The Arts & Crafts Movement began in Europe as a reaction to the industrialization of crafts like weaving and furniture making. Before the Industrial Revolution, items of fiber, wood and metal could be made by individuals working at home in cottage industries. Artist-philosophers such as William Morris and John Ruskin supported local industries around England, hoping to keep the hand-made traditions alive.
When missionaries and educators came to the Southern Highlands in the 1890s, they found mountain families still producing work in cottage industries. The Scots-Irish settlers of the area were fiercely independent and had continued to live in seclusion, meeting their needs with handmade furniture, pottery, coverlets, and clothes. For outsiders it was like stepping back in time to the colonial days.
While the missionaries wanted to bring the isolated folk of the mountains into the modern age, they also saw the wisdom of nurturing the hand work that had been passed from generation to generation. Frances Goodrich sought out hand weavers and spinners as well as basket makers and potters in western North Carolina. The Episcopal Church established a community center to teach and sell local crafts in southwest Virginia. Most of the church schools taught crafts like weaving and wood carving, in order to keep local traditions alive. Respect for these skills helped to keep families on their land when world wars and depression began to draw mountain people into the big cities for jobs.
Communities along the Parkway?s 469 miles keep living craft traditions alive through a variety of galleries, shops, and events. The Folk Art Center at Milepost 382 is home of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, featuring regional crafts, live demonstrations, and special events.