Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway as one is traveling south into Asheville, is the Folk Art Center. It’s mainly a crafts store that sells the products of craftspeople who are members of the Southern Highlands Craft Guild, which has been around, officially, since 1930. It was born from the Crafts Revival Movement, which was the rural twin of the Settlement House movement made famous by Jane Addams in Chicago.
I’ve written quite a bit about the Crafts Revival Movement, and I’ll link to some of those articles at the end of this post. For the most part, it was driven by a desire of middle class and wealthy women to help women in poverty through the production of traditional crafts. Remarkably, some of the efforts of these women still survive, as in the case of the Southern Highlands Craft Guild.
And while I find some of the ideas of one hundred years ago to be more than a bit patronizing toward the people of Appalachia, the efforts were sincere, and did actually lead to women in the Southern Mountains being able to make and market crafts, and thus to bring in badly needed cash to their families. It also helped establish a strong renewal of craft traditions in the Appalachians.
The Southern Highlands Craft Guild is also in possession of a nice collection of crafts and other artifacts from the early days of the Guild. Upstairs at the Folk Arts Center is a small, but interesting museum of some of the items in the collection.
Besides textiles, there are baskets and other woven items, like the late 1930s or early 40s tilt hat seen above. It was made by Alice Pratt of Asheville from braided cornhusks, lined in silk.
This 1930s handbag was also made from cornhusks, backed with burlap. The maker was Isadora Williams of Knoxville, Tennessee.
This is the coverlet that pretty much started the crafts revival. In 1894 it was given to a missionary, Frances Goodrich, who was working in the area north and west of Asheville and she was so taken with it that she thought it might be a way for the local women to make money. Unfortunately the coverlet was around forty years old at the time of the gift, and most women, even deep in the Appalachian Mountains had given up weaving due to the availability of cheap mass-produced textiles.
But Goodrich was persistent, and soon old disassembled looms were located and reassembled. Women who had given up the labor of weaving returned to the loom as Goodrich and others started co-ops in which to sell the coverlets and other crafts.
There are other coverlets on display, like these three from North Carolina, Kentucky, and South Carolina.
Here is a very rare survivor, a dress made for handwoven linsey-woolsey. The museum was a bit short on details, but dated the dress to around 1900. There are a few mended spots, but otherwise the dress seems to be in wonderful condition.
People who follow me on Instagram have already seen this piece, but it is just too special not to share here as well. This is a “cow blanket” though that is most likely a misnomer. It was made by Kate “Granny” Clayton Donaldson. Donaldson lived in Marble, NC, and sometime in the 1920s or early 30s she started crocheting figures and animals from her homespun and dyed wool. The story is a bit sketchy, but through an association with the nearby John C. Campbell Folk School (founded by another woman, Olive Dame Campbell} she began attaching the figures to pieces of fabric to make a decorative blanket or hanging.
Quite a few of Kate Donaldson’s blankets survive. They are in the collections of art and folk museums, and occasionally one comes up for sale.
A personal note – my father was born in Marble in 1927. It’s very likely that his family knew Kate, as Marble is a tiny place, where everybody knows everybody else.