Why I Love The Foothills: Mike McCue, Owner of Kangaroo Golf/Condar Company

Published 5:53 pm Friday, November 9, 2018

Mike McCue has served as trustee for North Carolina Humanities Council, as juror for the Thomas Wolfe Literary Award and in other roles promoting the arts and culture in western North Carolina. He’s owner of a manufacturing company in Columbus that markets to golfers (Kangaroo Golf) and to woodstove owners (Condar Company). The firm sells throughout the USA and distributes overseas via warehouses in Canada and in France. 

How long have you lived in the Foothills area? What first brought you here?

I first came here in 1983 for an interview to run Kangaroo Golf in Columbus, a couple years after it was sold by its founders to investors in the North. They wanted somebody with marketing expertise and manufacturing experience. I stayed at Pine Crest Inn and was taken to George’s restaurant for lunch. I was truly impressed by the cosmopolitan character, how classy Tryon is and how friendly Polk County people are. And the beauty of these mountains resonated because I’m a Colorado native. 

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What has sparked your interest in researching the history of Tryon’s artists and writers?

Right away, people I met talked about how Tryon has always been an artist colony and a writers magnet. And I saw how many artists and writers were active here, but actually nobody seemed to know much about the colony’s history. Since one of my hobbies is investigating America’s heritage, I started researching in my spare time.

In ‘91, Sylvia Moore masterminded the vintage show at Tryon Fine Arts Center of Mazzanovich’s beautiful Impressionist landscapes, the first time there’d been a retrospective exhibit of old paintings gathered from people’s houses.

In 2000, they put on a show of Homer Ellertson’s modernist art from the 1920s and ‘30s. Carolie Bartol was our firm’s staff designer, so she and I volunteered to create an illustrated catalog of what people lent for that show. It was the first publication about Tryon’s art history, I guess.

Then, in 2001, Nancy Holmes at Upstairs Artspace saw what was happening; she invited me, Nowell Guffey and Jim Boyle to put on a show of early Tryon artists, and so we published “Tryon Artists 1892 – 1942,” a book folks appreciated, and they wanted more. 

So the next year, I did a show and a book about internationally-known artist George Aid (1872-1938) who had a Tryon vineyard. Then Sue and Hal Mathers came after me about Tryon Toy Makers in ‘04, and this subject kind of exploded. 

What is it that fascinates you about the region’s past?

Tryon is unique, and it’s important in national history.

Before World War II, Tryon was the South’s most important “country colony” of artists and authors. They were attracted by scenery, the climate and by an informal spirit that attracted creative people from all over. 

Unusual then, and significantly, they were women as often as men.

Today, virtually every cultural historian is interested in women’s studies. So, how amazing women gravitated to Tryon is one of its most interesting angles.

What do you love most about the Foothills?

It’s interesting without being crazy.  And not expensive. You can live a civilized life around here without having to be a millionaire.  

What is the one place you recommend people visit when they come here?

 I tell people go park on Trade Street and walk around. Say, go up the Tryon Steps by the clock and cross the tracks, roam the lanes, discover the place.

People are looking today for authenticity, a sense the French call “terroir” about a locale’s peculiar character and flavor. Tryon doesn’t have chain stores. and it’s not about ritzy shopping for rich tourists, either. It’s genuine.