rock School students who bring their parents and stay the entire event. They will then be entered to win a $50 gift card to The Speckled Trout.

This year’s event steering committee includes Ronnie Mark, Erica Brinker, Chelsea Garrett, Billy Chick, and Joyce Zellner.

Questions Wanted

Hardin also said that the committee wants to hear from the public about questions they want asked of the candidates. Those can be directed to and they will be forwarded to the appropriate committee members.