Arts Visual Arts

Crafted Roots: Stories and Objects from the Appalachian Mountains

Unknown basket maker. Photo courtesy of Frances Goodrich Collection, Southern Highland Craft Guild Archives

Through October 31, the exhibit Crafted Roots: Stories and Objects from the Appalachian Mountains examines the foundational moments in the late 1800s and early 1900s that laid the groundwork for the thriving craft scene in WNC today. This exhibition is the first of a series developed by Warren Wilson College for display in the Center for Craft’s John Cram Partner Gallery, putting the national craft landscape in the context of the local Asheville community, other creative disciplines and the liberal arts.

“Western North Carolina is a national hub for craft production and it didn’t just happen by accident,” says Center for Craft assistant director and curator Marilyn Zapf. “Crafted Roots is a reminder that stewarding the regional craft and arts community is an active job and responsibility.”

In the past, there was a stark contrast between small urban centers like Asheville and the remote rural areas that surrounded them. At the turn of the century, urban missionaries arrived with the goal of “uplifting” rural communities through the revival and marketing of traditional craft techniques. Contemporary scholars have critically examined the missionaries’ manipulation of traditional craft designs to appeal to urban markets and their role in defining Appalachia and its people to areas outside of the region.

Though the story has been represented and examined in exhibitions and texts for more than 100 years, Crafted Roots provides a unique perspective through the use of audio recordings, historical documents, images and objects from the archives and permanent collections of the Southern Highlands Craft Guild. This is the first exhibition that allows the urban missionaries and regional craftspeople to speak for themselves through audio extracts from oral history recordings projected into the gallery.

“As I listened to recordings, I developed a deeper understanding of the work that was done and the people involved, which began to change my thinking about the history of crafts in this region and the construction of Appalachian identity,” says Michael Hatch, exhibit curator and member of the inaugural graduating Class of 2020 of the MA in Critical Craft Studies at Warren Wilson College. “Crafted Roots seeks to stimulate questions rather than answer them, and to inspire further research by visitors into the complex world of Appalachian studies and regional history.”

Center for Craft is at 67 Broadway Street, Asheville. Hours are Monday through Friday, 12–6 p.m. For more information on visiting hours and registration go to CenterforCraft.org/visit. Programming is adapted for safe social distancing.

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