February Issue 2002
Folk Art Center in Asheville, NC, Presents Exhibition on Textile History
A history of crafts of the Southern Appalachians can be told through the Southern Highland Craft Guild's Permanent Collection of Craft Objects. Right now, visitors can view selections from this 2,500 object collection which date back to the turn of the 20th century. This year's exhibition, From Tapestries to Table Linen: Domestic Textiles from the Guild's Permanent Collection, contains examples of the many practical textile pieces historically found in everyday use in people's lives. Currently on display in the Folk Art Center's Main Gallery until Mar. 10, 2002, are intimate household items such as the finely woven linens that would have dressed an early 20th century table, a quilt made in the traditional "double wedding ring" pattern, and handwoven purses from the 1940s.
The show was developed from a previous presentation made to the Southeast Fiber Forum in Apr., 2001 by three dedicated volunteers who maintain the Guild's Permanent Collection. Ursula Powers, June Hillyer, and Lou Pierce (Asheville, NC) assist with the documentation and preservation of the entire collection, and since they are all weavers themselves, it was an especially gratifying projects.
Some designs and techniques may tickle memories from long ago; dolls dressed in handmade Victorian clothing with shiny ceramic heads and arms; simple nature figures created in hooked rugs by the Kentucky-based Hound Dog Hookers from the '60s and '70s; or the whimsical farm animals crocheted atop a woven "cow blanket" by Kate Clayton "Granny" Donaldson (Brasstown, NC) from 1930.
In bring these pieces forth, we can't help acknowledging the dramatic changes in the sources of our domestic textiles even in the last half century. Consider how often we take handspun, hand-dyed yarn and weave a blanket to warm us. For virtually all of us, "never" is our answer, connoting our unique place in history. For eight-five to ninety percent of the last millennium, it would be considered a daily task that nearly any woman could do. Over 50 years ago, Mary Frances Davidson, author of The Dye Pot, began educating how to dye fiber with natural vegetable dyes and spin it into yarn. Even 50 years ago, this practice was all but extinct. Skeins of her handspun yarn in this exhibition, samples of colors achieved with natural dyes, serve as guideposts for 21st century fiber artists doing their part to perpetuate a craft virtually overtaken by chemical dyes used in high-volume textile mills.
Imagine, or perhaps, remember, when an hour or two each day spent with a piece of sewing, knitting or other handwork brought forth a useful article of beauty for family and friends. This show reminds us of the long history of that practice, requiring, not only hours of times, but a vision of design for each piece, along with clever, deftly executed techniques every step of the way. The overshot weaving technique, for instance, a complicated, two-shuttle procedure, produces richly captivating, often dizzying repeated patterns. Few modern weavers attempt to master it. Yet at one time in these mountains, this Old World style, used primarily for bed coverlets, was practiced in many communities. With looms set up on porches or by the light of a rare cabin window, these weavers, almost always women, brought into being complex overshot works of art from handwritten patterns (drafts) passed from woman to woman. Peppered with overshot weaving examples, From Tapestries to table Linen allows us to be face-to-face with the marvelous handskills of our past. The Penland Weavers' handwoven apron and tabard are examples of piecework done in private homes, and the Covered Wagon Tapestry is a unique example of the creative work from The Spinning Wheel, an Asheville cooperative of fiber artist from 1925 - 1948.
For further information check our NC Institutional Gallery listings, call 828/298-7928, e-mail at (firstname.lastname@example.org) or on the web at (http://southernhighlandguild.org).
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