Craft in Asheville, North Carolina
From craft beer and crafted objects, to the Arts and Crafts movement and its legacy, the idea and practice of craft is central to the Asheville area of North Carolina. On the WPAMC Class of 2019’s Southern Trip through Virginia and the Carolinas, we experienced the many meanings of craft in Asheville as we toured Echoview Fiber Mill; The Center for Craft, Creativity, and Design; and the Grove Park Inn.
In Weaverville, we visited self-described “spinning mill, knitting operation, and design house” Echoview Fiber Mill, founded by Julie Jensen shortly after she moved to the region in 2005. Echoview sustainably creates stunning yarns made with local wool and other natural fibers. Our tour complimented the plethora of independent yarn shops we saw in many towns. In Asheville proper, we witnessed how sustainable and local supplies like those created at Echoview can offer craftspeople the opportunity to deeply influence their communities. For example, one street in Asheville featured lamp posts, benches, and statues that had been “yarn-bombed,” or covered in knit and crocheted creations. One crocheted “bomb” expressed the value of buying and living locally. Streets adorned with yarn provide visual delight and constantly remind passersby of the presence and skill of the craftspeople who employ craft for fun, community-building, and social commentary.
The Center for Craft, Creativity, and Design focused on an entirely different kind of making. In its sleek gallery setting, it displayed crafts like pottery, quilting, and brick-making. Each object raised questions about community, sustainability, or morality, from quilted kudzu leaves with LGBTQ messages to representations of climate change in coastal Massachusetts. At the Center for Craft, craft became a vessel for thought and contemplation.
On the day that we visited the Echoview Fiber Mill and the Center for Craft, we also had the pleasure of exploring the Grove Park Inn, one of the grandest Arts and Crafts movement structures in existence. The hotel houses two of the five known clocks made by the Roycroft craft shops of East Aurora, NY. They were built for the Grove Park Inn, and have been in the historic hotel since it opened in 1913. Each clock has sayings inscribed on the case that reflect values of the Arts and Crafts movement.
The modern craft movement is many things – it is a reinvigoration and reimagining of traditional methods of making, and it is an elevation of the tactile in a world that is increasingly digital. Above all, it is often inclusive – of those who want to learn and those who are experts, of those who want to translate lofty ideals through their medium and those who just want to make a sweater, and of those who admire handmade objects. As Winterthur Fellows, we often study and speak of the craftsmanship of the past, so it was inspiring to be reminded of craftsmanship in the present, which is alive and well in Asheville, North Carolina. As we return to Winterthur and eventually enter careers in material culture-related fields, awareness of the practice of contemporary craft will remind us of the value of studying and displaying the objects of today, which reflect on and relate to the objects of the past.
By Brooke Baerman, WPAMC Class of 2019