Longstreet Highroad Guide to the North Carolina Mountains
By Lynda McDaniel
[Fig. 21(20)] Set in the heart of a region where for generations the most beautiful things have been handmade, the Folk Art Center represents the finest in American crafts. Opened in 1980, the 30,500-square-foot center is filled with fine traditional and contemporary craftsweaving, quilting, pottery, baskets, paper, glass, jewelry, woodworking, blacksmithing, and metalsmithing, among othersfrom the members of the Southern Highland Craft Guild.
The guild enjoys a long, creative history of setting milestones in the American craft movement. It was founded in 1930 by a group of who's whos in American craft who dedicated their lives to promoting indigenous crafts from the nine southern Appalachian states. Frances Goodrich was among them, a Presbyterian missionary and social worker from Ohio who came in 1895 with heart and mind open to ways of helping the economically impoverished area. She soon discovered that though the people were in need of many temporal things, they had much to share, most notably a woven double bowknot coverlet given to her in friendship. Struck by its quality and integrity, Goodrich began her life's work of fostering regional handicrafts and, in turn, saving many old crafts from extinction.
Goodrich organized a group of women to card, spin, dye, and weave wool and cotton coverlets for sale by mail order; she paid them on a piecework basis. By 1908 her Allanstand Cottage Industries had a permanent showroom in Asheville, and in 1931, upon her retirement, she donated it to the guild. Today, Allanstand Craft Shop occupies 3,000 square feet on the first level of the Folk Art Center, enjoying the distinction of being America's oldest continuously operated craft shop.
The Guild also spearheaded the revival of craft fairs in America, hosting its first fair in 1948 across the Great Smoky Mountains in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Every third weekend in July and October in downtown Asheville's Civic Center, the Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands spotlights the work of 150 traditional and contemporary craft artists and features demonstrations, regional music, and entertainment.
The center's second level hosts two exhibition spaces, the Main Gallery and the Focus Gallery. At least once a year, selections from the guild's 2,000-piece permanent collection of historic and modern crafts are featured. Future goals include an interpretive display in which pieces from the collection help tell the rich history of the guild. Classes, members' exhibitions, national juried shows, demonstrations, and lectures also help carry out the guild's commitment to education.
Visitors can get good travel advice from the staff at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center in the Folk Art Center's lobby, and a well-stocked bookstore features maps and books detailing the natural life along the Parkway.
A segment of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail runs adjacent to the center.
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