Southern Highland Craft Guild Receives WCU’S Mountain Heritage Award 2000

CULLOWHEE — The Southern Highland Craft Guild, a nonprofit organization founded in 1930 to bring together the crafts and craftspeople of the Southern Highlands for the benefit of shared resources, education, conservation and marketing, is the recipient of Western Carolina University’s Mountain Heritage Award for 2000.

Ruth T. Summers, executive director of the guild, accepted the award on the guild’s behalf at the 26th annual Mountain Heritage Day, held Saturday (Sept. 30) at WCU. The award was presented by Richard J. Collings, Western’s vice chancellor for academic affairs.  “For 70 years, the Southern Highland Craft Guild has served the craftspeople of the Southern Appalachians well with its craft exhibitions, demonstrations and educational outreach programs, marketing through its four shops, and fairs held twice each year,” Collings said in presenting the award.

“The guild has grown from 30 founding members to more than 750 members today who produce traditional and contemporary crafts in nine states. Membership in the organization has always been, and continues to be, a great achievement for the craftspeople of the Southern Appalachians,” Collings said.

The story of the Southern Highland Craft Guild goes back to the beginning of the 20th century, when industrial growth across the nation began to make factory-made goods available to working people. In the more remote communities of the southern Appalachians, however, lifestyles were slower to change, with individuals retaining more of the skills they needed to make by hand items of necessity.

Frances Goodrich, a missionary involved in schools and churches across Western North Carolina, recognized those traditional skills as a way to foster economic development in the mountains. Goodrich established Allanstand Cottage Industries in rural Madison County as a mail-order market for fine handwoven fabrics, and later she opened Allanstand Craft Shop in Asheville, which grew to carry a greater variety of items created by skilled mountain craftspeople.

Allanstand joined other institutions across the Southern Appalachians, including the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, and Penland Weavers and Potters at the Penland School, in reviving the old skills through classes and marketing efforts.  The leaders of those organizations and others met in 1928 and 1929 with a mission to establish a guild to bring together the crafts and craftspeople of the Southern Highlands. By 1930, bylaws were adopted and 30 education centers comprised the guild’s 30 founding members.

By the 1940s, membership grew to nearly 150 members, including individual craftspeople as well as cooperatives, education and production centers. In 1948, the guild presented the first Craftsman’s Fair of the Southern Highlands.  After membership doubled in a decade by 1970 and guild projects increased, the guild’s director, Robert Gray, began raising funds for a permanent home for the guild. In 1980, the 30,000-square-foot Folk Art Center, built with funds donated by the guild, the National Park Service, and other donors, opened as the guild’s headquarters on the Blue Ridge Parkway in eastern Asheville.

The Southern Highland Craft Guild is the 25th recipient of WCU’s Mountain Heritage Award. The award is given in recognition of outstanding contributions to the preservation or interpretation of the history and culture of Southern Appalachia; or in recognition of outstanding contributions to research on, or interpretation of, Southern Appalachian issues. Award winners are chosen by a special committee.

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