Frances Goodrich traveled through streams, into briar patches, and over stony mountains. She walked, rode a horse, and took a wagon. “It is not always plain going in such mountain journeys,” she once said. But Goodrich, a volunteer for the Presbyterian Home Mission Board, was relentless. She felt she could best serve her mountain neighbors by introducing the rest of the world to their traditional arts and crafts. So she searched for Appalachian artists, and in 1897, she built the Allanstand Craft Shop in Madison County to display their works.
In 1930, Goodrich became a founding member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild. She donated her collection to the guild, and today, some of her crafts are still on display at the Folk Art Center off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville. The guild is the second-oldest craft organization in the country, with nearly 1,000 members from 293 counties in nine Southeastern states.
Allanstand Craft Shop, itself the oldest continually running craft shop in the country, is now inside the Folk Art Center. Outside the shop, the center’s collections house a mixture of contemporary and traditional art: pottery, quilts, jewelry, sculpture. Some work is innovative; other pieces are functional, like the “settin’ chair” that North Carolina craftsman Birdie Mace created, borrowing some aspects of his design from the New England ladder-back chair. Mace’s chair has rear posts that bend backward, enabling sitters to lean back easily.
“If company comes, and you don’t want ’em to stay long, well, you bring out one of them ladder-backs for ’em to sit on. But if you want ’em to set a spell and visit, well, offer ’em a settin’ chair,” said Mace, who died in 1973.
All the artists whose work is displayed in the collection are guild members, and all share attitudes similar to Mace’s, says April Nance, the public relations manager for the guild. “You make something, you make it well, and you make it beautiful,” she says.
As Goodrich traversed the mountains, perhaps one of the craftsmen she happened upon offered her a seat. And perhaps she leaned back and smiled, relishing the comfort of a well-made chair.
Folk Art Center
Milepost 382 Blue Ridge Parkway
Asheville, N.C. 28805
Sarah Perry is the associate editor at Our State. Her most recent stories for the magazine were “Shelby” and “Dance All Night” (September 2013).