I have learned in my research about art and craft across America that there is often a single seminal influence, a school or a movement, an indigenous culture or industry, that profoundly affects the growth of a creative community. Surely, in the Southeast United States, there are several major – yet disparate – influences, from the textile industry to the Penland School of Craft, the Savannah College of Art, and the School of the Arts at Virginia Commonwealth University to the Appalachian Center for Crafts in Tennessee which extends a long tradition of object making in the Southeast.
A unique entity unlike any other in the US, the Penland School of Crafts is a national center for craft education located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Offering classes and workshops in a wide variety of media from glass to textiles, Penland also sponsors artists’ residencies, community education programs, and a craft gallery, thus ensuring that the reach of its programs is widespread. With no standing faculty, it draws worldwide instructors yet has also become the focal point for a lively community of craft artists, thanks in part to the resident program which has encouraged many artists to settle in the area.
Brent Skidmore exemplifies North Carolina artists. Having taught at Penland, at the University of North Carolina, Arrowmont, and the Appalachian Center for Crafts, he now dedicates himself to being a full-time studio artist in the artist-centric community of Asheville. His infusion of energy and emotion into finely crafted graceful furniture forms influences a new generation of studio furniture makers in this area of the country.
Christopher Mosey introduced me to the Appalachian Center for Crafts in Smithville, Tennessee. While there is a long tradition of object making in the Southeast, glassblowing is something relatively new to the region for the most part, introduced in great part due the Center for Crafts and Penland. Chattanooga itself attracts many artists from the Craft Center, as well as many other areas through its ArtsMove project sponsored by Choose Chattanooga, a city based non-profit that offers financial incentives for artists to move to the area.
Of equal importance and influence on the region is the American textile industry. One artist who returns again and again to inspiration and materials from this now foundering industry is Ellen Kochansky.
Whether working with the now abandoned by-products of the industry, or literally creating studio space in old mill buildings, Kochansky brings history and material recycling to all her work today. Steeped in the southern quilting background, Kochansky has now set herself free from the technique and traditions to create textiles and installations which refer to past, present and future.