Berea, home of the unique and important Berea College, has long been devoted to the advancement of the manual arts. I used to spend considerable time in Berea -- also in Bybee, home of one of the oldest continuously operating potteries in the nation -- while completing my Ph.D. dissertation. The College trains its students, not only in language and science and all the usual stuff, but more importantly in carpentry, wood turning, weaving, decorative arts and painting, clay work of all kinds (GORGEOUS pottery), glass blowing, on and on.....I was astonished this time to notice that there was almost NO handspun yarn, and NO apparent attention to handpainted textiles beyond the materials used in some pretty fabulous weavings. After a good lunch, we headed for the shops, including the big gray wooden building called (oddly) The Log House. (it's not made of logs, except in the sense that all things wooden begin life as logs). Here is one room, crammed with handcrafted wooden brooms, rolling pins, walking sticks, bowls, chairs, tables, quilts, rugs and crockery I almost fell for a spectacular piece of weaving with metallic, embroidered insets, but stoically resisted:
The yarn room was a HUGE disappointment. To be sure, there were nice selections of Koenig Farms beautifully crafted and colored yarns, and other fairly well-known Kentucky producers of hand paints. But -- no student work to speak of, and I associate Berea with student work. At this point, both of us began to fear that Berea College has begun to cater to tourists at the expense of their traditionally unique work -- evidence included the fact of lots of stuff from Pennsylvania and other non-Kentucky places. Maybe it's more important to support the town. But I can be sad if I want to be. It's also likely that some of the more entirely authentic work can be found away from the main shopping area. I have a feeling that's true, and we didn't have time to find out. Anyway: here is the yarn room (an actual term for it, emblazoned on a sign), with Koenig Farms against a far wall:
Then we took off for points even further south -- to Tennessee, once upon a time the westernmost county of North Carolina, much as Kentucky was the westernmost county of Virginia.
In due time, we reached the Mystery Place -- Townsend, Tennessee. Much to my surprise, it appeared only in 1901, unlike the rest of the state, which dates to the late 18th century. And it doesn't have a town center. Townsend is scattered all along the bottom of a Smoky Mountain ridge, just at the edge of the national forest, and it's mostly new, built for tourists -- the same pattern found in almost every resort community in America. It's our version, I guess, of the medieval village, which used to have the village church at one end of a curly street and the manor house at the other end, with cottages scattered all along the length of it.....only now, we put a motel at both ends.
But that's not necessarily bad. One particular point of Pure Joy was Miss Lily's Cafe. Before we left, there had been much laughter on the point ("OOOOH here's something called Miss Lily's..."). But, in fact, it was just fabulous. I hate grits. REALLY hate grits. So I told our marvelous wait person (a native of South Carolina) that I couldn't possibly order the fish she was recommending because it rested on a bed of fancied-up grits, and she basically dared me .....so of course I couldn't resist . The joke's on me. The most scrumptious combination appeared on a white plate -- stone-ground grain and cheese and something spicy with a delectable corn sauce, draped with tender, well-seasoned tilapia. Larry also thought he had died and gone to heaven (REAL pulled pork). That's our silver rental car, the unfortunately designed Impala (see Part I of this posting, below), in the foreground. Keen-eyed readers will also notice that I am standing near the trunk:
At the Smoky Mountain Fiber Festival (finally!), we had quite a rompin' good time. It was a very small show. But we knew that when we started out. Often, newcomers start out at the small shows -- the table cost is low, and you can test your wings without losing your shirt (sorry for multiple trite metaphors). We had wonderful chats with two people I know fairly well -- Amy from Jehovah Jireh Farm in Paw Paw, Michigan, and the wonderful proprietor of River's Edge Weaving in Grand Ledge, Michigan, from whom we are hoping to get piles and piles of exquisite rovings. But others we hadn't seen before. I found some really fine, narrow semi-solid bamboo ribbon in muted colorations from a household operation (Unique Yarns) and bought more than I should have bought, but the colors are subtle and unusual (rose shading into corals, e.g., with binders picking up color at a slightly different rate than the yarn itself). This will fill the spring-summer gap until we get Laura Bryant's "Rapport."
But the rest of the show was mostly just fun. What can be said about Sheep with Balls (sorry! maybe I should have said Sheep that Lay Colored Eggs?) and an authentic sheep-herding show, complete with border collies? The last time I saw dogs doing that kind of thing, I was in England....and I have NEVER seen sheep with colored eggs -- had always thought they were mammals!!!!
And then Sunday arrived and we started home again, with sunlight for most of the trip, the Cumberland and Smoky Mountains laid out before us like ancient friends, welcoming us back. The Rockies, the Alps, aren't welcoming; nor are they as old. These stunningly colored hills have been on earth almost forever, softening and reshaping themselves as they age. The valleys are bathed in shifting tones of blue, gray, taupe, with puffs of vapor rising from creeks and lakes and rivers. The hills and mountains, with sun at the rear, look exactly like big heads with buzz haircuts, at least for now, before leaves fill out the trunks and branches. Everywhere in trans-Appalachia, we watched for signs of baby green and baby red, early blushes of color on trees as spring sap begins to flow through deciduous trees. But of course the water carvings are the whole show, aren't they? Just look at this expanse of water and flatland, taken from a breathtaking Tennessee lookout.
I'll have more to say soon, once we've both rested. Next weekend, it's Bowling Green, Ohio, where the Black Swamp Guild mounts its small but locally important, annual fiber festival. svb