It’s hard to be an art aficionado in Asheville without acknowledging the historical significance that craft-making and folk art traditions have on the creative work produced in this region. Western Carolina University recently launched an expansive Web site documenting the the Southern Highlands Craft Revival Movement of the 1890s through the 1940s. The site is a fascinating chronicle of Appalachia and documents traditions like chair-making, doll-making, musical instruments, basketry, weaving and pottery. It’s peppered with lush historical photography and historical tidbits, like the fact that the banjo originated in Africa, and that corn-husk dolls were originally made by Native Americans. With its elegantly written text, there is a huge amount of information available at craftrevival.wcu.edu
Jeff Biggers, author of The United States of Appalachia, recently spoke at the Folk Art Center about the importance of preserving craft traditions as a way of sustaining Appalachian culture. “The use of craft is part of the art of our lives,” he said. The craft and story-making traditions of Appalachia are currently being threatened by coal mining practices that displace people and local resources, he said. Consider that the next time you forget to turn your lights off before leaving the house. (60 percent of energy consumed in our state comes from coal.)
For a more contemporary look at crafting, visit Blue Spiral 1’s current exhibition, By the Book, where 12 Southeastern artists use the humble book to express their crafting techniques. A range of methods is represented — letterpress, metal, glass and fiber — in this assorted and interesting exhibit.
Since a book must be opened to be enjoyed, the gallery has provided gloves for the viewer to handle the pieces if she so wishes. This is a good thing, because the monumental sculpture “Isinglass” by esteemed local bookbinder Daniel Essig is even more exciting upon discovering the many tiny books embedded in the spine of his sculpted fish. Each little book is its own masterpiece. Upon opening them, pages with delicately burned edges are revealed, as well as the velvet-lined nooks within the sculptures that house them.
One will probably choose to stand back and simply gaze at Elizabeth Ryland Mears glass and steel books, but the kinetic sculpture “Descendent” by Jennifer Brook beckons the viewer to interact with its smooth wooden pages that slide out of their sheaths to reveal memories and historical anecdotes.
More traditional approaches can be found in the accordion books of Laurie Corral and pop –up books of Carol Barton. A lovely collection of extremely delicate books can be viewed through a showcase in the gallery, safe from clumsy hands and sullied fingertips. By the Book will be up until June 27.