This week, Oct 4-10, communities nationwide will come together to honor the Y’s Arts Week – an annual celebration to promote the influence of art and creative expression across generations. Arts Week takes place during National Arts and Humanities Month, a collective celebration of art and culture in America. It is an initiative of the YMCA to showcase the unique talents of artists of all ages and to promote the power of art to educate, inspire, and connect youth, families, and communities.
Participation in the Arts:
- unites communities and encourages fellowship
- allows youth to connect to themselves and their peers as they share their enjoyment and passion with each other
- provides new challenges and the opportunities for hands-on learning and growth
- encourages families to develop traditions of arts and crafts that can be passed down for generations
- improves creative and tactical skills, helping youth and adults reach their greatest potential
- provides the opportunity and support for youth to express themselves, developing confidence and greater self-esteem
THE CRAFT SHOP AT BLUE RIDGE
The Arts also have a special place at YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly and are an integral part of our ministry to serve guests and help strengthen mind, body, and spirit for all. Through the arts programming at Blue Ridge, youth and families are brought together to explore various genres of art. People of all ages and abilities will find fun and enjoyment in our beloved Craft Shop. There are projects for all skill levels and interests for those who have the time and inspiration to create a tangible reminder of their time and experience at Blue Ridge.
Read on for a fascinating summary of the history our Craft Shop…
FOUNDING PRINCIPLES & APPALACHIAN HERITAGE
Inspired creativity and artistic expression have had a deep-rooted role in Blue Ridge’s history since the beginning. For the past 100 years, Blue Ridge Assembly has helped to teach and preserve the craft heritage of the Appalachians while encouraging the creative expression of the natural beauty of the area. The craft program at Blue Ridge originated from several of Dr. Weatherford’s founding principles: There is dignity in all labor- anything ministering to human need is a God-given responsibility, and that in the beauty of Blue Ridge’s natural setting, guests and staff are encouraged to spend time in reflection, meditation or prayer.
The origins of our Craft Shop also stem directly from the unique heritage and culture of the Southern Appalachian Mountains in which Blue Ridge is nestled. Crafts are an expression of the integrity of the mountain people working with their hands to make items needed for living and surviving. Throughout the Appalachians, the Cherokee Indians made pottery, baskets, and tools, composed stories for teaching, drama and music for expressing. Likewise, European settlers needed practical skills to survive in the harsh and isolated geography of the mountains. They created candles, furniture, clothing, and quilts. They lived completely off the land-growing and raising their own food and constructing their homes from logs and earth. All of this hard labor and specialized skill ministered to human need in the functionality of their creations. And while these items were practical and useful, crafters also often managed to work artistic beauty and creativity into them. These crafts ultimately were a unique and one of a kind expression of the inspirational beauty of God’s creation in the Appalachian Mountains.
THE EARLY YEARS
In 1933, nearly 30 years after Blue Ridge Assembly was founded, the Assembly was reorganized and Black Mountain College was established on the grounds of Blue Ridge. The tiny experimental university was founded with the idea that the creative arts and practical responsibilities are equal in importance to academic studies and the development of the intellect. They approached formal education in an innovative way, integrating dramatics, music and the fine arts into the traditional course of study and lifestyle of the college. Black Mountain College sought to educate the whole student – head, heart and hand – through education, the experience of living in a small community, and in doing the manual labor necessary for survival. The secluded location and peaceful environment of the Assembly fostered a strong sense of individuality and creative intensity for its students and staff.
A growing interest in the Arts and art appreciation at this time soon gave rise to The Southern Cooperative Art Association, which held annual summer conferences at Blue Ridge beginning in 1934. The conferences encouraged skilled training in mountain crafts and as a result, Blue Ridge Assembly gradually became known as a hub for southern culture and tradition.
THE MIDDLE YEARS
The original Craft Shop at Blue Ridge was located in the old Dining Hall which was set behind Lee Hall in the 1960s. It was surrounded by a screened porch which served as a quiet setting for guests to create a reflection of their experience at Blue Ridge. Many handicraft instruction and programs, such as pottery and weaving classes, were given throughout the summer conference season. The crafts evolved over time to reflect the popular trends of the era: macramé in the 1960s, basket weaving and leatherworking in the 70’s. Participants also explored painting, silk-screening, cornhusk dolls, woodworking, copper enameling, quilting, beadwork and tie-dye.
When the Blue Ridge Center was built in 1970, the Craft Shop moved to the lower level of Abbott Hall. Blue Ridge Assembly began to make the transition to a year round conference center around this time, thus extending the opportunity for creative expression to a wider audience of guests and conferees.
Finally, in 1987 the Craft Shop moved to its permanent home in Washburn Center. The new building was constructed with a spacious room in the lower level specifically designed for the new and improved Craft Shop. This new studio had lots of storage and display space, allowing the craft programs and opportunities to flourish.
While the Craft Shop is busiest during the summer season, it is open to conference guests all year long. The shop is staffed by knowledgeable leaders with a passion for the arts, including a craft room supervisor and several college-age support staff. Oftentimes the crafts reflect the uniqueness and experience of the staff working in the Craft Shop that year, including our international staff.
A NEW CENTURY
Since the year 2000 the Craft Shop has experienced a strong revitalization through significant funding and generous gifts. New weaving looms, spinning wheels, potter’s wheels were made available through a number of grants and donations.
In 2006 as part of our Centennial Celebration to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of Blue Ridge, 180 tiles were made by board members, alumni and current staff. The tiles were formed from Carolina clay, imprinted with real leaves selected from surrounding trees and signed by each person. The creative project was appropriate because it incorporated the beauty of nature, the primary inspiration for Dr. Weatherfords founding of the Assembly. The following year, the Craft Shop became the site for the display of the beautiful tiles. They were permanently and artistically affixed on the east wall of the Craft Shop. In November 2007, Blue Ridge celebrated Y Arts Week by hosting an open house in the Craft Shop where all staff and alumni could locate their tile and see the entire creation in the beautiful fall setting.
The Craft Shop is a popular place for school groups, church youth groups, and women’s groups to visit during their free time. We currently offer experiences in pottery and ceramics, fabric arts and tie-dye, knitting, weaving, scrapbooking, painting, mosaics, leatherwork, beadwork, jewelry, wood-burning, and candle-making with various types of wax. Future plans for the Craft Shop include a Corner Store, cash register and credit card machine.
The Craft Shop will continue to further the ministry of YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly and the mission of the YMCA to serve youth, families and communities. We hope to provide opportunities to create and reflect with mind, body and spirit: to experience the dignity of handwork through heritage crafts of the Appalachian mountains, to express the inspirational beauty of God’s creation, and to find pleasure and peace in working together in community.
We look forward to seeing you soon and sharing in the spirited creativity and artistic expression that Blue Ridge inspires. Come visit us! There is something for everyone!