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Appalachian Heritage Celebrated at Folk Art Center

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Rodney Leftwich of Leftwich Pottery in Pisgah Forest

By Dasha Morgan- The 36-year old festival of Appalachian Heritage put together by the Southern Highlands Craft Guild was celebrated this weekend at the Folk Art Center. Visitors were able to see craftsmen demonstrating their amazing skills. This past Saturday and Sunday the Southern Highland Craft Guild sponsored a gathering of traditional Appalachian crafts, accompanied by mountain music and traditional dance. The Guild brought together the crafts and craftspeople of the Southern Highlands to share resources, education, marketing and conservation for a weekend. It was an exhilarating time for all.

As one entered the Center’s main building, Rodney Leftwich was painting decorative Appalachian forms freehand on his one-of-a-kind pottery pieces. He and his wife, Kim, are both potters, who have been creating individually designed unique pieces. such as decorative vases, candle lanterns, face jugs, cameo pieces, and often with handsome glazes over many years. Other participants in the Festival were: Peggy Whitted, a craft member from Tennessee, who was weaving traditionally at her loom. She makes lovely placemats, table runners and hand towels. Martha Owen was spinning on her wheel. Barbara Miller too was weaving. She makes colorful fabric purses and incredible scarves. Judith B.Long showed fine handmade soaps, lotions and luxurious bath products. She gave descriptions of the ingredients used, such as the lye and told one how the soaps were made. Ellie Kirby from Southwest Virginia displayed cards, books, prints and woodcuts. Ellie writes and illustrates beautiful children’s picture books. Most of her books are based on old mountain stories. Family and friends model for the characters in the illustrations. Ellie has written and illustrated six picture books, such as “Under the Snowball Tree” or “The Rabbits Dance” and won awards.

As you wandered around inside and on the grounds of the Folk Art Center, you could find John Dickens carving his wood figures and then showing youngsters how it can be done technically. Coleen Karcher was chiseling on slate; David Crandall was making stunning wood boxes from a variety of woods with dove tail corners. Yancey Davis of Outaways Forge was forging his hot iron and showed blacksmithing skills. A visitor could discover beautifully crocheted items, corn shucked figures, brooms, wooden bowls, all while listening to a banjo strumming, a guitar playing or a group of musicians in the background. Outside at certain times of the day to the delight of youngsters sheep were being shorn on Saturday and Border collie demonstrations were held on Sunday.

A highlight of the weekend was the World Gee Haw Whimmy Diddle Competition on Saturday, 2-3 PM. A whimmy diddle is an Appalachian mountain toy traditionally made from two sticks of rhododendron. Notches are carved into one stick with a propeller attached to the end. The other stick is rubbed against the notches, causing the propeller to spin either gee (right) or haw (left).

During the World Gee Haw Whimmy Diddle Competition, contestants are judged on the number of rotations between gee and haw they can complete during a given time. They may also have to switch hands during the competition or whimmy diddle behind their backs. There were three divisions of competition: children, adults and professional. Winners received a trophy, poster, t-shirt, Moon Pie, and bragging rights.

Indeed a visit to the Folk Arts Center for Heritage weekend was a treat for all ages. It abounded with extraordinarily talented craftsmen. Many of the items made by these individuals can be found in the Allanstand Craft Shop, the Southern Highland Craft Gallery or the Folk Art Center gallery. Next month the Fall Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands will be October 20-23 at the US Cellular Center in downtown Asheville. To learn more about the Southern Highland Craft Guild and their upcoming events, go to www.southernhighlandguild.org.

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