Art in the Raw

Cliff Dwellers Crafts Co-op, Gatlinburg TNWhen I visited the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, I was particularly interested in the artists and crafts of the area. Fortunately, I got to see several artists in action. I’m fascinated with the raw materials of art–the backstage view before the finished product.

On the auto tour of crafts just outside Gatlinburg, we visited Cliff Dwellers, a historic building inhabited by a co-op of artists. In addition to a very tempting gift shop, you’ll always find someone working there. Be sure to go around the building and up to the 2nd floor for the artist’s studios. Teresa Tyler, Basketmaker, worked away on a bowl-shaped basket, which she said she had to take apart once because it wasn’t coming out right.

Basket Maker at Cliff Dwellers, Gatlinburg TN
Basket Maker at Cliff Dwellers, Gatlinburg TN
Cliff Dwellers. Basket Weaver's Material
Cliff Dwellers. Basket Weaver’s Material, Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Weaving is one of the traditional crafts–meaning if you needed it you made it–that has evolved into an ever-changing art form. . Weaver Bette Raymond was not there, but natural-dyed yarns always make a colorful picture.

Cliff Dwellers. Weaver's yarn.
Cliff Dwellers. Weaver’s yarn.

We watched as the talented Pat K. Thomas, who makes marbled paper and fabric, dipped and spattered and streaked a long piece of silk in a vat and ugly splotches became a beautiful design.  The marbler uses a lot of interesting brushes and tools in her work.

Marbler's tools
Cliff Dwellers. Marbler’s tools

Arrowmont Staff House and Dining Room, Gatlingburg TNPat told us she had studied at Arrowmont School, as had most of the artists who work at Cliff Dwellers.  This magnificent institution has been training artistic craftsmen since the early 1900’s on its 14 acre campus. World renowned artists and teachers draw everyone from beginners to experts to weekend and week-long classes. When we visited, a team had just finished a 48-hour stint of feeding the wood-fired outdoor kilns to fire pottery under the direction of a master potter. They left behind the meticulous record book of the firing, and a pair of heat-proof gloves.

Arrowmont Pottery Kiln log and glove
Arrowmont Pottery Kiln log and glove

People learning metal work find inspiration in these samples of design.

Arrowmont Patterns in metal work
Arrowmont Patterns in metal work

Director Bill May says Arrowmont teaches about 20 different crafts to the 1200-1300 students who come through each year.  But the facility is totally open to the public for viewing, as well.  There are five small galleries featuring various kinds of work, and most workshops have balconies so you can observe without getting in the way of sawing wood or forming glass, etc.  The workshops were not in use when we visited, but everything was neat as a pin–ready for the next class.  Here’s a look at storage in the glass-makers studio.

Arrowmont. Tools of the Glass Makers
Arrowmont. Tools of the Glass Makers


These photos are my almost-weekly contribution to Travel Photo Thursday, sponsored by Budget Travelers Sandbox.  If you go to that site, you can link to many other travel photos from around the world. (My trip was sponsored by local tourism agencies).

Are you a arts and crafts buff? Do you seek out working artists when you travel? Where have you found the most interesting experiences?


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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

7 thoughts on “Art in the Raw

  1. What an interesting trip you took! I love seeing the talented folks that populate this ol’ Earth. Afraid crafts and I don’t get along, but figure there has to be someone like me to enjoy the handiwork of others.

  2. As I read this, I kept thinking of a place in Alexandria, VA which has artists and crafts studios. They also have classes. For the life of me, I can’t think of the name. I probably will as soon as I hit submit. Hahaha!
    Anyway, I love going to crafts studios. I love seeing how simple, everyday things are made. Thanks for sharing your visit with us. I need to find one here to do my Christmas shopping.

    1. I visited a really outstanding arts coop on the west coast of New Zealand. They’re usually friendly places, and such fun to get acquainted with at least some of the artists represented.

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