Book Report: Heirlooms & Artifacts Of The Smokies, Treaures From The National Park’s Historical Collection

This post is first in the series, "Book Report," which will review new acquisitions to the Robert W. Gray Library here at the Folk Art Center. The author of the series is Guild librarian and
archivist, Deb Schillo.
Heirlooms and Artifacts

Robert W. Gray Library

The Robert W. Gray Library at the Folk Art Center was able to add several new titles to the collection this month. We are keeping an eye on Lark's 500 series, since the books often include the work of Guild members. We added 500 Vases, 500 Tables, and 500 Raku. We also purchased the latest Foxfire books, so we now have all 12 volumes.

Of special interest to our membership is a new book titled Heirlooms & Artifacts of the Smokies, Treaures from the National Park's Historical CollectionThe Great Smoky Mountains National Park artifact collection contains prehistoric items such as arrowheads and pottery shards, so the book begins there with a sampling of items that have been cataloged for their collection. In the 1930s and 40s collecting did not focus on Cherokee objects, leaving that field of research to the Cherokee Historical Commission and their own collections. Rather the park supervisors were interested in preserving a sense of what life in this isolated area was like for early pioneers right up to the time that people began leaving their mountain cabins.

The book is concerned with the artifacts left by early settlers in the Great Smokies region. Chapters are divided into the various occupations and needs of isolate families. For instance Farm & Field includes photos of tools used for planting, harvesting, tending livestock, clearing forests, and trapping animals - all items made by regional artisans. Crafts such as Blacksmithing, Woodworking, Spinning and Weaving, and Quilting merit their own chapters. Looking at the photographs of the old artifacts gives one a sense of the rugged, unadorned life of Appalachian immigrants. As the opening section states "To scratch with a garden hoe, day after day, in a rocky hillside cornpatch had to be exhausting work. To wear out that hoe, and start on a new one, simply taxes comprehension. This book is about the people who did that kind of work, and the tools they used to do it."

Aside from the object photographs there are historical photographs of the people who lived on this land. Nearly all of the people photographed have been identified. Former Guild members Matt and Mary Ownby are shown making rifles. Claude Huskey, a relative of current Guild members is shown working at the draw horse to shape a chair leg.

Each chapter is introduced with a brief essay about why the objects were important to their owners and how they were used. Seeing the old tools in their rough condition adds to the story and the sense of connection one feels with these artifacts. It is not difficult to imagine the isolated families and the strength it took to survive in these mountains. As Guild members, there is a special connection to the items in this book. Whether or not you grew up in the Appalachian mountains, by living here and working with crafts you help to keep the traditions and the story of mountain folk alive.

About the Robert W. Gray Library:

The mission of the Robert W. Gray Library is to collect, preserve, and make available for research materials concerning the appreciation and knowledge about traditional and contemporary crafts - particularly the craft heritage of the Southern Appalachian region.

Library materials relate to craft work from around the world and in all media with historical background as well as "how-to" information. There are also materials on regional history and development.

The collection contains over 7,000 books and exhibition catalogs, 45 current periodical titles as well as many that have been donated and are no longer available. A recent addition is an audio-visual area where visitors may choose from over 100 craft-related videos.

While the resources do not circulate, the materials are available for use on site.

The Library is open whenever the Folk Art Center is open- every day from 9-6 (5pm in winter). It is housed on the second floor, to the left of the receptionist desk. The collection catalog is available on the library's computer at all times and a librarian is present four day's a week ( T-W-Th-F ) to assist users.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.