Textile Art From Southern Appalachia – the quiet work of women
Appalachia is a region that has long enjoyed a distinctive artistic tradition developed from a unique combination of cultural, social, and geographical circumstances. The 43 bed coverlets and 2 quilts featured in the book were woven in southern Appalachia, which includes Western North Carolina, Eastern Kentucky, East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. They are representative of the extraordinary, yet little known textile art of this region. The graphic designs are inspirational for contemporary artists working in all media and historically important for regional studies.
Included in the book are family history anecdotes told by the lenders, who are referred to as the “keepers of the cloth.” Their stories reveal that many of the weavers made a conscious decision to create beautiful objects for their own pleasure – not out of financial need – dispelling the notion of Appalachia as a poverty-ridden, art poor region. These artistic creations have been held by generations of family members who carefully kept their family stories, records, and textiles intact. They survive as testimony to the artists who continued the traditions of their foremothers.
Textile Art from Southern Appalachia is the product of nearly twenty years of research and documentation by Kathleen, including repeated interviews with the lenders – who were primarily elderly women descendants of the artists.
With the exception of Allie Josephine Mast (for more information on this exceptional weaver, see articles), the 31 weavers whose works are showcased in the book did not consider themselves to be professionals. Some put their creative energies into dyeing and color selection, while others were most interested in pattern design. They used weaving to express their artistic talents and to beautify their homes; they wove coverlets in celebration of important events, or gave them as gifts to their extended families.
Although two of the weavers in the book were involved with settlement school craft programs, many southern Appalachian women were unaware of the programs, and wove coverlets for the pure artistry of it. These women continued their “quiet work” long after people in other parts of the country had put away their spinning wheels and looms in favor of factory-made materials.
As the twenty-first century gets underway, Appalachia is changing with the rapid movement of people in and out of the region, weakening the bonds of family and community memory, and removing the woven objects from their cultural context. Textile Art from Southern Appalachia documents and preserves an important cultural practice for future generations to appreciate.
The book accompanied a multivenue, international exhibition of the same name organized by the American Textile History Museum, Lowell, Massachusetts, 2001. After touring three southern venues, the exhibition was showcased at the National Museums of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland, 2002-2003.
Published in hardcover and paperback.
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