The early decorative arts of Appalachia were the hand-pieced quilts, handwoven coverlets, split oak egg baskets, and other “necessary” crafts once common to every remote household. In the Appalachian mountains, art was often the result of need. The nonindustrialized Appalachian people were self-reliant, making do with materials at hand, crafting the cabins they lived in and all the furnishings, growing the flax and raising the sheep for the carding, spinning, and weaving of cloth for their clothing, and making any needed household implements, farming tools, toys, and bedding from the materials at hand.
The color that came into the Appalachian household came from natural material and natural dyestuffs, from walnut hulls and indigo, from inventive hands and minds adding “art” to everyday living. Intricate weaving patterns and dyes added life to the traditional coverlets, and surely many households contained “showoff” quilts made for marryings and buryings.
Just as the mail order catalog and better transportation began to give the mountaineers access to consumer products and a different, less self-sufficient way of life, a regional movement to preserve and market the traditional crafts got underway. Settlement schools and missionary workers saw the crafts as a means of generating cash income for a cash-poor people, and the “revival” of Appalachia’s handicrafts began. The Pi Beta Phi School in Gatlinburg, TN was a leader in the hand weaving arena, both in teaching and production, and the Arrowcraft Shop provided the early market. In Kentucky, Berea College’s “Fireside Industries,” and in North Carolina, Frances Goodrich’s Allanstand Cottage Crafts, the John C. Campbell Folk School, Penland School, and Clementine Douglas’s Spinning Wheel Shop provided similar outlets.
In 1929 these efforts merged to create the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild, the major organization devoted to Appalachian crafts, which held its first official meeting in Knoxville in 1930. In 1935 the Tennessee Valley Authority created Southern Highlanders, Inc., a crafts marketing program to work in conjunction with the Guild to operate retail stores in Norris, TN, Rockefeller Center in New York City, and in Washington, D.C. The TVA’s program also included craft training such as O. J. Mattill’s woodworking classes, which gave many Gatlinburg, TN area woodworkers a start in the crafts business.
Garry Barker, Morehead, Kentucky