William Morris, Walmart, and Appalachian Arts: A Personal Reflection
Since the late nineteenth century Appalachian arts and crafts have played a central role in a larger construct of the region—a construct characterized by isolation, rural self-sufficiency, primitive technology, material impoverishment, and fiercely guarded homogeneous traditions. Appalachia came to serve as both refuge and crusade for American proponents of the Arts and Crafts Movement inspired by the work of Englishmen John Ruskin and William Morris, who were convinced of the moral value of working with one’s hands to craft useful items of beauty. Leaders of the mountain handcraft revival, such as Allen Eaton, Olive Dame Campbell, and the founders of various settlement schools and cooperative arts centers, worked throughout the first half of the twentieth century to insure the survival of this utopian ideal by offering training workshops, organizing exhibits, and securing outside markets for the region’s arts. They thus hoped to positively affect the economy of the region, encourage handwork as a viable alternative to wage labor, enable people to stay in rural areas, and stem the personal alienation and cultural disintegration that they believed followed from modernization, worldliness, and affluence.
Journal of Kentucky Studies, Vol. 23, September 2006, 77-80.