Explore Traditional Arts and Crafts at the Folk Art Center

Michael BooherExplore Traditional Arts and Crafts at the Folk Art Center

The Folk Art Center in Asheville is home to the Southern Highland Craft Guild

The young volunteer missionary who ventured to the mountains of North Carolina in 1890 to do good works couldn’t have imagined her efforts eventually manifesting themselves in the rustically elegant Folk Art Center that today showcases the finest in traditional and contemporary art and crafts from the Southern Appalachians. The deep and abiding tradition of hand-wrought mountain craftsmanship is reflected in hundreds of beautiful pieces displayed and offered for sale within the spacious wood-and-stone building nestled on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville. In fact, the center ranks as the Parkway’s most-visited attraction, enticing everyone from the simply curious to serious collectors.

The Folk Art Center serves as home to the Southern Highland Craft Guild, which represents more than 900 craftspeople in nine southeastern states. The center’s three galleries feature creations from the guild’s current members as well as selections from a 3,500-piece collection of craft objects dating back to the turn of the 20th century. Special exhibitions are mounted throughout the year, while three weekend events celebrate clay, wood and fiber artisans and their products.

From March through December, daily demonstrations allow visitors a unique opportunity to watch and talk with highly skilled craftspeople as they work. A library, open to visitors, contains a substantial collection of books and other materials devoted to traditional crafts, as well as insightful “how-to” information.

The center’s Allanstand Craft Shop is the oldest continually operating craft shop in the United States, tracing its roots back to the efforts of missionary Frances Goodrich who started a true “cottage industry” in 1897 when she helped local women create a market for their hand-woven coverlets and clothing. Her Allanstand Cottage Industries commissioned a wide variety of traditional handwork, including woven coverlets and rugs, brooms, baskets, chairs and dolls that were marketed locally, but also as mail-order products through the Presbyterian church. Goodrich moved the shop to downtown Asheville in 1908 where she connected with other members of the Southern Arts and Crafts Movement to form the Southern Highland Craft Guild in 1928. This new group began its work during the Depression to create financial opportunities for craftspeople across the Appalachian region. Today, the guild continues its original mission of “bringing together the crafts and craftspeople of the Southern Highlands for the shared benefit of education, marketing and conservation.”

Twice each year, in July and October, more than 200 craftspeople gather in Asheville’s U.S. Cellular Center for the Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands. For four days during each show, thousands of visitors tour the hall where artists display and sell works in a variety of media, including clay, fiber, glass, leather, metal, mixed media, natural materials, paper, wood and jewelry. There’s also virtually continuous live traditional mountain music provided by a host of regional performers. And a stroll along Asheville’s adjacent streets is a great way to sample the city’s numerous restaurants, breweries, galleries and shops. These are always busy weekends, so plan in advance for tickets to the Craft Fair and lodging.

In addition to the Allanstand shop at the Folk Art Center, the guild operates two other shops in Asheville and another in Blowing Rock at the Moses Cone Manor. A variety of craft items also can be ordered via an online store.

Visitors to the Folk Art Center also will find this a convenient jumping-off point for other activities. From the parking lot, you can access a section of the scenic Mountains-to-Sea Trail. It’s 21.7 miles long, but you can head in either direction and pick your distance. For the less adventurous, there’s a quarter-mile educational loop with information about the local wildlife and foliage – an excellent option for the kids. This trail also is designated as ADA accessible. An abundance of outdoor tables in a pleasant wooded setting make the Folk Art Center ideal for picnics, while a Parkway information desk inside provides maps and guidance.

Admission and parking are free. The Folk Art Center is easy to find, though its location on the Blue Ridge Parkway makes GPS information unreliable. For assistance, call (828) 298-7928 or visit the guild’s website for directions and a map.

Gary Carter

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