I really hope you all are not tired of reading about the Crafts Revival of the early 20th century. I know the topic is not exactly mainstream “fashion,” but the movement was important to the time, and was really much more widespread than just the Western North Carolina weaving schools I’ve written about. There were crafts schools all over the US, and they were teaching everything from metal work to pottery.
Gift from the Hills is the story of Miss Lucy Morgan who founded the Penland School of Crafts in 1929. What makes her story especially interesting is that she was actually from the North Carolina mountains, while so many of the women who were involved in establishing crafts schools were from the North.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the educational systems of our country were largely under local control. In poorer, rural areas, most children were being educated in the typical one or two room school that served their community, but increasingly, private groups such as churches began to see that these children were getting an inadequate education for the modern world. All over rural areas and small towns, groups built private schools to meet the need for a higher level of education. It’s hard to imagine even today, the level and quality of these private schools. Many parents actually moved so that they would be close enough to send their children to one of them.
In the case of Penland, the Episcopal Church started a school called the Appalachian School under the direction of Lucy Morgan’s brother. By the time she arrived there to teach in 1920, it was both a boarding school and a school for the local children. In 1923 she escorted a young girl to Berea, Kentucky where she was to attend the Berea Academy. Instead of returning home to Penland immediately, Lucy decided to stay in Berea and take advantage of the opportunity to learn to weave. This was the beginning of a weaving program at the Appalachian School.
Once she returned to Penland, she set up a program where she taught local women to weave and helped them obtain looms. Before long Penland had a money-making venture that benefited both the school and the weavers. The school built a weaving cabin that contained five looms where weaving was taught and practiced. The finished products were sold, providing the weavers with much needed cash.
Penland School of Crafts actually puts its founding year as 1929. By that time the crafts operation was completely separate from the Appalachian School, they had introduced other crafts such as pottery and they began accepting adult students from outside the area. Throughout the 1930s the school struggled, with Miss Lucy using much of her own money to keep the school from financial failure.
But it did survive, and is still open today, though the Appalachian School closed long ago. They teach workshops on a wide variety of crafts , but weaving and other textile crafts are still a major part of the program. And they still encourage local residents to participate, especially by offering a big discount for classes that otherwise would not be filled to capacity.
This photo is from a 1940s postcard, and shows the weaver on the porch of the weaving house. Looms were set up outside in a long row until the late 1940s when Lily Mills of Shelby, North Carolina, a maker of yarns for hand-weavers, provided the money for Penland to build the Lily Loom House.
I was recently in the area and took a few fast photos. I hope you can see what a beautiful setting this is for a school.
That’s the corner of the Lily Loom House on the right.
Where the weavers set up the looms – the porch of the Craft House
The Lily Loom House
The Craft House
This wall is behind the Pottery Shed.
And this short slide show tells the story with photos of Miss Lucy and the school.