Alice Pratt: A Life Of Weaving And Service

Fair 57 Pratt

Alice Pratt

Alice Pratt hosts a weaving demonstration at the 1957 SHCG Craftsmen's Fair

Alice Pratt: A Life of Weaving and Service

Editor's Note: This post is the second in a series called "From the Archives" - a look back at the people who served and helped shape the Southern Highland Craft Guild. The author of the series is Bonnie Krause. Bonnie works at Allanstand Craft Shop and volunteers in the
SHCG Library.

Alice Pratt was born in Covington, GA in 1899. Following in the footsteps of several generations before her, she would become a talented weaver. Her grandmother and great grandmother wove counterpanes and coverlets in the early nineteenth century. She attended Maryville College in Tennessee, taking studies in home economics and the Bible from 1925 to 1929 where she also taught tailoring. After college she took a position at Pi Beta Phi Settlement School in Gatlinburg where she worked as a bookkeeper for the weaving outreach program. Continuing in the family tradition, Pratt developed her weaving skills there in Gatlinburg. As reported in an Asheville Citizen-Times article about Pratt, "Her love of weaving is a family inheritance."

With the economic troubles of the Depression, Pratt found a position from 1933 to 1937 teaching weaving in the Works Progress Administration Women's Program in Knoxville. This was one of the many programs aimed at increasing unemployed women's skills and helping them find work to support their families. According to the Knoxville News Sentinel in 1936, nearly 1,000 women worked seven hours a day, five days a week at a sewing room on West Jackson Avenue . They created cotton dresses, overalls, infant and children's clothing. The women earned $33 a month and the clothing was distributed to those in need. Some women made quilts and others wove rag rugs, linens and draperies. They also learned additional skills in family and childcare, health and literacy. At an exhibition of products from the Women's Program, Pratt participated by demonstrating loom weaving. One of her students later wrote , "I have you to thank for one of the great joys of my life. We built a loom and began learning and have never stopped."

Following her work in Knoxville, Pratt advanced to Regional Supervisor of Handicrafts for the Farm Security Administration Homestead Project with headquarters in Raleigh, NC. The Homestead Project created new communities for unemployed and homeless families and taught new skills. From 1938 to 1940, Pratt set up craft rooms, gift shops, working 2 - 3 months at each site. She worked in Crossville and Cumberland in Tennessee, Eleanor in West Virginia, and Wolf Pit Farms and Rockingham in North Carolina. During this time, Pratt met with Eleanor Roosevelt, a supporter of crafts and new communities.

Through the late 1940s to the 1960s, Pratt taught weaving in a variety of educational settings: University of Tennessee Home Economics, Asheville College, Warren Wilson College and the Asheville Recreation Department. After studies in social work at the University of North Carolina, she served as a caseworker and therapist at the Asheville Sanatorium and Appalachian Hall. She also taught crafts for paraplegic World War II veterans at the Regional Veterans Center in Asheville.

Throughout her life Pratt attended summer school weaving classes at Penland School of Crafts. She joined the Southern Highland Craft Guild in 1942 and received Life Membership in 1978. She served on the 1945 Guild incorporation board, the nomination committee, and the craft fair exhibitions committee. She continued weaving until her death in 1990.

Alice Pratt dedicated her weaving studies to traditional work, saving weaving drafts in an album for coverlet and counterpane designs, including family drafts dating back to the 1830s. Her contemporary weaving included napkins, towels, placemats and runners. She donated numerous samples of her work as well as family counterpanes to the Southern Highland Craft Guild's Permanent Collection.

Alice Pratt looks on during a weaving demonstration at the 1961 SHCG Craftsmen's Fair
Alice Pratt looks on during a weaving demonstration at the 1961 SHCG Craftsmen's Fair

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