By Mary Karr
Today’s artists and crafters keep alive the tradition of the handmade proving that pride and imagination do endure. Contemporary artists and craftspeople work outside the mainstream of academic art to record aspects of everyday life and thus make novel and effective use of materials at hand. You will find bold colors, simplified shapes, and imaginative surface pattern in the variety of paintings, carvings, toys, and needlework they create.
For weavers the loom is more than a tool of industry. It is an artist’s easel where fabric and design plus imagination meet. One of our own Lake Lure artists, Susan Brooks, draws on folk art tradition by painting on gourds, an alternative to painting on canvass. The path from garden to finished painted gourd is an arduous one. First the gourd has to be selected, one with a smooth, uniform skin, and left to dry for three months to a year before paint is applied.
No pottery has ever been able to match the burnished, elemental beauty of redware pottery that is still made since the earliest settlements. Wood carvers elevate the old country pastime of whittling to the realm of folk sculpture. Generations of folk carvers are captivated by the individuality, shapes, and antics of the animal world. Combinations of wood, wax and paints make each creature a unique expression of a carver’s art.
The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum in Colonial Williamsburg offers changing exhibitions of American folk art from its permanent holdings and museum loan shows. Its store features an array of items ranging from folk art by contemporary artists to cards and books complimenting the museum’s collection of American folk art.
The Folk Art Center near Asheville is a must stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Here you will find a showcase of the finest traditional and contemporary arts and crafts of the Southern Appalachians. It is the most popular attraction on the Blue Ridge Parkway, welcoming 250,000 visitors each year. There are rotating exhibitions in several galleries. It is located on the Parkway at milepost 382 (near the US70 intersection), 8 miles southeast of downtown Asheville. Admission is free and it is open daily from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. From March through December you can watch artists and craftspeople at work. Wonderful art works are available for sale to enhance your home and decorate your table or give as delightful gifts to your friends.
So folk art, the almost sole diversion before the days of radio, television, and other modern entertainment, still lives in the hearts and skills of present day artists and craftspeople, and it is available all around us.