Asheville and the surrounding towns of the Blue Ridge Mountains consistently make the list of top crafts destinations for a reason—there’s an amazing array of talent among makers in all kinds of mediums and a long history of crafts education and appreciation.
In Western North Carolina, craft traditions began with the Cherokee, who made pottery, baskets and masks and who, in 1914, nearly 50 years after the idea was first proposed, established the annual Cherokee Indian Fair held in autumn. The years between 1890 into the 1940s saw WNC’s Craft Revival movement, when traditional crafts were celebrated and taught to new generations through fine institutions such as Penland School of Craft, John C. Campbell Folk School and the Southern Highland Craft Guild, which began as the Southern Mountain Handicraft Guild.
Educators and cultivators of crafts like John C. and Olive Dame Campbell, Lucy Morgan, Eleanor Park Vance and Charlotte Louise Yale (founders of Tryon Toy-Makers and Wood-Carvers) and even George and Edith Vanderbilt, who funded Biltmore Estate Industries, set about to help residents of the Appalachian Mountains preserve and pass on their skills, at the same time providing their families with a source of income. Today, WNC is rich with traditional and contemporary craft, as evidenced along the Blue Ridge Craft Trails that wind through the westernmost counties, highlighting and keeping present in our lives the work of blacksmiths, basket weavers, glass makers, fiber artists, potters, quilters, woodworkers and many, many other makers.
To learn more about Western North Carolina’s crafts tradition from the 1890s to the 1940s, visit WCU.edu/library/DigitalCollections/CraftRevival. Websites that include information about today’s events and creators include BlueRidgeHeritage.com, VisitHendersonvilleNC.org and NCBlueRidge.com, where details about Blue Ridge Craft Trails Month in July may be found.