Alan Hollar on the Southern Highland Craft Guild
The Southern Highland Craft Guild in Asheville, established in 1930, now represents 900 craftspeople regionally and operates the Folk Art Center, featuring one-of-a-kind works in clay, fiber, glass, leather, metal, mixed media, natural materials, paper, wood and jewelry. Membership in the guild means that juries of established artisans have validated the quality of an artisan’s work and its adherence to traditional styles and methods. Newland resident Alan Hollar, who has been turning wood as a self-taught artist since 1986, shares his insights into the significance of the guild and the benefits of membership in this essay.
I'm a wood turner who makes functional and decorative items, primarily on the lathe, from salad bowls to strange and somewhat indescribable sculptural pieces. I've been a member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild since 1999, and when I first started doing this, becoming a member was my sole goal. There's a certain cachet attached to it. Everybody in the guild is juried in as an artist, so there's a sense of validation: your work is worth being recognized.
The guild was chartered to educate the public and to market the work of its members. So there's also a serious financial advantage to being a guild member because you have access not only to the two annual fairs but also to the five shops that we have in the region. It's allowed me to make a living at this rather than just sort of peck around the edges of it.
The guild covers the mountain counties of nine states, from the panhandle of Maryland to the northern end of Alabama. The heaviest concentration of our membership is within a two-hour drive of Asheville.
The abiding function of the Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands is to provide a connection between the maker of an object and the eventual owner of that object. The actual artists are required to be there, rather than a salesperson. You get a very immediate and intimate connection between the artist and his or her work as well as an opportunity to find out what that life is all about. You get to see, essentially, the cream of the crop, the best craft artists in the region.
Displaying at the fair has a lot of benefits for the artists. At the fair I actually get to see people's reactions when they look at, pick up and discuss my work. Since I do custom, contract and commission work, it's always possible for suggestions to come up at the fair.
When the guild was originally formed, it represented craft co-ops: this little bunch of weavers over here, this little bunch of potters over there and some furniture people over here. It was made up of groups of artists, working in various production centers, trying to find a way to make enough money to buy some groceries. Over the years it's changed; we still have a few long-running craft co-ops, mostly weavers, but now it's primarily individual studio artists. For a lot of us, we work completely alone, and the fair is the only time we get to interact with the public in a way that lets us immediately see what they think. I find it immensely valuable and enormously entertaining, and occasionally someone will pick up a piece and offer an interpretation on what you're doing that may prompt a different way to look at your own work.