A Cornucopia of Craft: “Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands”

Craftsmen from Tennessee, Kentucky and Georgia. Photos by Doris Ulmann.

About 10-12 years ago in a used book I came across a $5.00 copy of “Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands.” Opening the book brought back memories of taking a day off in mid-July, leaving the heat and humidity of Charlotte and heading up to Asheville, North Carolina for the Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands. That first trip was followed by many more.

“Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands” by Allen H. Eaton was published by the Russell Sage Foundation in 1937. Photographs are by Doris Ulmann, best known for her photographs of the people of Appalachia. The Southern Highlands cover West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee. The craft traditions include, but are not limited to, weaving, woodwork and pottery. A large section is devoted to making furniture, baskets, whittling, carving, and musical instruments. There are plenty of photos and quotes from the craftspeople themselves.

The book is available on HathiTrust and you can find it here.

The link goes to a copy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison as it is the only copy that shows the (some what trimmed) endpapers. Here is a better look at the endpapers with a craft map of the Southern Highlands:














So, jump into this book and meet William Creech of Pine Mountain, Kentucky, find the good board maker, the enormous hand-cranked lathe and this handsome rooster:















Suzanne Ellison

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6 Responses to A Cornucopia of Craft: “Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands”

  1. Salko Safic says:

    Those men worked wood out of dire necessity while many of us work it as a hobby. The level of poverty displayed in those photos is depressing. Once upon a time we relied on horses for travel, now mostly they’re ridden as a hobby same applies to wood. Ironically though many furniture making factories churn out millions while we struggle to make ends meat. I hope those chaps Rest In Peace.

  2. Dan says:

    The film version stars Jean Reno as the master of the shaving horse.

  3. Eric says:

    A couple years ago, i found a series of books at the library called Foxfire that chronicled and recorded the way of life in the Appalachians including food, craft, livestock, traditions, etc. I started into the series-12 books, but was never able to really get into it. Now that I have the time, the library is closed.

    • Brian Barney says:

      I was 15 back in 1969 when I ran across the Foxfire books at the home of a friend of my parents. That was the start of my love of woodworking. The friend was Johnny Marsh, an incredible restoration artist, retired postman and fish culturist. I wish I had had the brains to have learned more from him. Unfortunately at 15 I was more interested in hot rods and muscle cars. But I do have and have read the complete set now.

  4. Kerry says:

    When I was in college in about 1980 we had a campus event featuring “Jimmy Driftwood and the Rackensack Folklore Society” which consisted of an evening of Appalachian music and then a day of the artists demonstrating their crafts outdoors on the oval. Jimmy Driftwood wrote “The Battle of New Orleans” pop hit and used his proceeds to help do these exhibitions of Appalachian craft and artistry. It was incredibly impressive, seeing the basket-making, whittling, and other woodcrafts. I was particularly impressed by a fiddle player named Ida Copeland. Her violins/fiddles were homemade but beautiful and she could make that fiddle sing–it was a rare treat. One of the things that amazed and impressed me the most was that she was hollowing and shaping the back of a new fiddle with a curved knife. I watched as long as I could and she generously showed me her assortment of tools-a half dozen old pocketknives with blades sharpened/shaped to purpose, and a small bowsaw. The thought that one could make a beautiful violin with nothing but a pocketknife still amazes me, and made me receptive to learning about how “primitive” tools in the hands of trained craftspeople were used to make everything needed, from baskets and buckets to Chippendale furniture. Keep craft alive!!!

  5. Lee Kallstrom says:

    Most fun!

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