Have you ever wondered “how did we get here” ? Maybe you were on a trip to a new place and got a little sidetracked; or maybe you are thinking about your business, and the twists and turns that have brought you to where you are currently.
For me…I have been thinking about my usual, the fine craft and art scene in WNC. ;) How did WNC’s craft culture get to the place it is now? Why does Western NC have more than other regions, when you look at number of artists living and working here, number of galleries and successful art organizations?
If you live in the area, you may have heard some of the craft history background that laid the foundation for today’s craft culture; including many women who were in the region in the early 1900’s working hard to educate children and support mountain families. Work which included helping to refine the skills many of these residents already had in their family traditions: weaving, pottery, basket-making, quilting, carving, and furniture making.
These women workers included Lucy Morgan who founded Penland School of Craft, Olive Dame Campbell who carried on her husband’s work and started the John C. Campbell Folk School, Eleanor Vance and Charlotte Yale who began The Boys Club to teach young boys in Biltmore Village the skill of wood carving and furniture making...then The Boys Club grew into Biltmore Estate Industries.
One of my very favorite historic figures is Frances Louisa Goodrich, of Ohio, who came this region of Western NC in the mid 1890’s. She originally came to work with the Presbyterian Mission as an educator, but she was inspired to take on much more. Frances has an intriguing story, and you can learn more about her on the Craft Revival website. For my “connection” she was the founder of Allanstand Cottage Industries (1897), a retail outlet for mountain handcrafts located first in Madison County, NC, then Allanstand moved to downtown Asheville in 1908. (now Allanstand Craft Shop is in the Folk Art Center of the Southern Highland Craft Guild)
Growing up in Madison County, just north of Asheville, I know well of the industriousness of families in this community. I had grandmothers who taught me to sew, to quilt, and to pay attention to detail in handwork. My father and uncles can fix and make most anything that needs fixing or making. In addition to their jobs, they farmed and had large gardens, and were good neighbors…I had a wonderful rural upbringing!
I was in my late 20’s before I discovered that some of my family made and sold their handiwork through Allanstand Cottage Industries to earn an income in addition to farming the land.
My paternal grandmother was Verlie Mace, and her cousin was Copenny Mace who made chairs. “Settin’ Chairs” they called them. Copenny taught his son, Shadrach Mace, to make chairs and Shadrach made chairs for his living. If you visit the Folk Art Center you can see a few of their chairs on display in the permanent collection of the Southern Highland Craft Guild.
I was young when Shadrach Mace died but I remember hearing stories of him. Family, and most everyone, called him by his nickname ‘Birdie’* (from Burdic – his middle name) and Shadrach Birdie Mace had a reputation in the Guild.
Local advocate of WNC history, Jerry Israel, contributed to the book: May we All Remember Well, by Robert Brunk, and wrote the following of Birdie Mace: “Birdie Mace and his immediate family’s chairmaking successes were due to hard work and superior skills. Greatly expanded mass communications and the ever increasing ease of travel that began in the late 1940s and early 50s, exposed them to an ever growing audience through their membership in the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild and, by the mid-1950s, Birdie and his family had become a mainstay at the Guild’s annual Craftsman’s Fair held in Asheville. Birdie’s distinguished appearance, his dignified and courtly manner to all he encountered, his delightful old world speech patterns and his laughing eyes made him a memorable person to all who encountered him and became acquainted with his skills. He embodied the finest the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild had to offer and his picture graced National Geographic, Holiday Magazine and a host of other publications of national and world-wide circulation. Along with his wife Sara Rice Mace, daughter Pauline and her husband Robert Keith, Birdie and his family continued making chairs and attending the fairs until Birdie, the last of the Mace chairmakers died in 1973 and the chairmaking ceased.”
A part of my present day family could still be described as Jerry Israel described Shadrach…laughing eyes, courtly manner, skilled in handwork.
Yes, I’m proud of my craft heritage, and of my home region of Western NC…I’d love to show it to you in greater depth. Contact me for your personalized tour and see more of this place that holds generations of makers stories. Make a connection! – I think you’ll love what you find here.
*Interestingly, my Dad called me ‘Bird’ often when I was young. ‘Sherry-bird’ was my nickname just from my Dad. Maybe he’d heard it much in his years around the Mace kinfolk!