Arts Heritage/History

Toe River Crafts: Highlighting 50 Years of History

Opening day at Toe River Crafts

By Sue Wasserman

Tria Turrou and Carrie DeVee feel like kids in a candy shop these days. As president and vice president of Toe River Crafts (TRC), now celebrating its 50th anniversary, the duo has been poring over archives and uncovering fascinating stories. To pay homage to this rich history, TRC will host a special exhibition in the Herring-Kivette Gallery at the Yancey County Library in Burnsville from Saturday, July 6, through Tuesday, July 30.

“I realize this place isn’t ours,” DeVee says. “We are simply the keepers of the craft shop. That said, for a business to still function with the same mission 50 years later is amazing and worthy of celebrating.”

The duo learned that founding working member Bobby Wells discovered the Celo community while taking a weaving class at Penland School of Craft. The community was founded in 1937 with the idea of promoting cooperation between residents as well as support of the natural environment. In an article in Arts Journal, Wells said, “I came over and pretty quickly figured out it was the place for me and my husband.” After she and her husband, renowned artist Robert Johnson, moved from MA, she noted, “We’re like pioneers. We wanted to homestead, and land (in MA) was too high. It was too touristed and speeded up. We really like slowness.”

While many current working members know of paper artist Beverly Plummer, they had no idea she had been a writer for The New York Times. She discovered Western North Carolina while on vacation. In a 1984 article in the Johnson City Press-Chronicle she said, “The next summer in order to come back, I got an assignment to do a story about crafts in the area.” She became so fascinated with making paper, she decided to take a year off from writing. She would go on to become nationally recognized for incorporating plant fibers into her papers.

“We had no idea that Beverly wrote a book called Earth Presents, which offers instructions for making objects from natural materials,” Turrou says. “Not only have we found a copy of the book, which we’ll have on hand at the library but we’re also planning to offer a workshop using her instructions.”

Although Plummer and Wells have since passed away, many past working members continue to thrive, some in different capacities. Miika Rolett, for example, is executive director of the Appalachian Therapeutic Riding Center, which provides safe, therapeutic horseback riding for people with physical, cognitive and emotional challenges.

In the late 1990s, Rolett was a toymaker who also served as TRC’s president. “I was a young mother looking to earn extra money,” she says. The idea for making toys was inspired by projects she did as a kindergartener in Switzerland. “I had the original patterns and then made them my own—puppets, hobby horses, stuffed dragons and more.”

Some of those toys will be on display, along with work from other co-op alumni. “We think people will get a kick out of seeing the photos and articles collected over the past 50 years, along with samples of co-op promotions and member thoughts,” DeVee says.

See the exhibit during regular library hours: Monday–Wednesday and Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Saturday 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Yancey County Library is located at 321 School Circle, Burnsville. For more information about the exhibit, contact Toe River Crafts at 828.284.7011.

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