Lucy Calista Morgan (1889-1981) was one of the few Craft Revival leaders to have been born and raised in the western North Carolina mountains. In her memoir she recalled, “I’ve never been away from the mountains for any great length of time, and I never expect to be.” Morgan moved to the Penland community, northeast of Asheville, in 1920 to teach at the Episcopal Appalachian School. In 1923 she learned to weave at Berea College in Kentucky and returned to North Carolina inspired to create a cottage weaving industry. In her memoir Gift from the Hills, she articulated the “social value” of weaving, in which “neighbor called on neighbor” 1 in the spirit of cooperative learning. In 1929 Morgan—or “Miss Lucy” as she was known by just about everyone—founded the Penland School of Handicrafts, which became today’s Penland School of Crafts.
Lucy Calista Morgan (1889-1981) was born in Franklin and raised in Murphy, two western North Carolina county seats. She was the sixth of nine children, brought up in a house with neither plumbing nor electricity. In her memoir Gift from the Hills, Morgan described the creativity she experienced during childhood.
When we were children there were no such things as dime stores, certainly not in our part of the country. We made stick-dolls [out of] mountain laurel, which we called ivy….We broke off little twigs of ivy and used the fork for the legs….A wee bit of cloth with a hole in the center made the dress….With mosses and stones we made all the furniture a playhouse could need. 2
Morgan was educated at a private school in Hickory and attended Central State Normal School (today’s Central Michigan University). After graduating in 1915, she taught school in Illinois and worked for the Chicago Children’s Bureau. Lucy’s brother Rufus headed the Appalachian School until 1918 when he left for a position in South Carolina. He was replaced by Amy Burt, a professor who knew Lucy from Central Michigan and knew Rufus from their student days at Columbia Teachers College. In 1920 Lucy Morgan stepped off the train at Penland to teach at the Appalachian School. While she could not have known it at the time, “Miss Lucy” was home. 3
Soon after her arrival, Morgan began to teach elementary-level courses at the Appalachian School, in session from April through mid-December. In January 1923, during her winter vacation, Morgan agreed to accompany former student Bonnie Willis to Berea College to help her settle in. During her nine weeks in Kentucky, Morgan learned to weave with Swedish-born weaver Anna Ernberg at Berea’s Fireside Industries. Among the first in the Appalachian region, Berea’s weaving program set a high standard for production when, in 1900, a Berea coverlet was awarded bronze medal at the international Paris Exposition. While at Berea, Morgan met Edith Matheny, who had established a cottage industry of community weavers off campus. In Kentucky, Morgan acquired weaving skills and looms. She also gained inspiration from two Kentucky programs, Berea’s own Fireside Industries and the Matheny Weavers.
In the spring of 1923, Morgan returned to North Carolina with new ambition. She articulated twin goals that echoed the prevailing Arts and Crafts philosophy of John Ruskin and William Morris, embracing both preservationist objectives and social improvement.
[I want] to bring about a revival of hand-weaving…[and] provide our neighbor mothers with a means of adding to their generally meager incomes without having to leave their homes….My mind wove fanciful visions while my tired, sore fingers were weaving tangible materials.
Morgan presented her plan to teach weaving to local women to Bishop Junius Horner, who held the ultimate responsibility for the Appalachian School, but Horner discouraged it as a “back-breaking job.” His concern was a reflection of his outlook as a “gentleman of the South” with fixed notions of femininity. Presumably, the women of the Penland community had responsibilities similar to farmwomen everywhere; they worked the fields, chased after livestock, and raised dozens of children, hardly delicate work. Still, Morgan felt that she had to prove to Bishop Horner that weaving was not harmful to women. She sat at the loom for eight hours a day and won the bishop’s approval. 4
With one hurdle behind her, Morgan sought community approval of her plan. She invited neighborhood women to a demonstration of rug tacking to gauge their interest. Soon after, she sent a loom to the home of Martha Adeline Willis, known locally as “Aunt Adeline.” Morgan walked the one and a half miles to and from the Willis home for the next three days and, together, she and Mrs. Willis readied the loom for weaving. Morgan was fond of retelling the story of the first cash income paid to a Penland weaver. When Henry Willis, Adeline Willis’s husband, delivered her finished weavings to the school, Morgan wrote her a check for $23.00 and sent it back with him. Before the check reached Mrs. Willis’s hands,
All the neighbors knew the size of that check even before her husband got home with it. And the next morning before I could get up, there were women at our door asking for looms.
A dozen more looms were ordered from Berea College and loaded onto wagons where they made their way to local homes. With “twelve new looms settled in their homes…our community hummed with new industry,” Morgan wrote. Traveling on foot and on horseback, she visited the aspiring weavers and helped each woman thread a loom. When more women wanted to weave than there were looms, several men in the neighborhood built copies of the lightweight Berea-style loom. 5
Bishop Horner eventually agreed that the Appalachian School could support a weaving program and named Morgan director of the school’s new Fireside Industries. Morgan’s enterprise was successful in its production of weavings, but finished products were accumulating. Encouraging Morgan to sell at local resorts, the bishop purchased a Model-T Ford with a truck bed on the back. Loaded down with weavings, Morgan and Amy Burt visited resort hotels displaying their “wares in the lobby, on the porch, wherever the largest crowds” gathered. They also traveled to the Episcopal Church’s General Conventions, which attracted thousands. At the first convention they attended in New Orleans in 1925, their most popular item was a shopping bag woven in traditional coverlet patterns of Whig Rose and Pine Cone. Morgan advanced looms and materials to local women and paid cash when they delivered work to the school. She assumed the responsibility of selling the inventory she collected. The school provided her with living expenses, but no salary, so Morgan dipped into her own savings. During the first year of operation, the expenses for the weaving enterprise were over $1,000.00, offset by little more than $200.00 in sales. By the next year, the operation almost broke even and, by 1927, the weaving program turned a profit. 6
In 1924 Morgan and Burt attended the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh where they set up a loom and a display of their products. Burt told the story of the Penland weavers while Morgan demonstrated at the loom. While the State Fair was a marketing success, more significant to the school’s future was Morgan’s introduction to George W. Coggin, State Supervisor of Trade and Industrial Education. Coming to Penland the following January, Coggin explained the provisions of the 1917 Smith-Hughes Act that provided funds for agricultural and vocational education. To qualify for these government funds, the Fireside Industries program had to have a more regular program of instruction, so Wednesday was declared to be “Weaving Day.” Every week local weavers came together at a small log cabin at the edge of school property. At these all-day gatherings, they exchanged work for payment, picked up supplies and orders, discussed methods of weaving, and shared community news. When the small cabin no longer accommodated the growing number of weavers, plans were made to build a new one with logs “snaked up from all the different communities in which the weavers lived.” Funds from the North Carolina Department of Education paid Lucy Morgan’s salary as a vocational education instructor until 1953. Penland also took advantage of the GI Bill that provided federal funds for World War II veterans’ tuition. Certainly, the long-term stability of Penland was enhanced by this steady influx of cash from state and local sources, which paid tuition and instructors’ salaries. 7
The Conference of Southern Mountain Workers, held each April in Knoxville, Tennessee provided Craft Revival leaders with a forum and a meeting place. In 1926 Allen Eaton was the invited guest and, the following year, the speaker was Edward Worst, a weaving expert affiliated with the Chicago Public Schools. In 1928 Worst came to Penland for the first of his annual summer visits. Worst suggested the addition of pottery to Penland’s program and, although pottery never achieved as much success as weaving, in 1928 the dual cottage industries were christened the “Penland Weavers and Potters.” 8 At the spring 1928 Conference of Southern Mountain Workers, Olive Campbell raised the question of forming a cooperative marketing association to bring craft production centers together in partnership. Never one to let an opportunity pass her by, Morgan extended an invitation to craft leaders to gather at Penland to discuss a cooperative partnership. The meeting was scheduled for Christmas vacation with guests arriving on a snowy December day. Warmed by the fireplace of the Weaving Cabin, the guest roster reads like a Who’s Who of the Craft Revival. The meeting marked a new phase of the Craft Revival, in which its leadership began to define the movement and articulate its goals.
While some scholars have downplayed the role that local people played in the Craft Revival, there is ample documented evidence that local communities supported the efforts to establish craft industries in their midst. Construction of the Weaving Cabin at Penland was made possible by community contributions of labor and materials.
A small sign acknowledging their donations reads:
3 logs by Henry Willis
1 log by Doc Hoppes
2 days work by Dave Hoyle…
4 logs by Sally Sparks
Such in-kind contributions and pledges by local residents supported Craft Revival activities in many areas. The John C. Campbell Folk School, a Craft Revival-era school in Brasstown, maintains a collection of pledge cards that list local donations to the construction of its school. At Penland the tradition of local in-kind gifts continued with each successive building program. In 1935, to accommodate the growth of its summer Weaving Institutes, Penland built the Edward F. Worst Craft House. Contributions from far-away supporters were acknowledged in the naming of the “Chicago Room” and “Pittsburgh Room.” The “Spruce Pine Room” was completed with funds given by local citizens and businesses. The “citizens of Penland” wrote a statement under the banner of “Our Appreciation,” acknowledging the Penland Weavers for “putting Penland on the map.” Rather than feeling invaded by outsiders who came to the school, they explicitly stated their “welcome to each and every one who comes to the Penland community.” 9
Although the country was on the threshold of the Depression, 1929 was a banner year for Penland. Nineteen twenty-nine marked the beginning of its annual Weaving Institutes and the birth of the Penland School of Handicrafts. Through the multiple incarnations of Penland school programs—the initial Fireside Industries department, Penland Weavers and Potters, and the Penland School of Handicrafts—Lucy Morgan created economic opportunities for local people. By 1929 more than 50 “weaver-mothers” had become involved in the weaving program. From her initial meeting with “Aunt” Susan Phillips, a weaver in her nineties, Morgan formed partnerships with neighbors who had the talent and ambition to teach others. Chair-seating classes were taught by Arthur Woody and his daughter Decie, who were part of the family-owned Woody’s Chair Shop. Emma Conley taught “Fireside arts” well into the 1950s, including vegetable dyeing, carding and spinning. 10
While many Craft Revival leaders focused their efforts close to home, Lucy Morgan built long-distance relationships that would position Penland on the national stage. In the fall of 1931, Morgan traveled by train to Washington DC to meet with the head of the National Park Service to discuss the sale of crafts at National Parks. In 1932 she outfitted a small log cabin and affixed it to the bed of a pickup truck, calling it her “Travelog.” Transported to Chicago’s fairgrounds and reassembled on site, the Travelog served as a sales booth for crafts sold at the Century of Progress, the title of the Chicago World’s Fair.
The supreme effort was a success. Thirty-one women were busy at their looms all through the summer, stacks of finished materials which for long had lain idle on the shelves were turned into cash. Penland was made known to many thousands of people. 11
Among Craft Revival leaders, a few went beyond national networking to establish international connections. In 1934 Morgan was named the Southern Mountain Handicraft Guild representative to the International Exhibition of Folk Arts in Berne, Switzerland. By the mid 1940s, Penland documents listed visitors from “Canada, Alaska, Peru and China.” “Missionaries from Africa, China, India, the Isle of Cypress and Mongolia” came to learn about developing cottage industries for their overseas missions. 12
Morgan left Penland in 1962, retiring to Jackson County, farther west. She returned to the school many times during the 20 years of her retirement. Lucy Morgan’s nephew Ralph Siler Morgan and his family carried on some of Penland’s traditions nearby. His wife Ruth Dodd Morgan and their daughter Ruth Morgan McConnell established the Riverwood Shops in Dillsboro beginning in 1957, where family members continued to work pewter. In 1977 daughter Susan Morgan Leveille opened a weaving studio at the same location. Reflecting on Lucy Morgan’s creative life, Ralph Morgan pronounced her “a woman of imagination.” 13
- M. Anna Fariello, 2007
1. Lucy Morgan with LeGette Blythe, Gift from the Hills: Miss Lucy Morgan’s Story of her Unique Penland School, 2nd ed.(Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill, 1958), 58.
2. Morgan, 31-33.
3. “Lucy Morgan Dies; Founded Craft School,” undated, unidentified newspaper, probably the Asheville Citizen-Times, 1981. For an interview with Rufus Morgan, see Eliot Wigginton (ed.), Foxfire 4 (New York: Doubleday, 1973): 394-481. Amy Burt was Director of the Appalachian School from 1918 until 1929.
4. Morgan, 50-51.
5. Morgan, 54-56.
6. Appalachian School catalogs from 1924 to 1929 carry Lucy Morgan’s name as “Director of Fireside Industries.” Morgan, 50, 60-63. Philis Alvic, Weavers of the Southern Highlands (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2003), 81.
7. George W. Coggin to Lucy Morgan, August 7, 1937. Coggin’s letter lists payments to five instructions in addition to Morgan. In this same letter, he laments, “I should like to have seen your real weavers, that is your local people rather than the U. S. mixture overrunning the place.”
8. Bonnie Ford Willis, “2 W.N.C. Women Are Named Delegates To World Crafts Exposition,” unnamed newspaper, June 4, circa 1933. Lucy Morgan, along with Olive Campbell, were selected as representatives to the World Crafts conference in 1934.
9. Morgan, 81 and 115. “Our Appreciation,” copy of hand-written document in the Penland Archives. For contemporary scholarship regarding the “interventionist” interpretation of the Craft Revival, see David E. Whisnant, All That Is Native and Fine: The Politics of Culture in an American Region (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983); Jane S. Becker, Selling Tradition: Appalachia and the Construction of an American Folk, 1930-1940 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998); Lynn Jones Ennis, The Craft of Penland: Another Reality (Masters thesis, Duke University, 1989).
10. The Penland School of Handicrafts was formally incorporated in 1938. The term “weaver-mothers” is from Bonnie T. Willis, “The Living Tradition,” Mountain Life and Work (October 1929): 13-15. Morgan 9 and 139-140. Howard C. Ford, Mountain Milestones (Penland, North Carolina: Penland School of Handicrafts, circa 1948) 33.
11. Morgan, 82-83. Quote from Ford, 25. Penland participated in the Century of Progress for two summers, in 1933 and 1934.
12. Ford, 23. “Facts and Figures about the Penland School of Handicrafts,” circa 1946.
13. Ralph Morgan, “An Outline History of Two Divisions of the Appalachian School of Penland, North Carolina” (October 1984).