By Natasha Anderson
Western North Carolina has a rich history of producing handmade crafts, beginning with the traditional work of the Cherokees and continuing through the craft movements of the 1800s and 1900s. Today, the region is home to one of the largest concentrations of artisans in the US. Area craft schools and member organizations have played a big part in that history and continue to be a vital resource for both professional and novice makers.
Penland School of Crafts, in Mitchell County, offers one, two-and –eight-week workshops in books, paper, clay, drawing, glass, iron, metals, photography, printmaking, letterpress, textiles and wood. The school also offers artists’ residencies, scholarships, teaching and exhibiting opportunities, community programs and a gallery and information center.
“Penland has programs that meet the needs of artists at all stages of their creative growth,” says the school’s communications and marketing manager Robin Dreyer. “Students value the opportunity to put all of their energy into one thing while working with other people who are equally enthusiastic.”
The school is currently building new studios for photography and papermaking in order to enhance the learning process and expand the range of subject matter offered in those areas. Other new developments include the recent creation of short-term winter residencies that allow seasoned craftspeople to work independently, yet in the company of others.
At John C. Campbell Folk School (JCC), in Brasstown, students can experience traditional and contemporary craft, music, dance, cooking, photography and writing in sessions that typically last a week or a weekend. An extensive cooking program includes bread making, cheese making, artisan chocolate, open hearth cooking and various world cuisines. Gardening and homesteading classes, nature studies, genealogy and storytelling are also offered.
“Attendees appreciate our noncompetitive approach to learning and the supportive and collaborative nature of our instructors, staff and fellow students,” says JCC marketing and communications director Keather Gougler. “They have a chance to discover what they can do and they often meet their creative selves for the first time when they are here.”
In 2017, the school opened a new studio for bookmaking, papermaking, printmaking, marbling and calligraphy programs. The 2,800squarefoot space allows a more extensive offering of classes in these subjects.
As one of the largest networks of makers in the southeast, Asheville’s Southern Highland Craft Guild is an important resource for experienced artisans as well as enthusiasts in search of handmade crafts and related events. The Guild operates in several capacities including education (daily craft demonstrations, free special events, school workshops), marketing (retail shops, fairs, exhibitions/galleries), shared resources (archives, library, internal resources for members) and conservation (archives, and living traditions with all operations).
“We serve as one of the primary outlets that artists or creatives who attend schools like Penland and JCC come to for their business or for sharing their knowledge and skills,” says Hannah Barry, director of marketing for the Guild. “We were a social network before a social network existed digitally.”