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One look at the original artworks in the Appalachian Center for Craft is enough to stimulate anyone to sign up for craft workshops here in Middle Tennessee.

Cornhusk doll, pottery vase and wooden duck in Crafts Gallery
Cornhusk doll, pottery vase and wooden duck in Crafts Gallery
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Located on 500 acres of forested land, at 1560 Craft Center Drive in Smithville, Tennessee, the Crafts Center teaches aspiring artists concept, design and techniques for contemporary and traditional crafts.

Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree

The Appalachian Center for Craft, a branch of Tennessee Tech University (TTU), offers Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in the five basic media.

Students can earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in wood, metals, fibers, clay and glass media. They can also earn a non-degree craft certificate in the five craft media.

Fine arts students learn from Tennessee Technological University faculty, as well as craft artists, who live and work at the Appalachian Center for Craft as part of the Artist in Residence program.

Craft workshops

Appalachian Center for Craft offers more than 100 workshops, held on evenings (January through March and September through November) long weekends (May and September) and over six days (June and July). Classes are available for both beginners and professional craft artists.

Courses span the spectrum from blacksmithing and stained glass work, to metal engraving and papermaking. There are woodwork classes, courses on glass bead-making, hand-hammering copper and wheel-throwing pottery.

During our visit, the oldest student was 84. She started taking Appalachian Center for Craft workshops when she was in her mid-70s. (The Appalachian Craft Center opened in 1979.) There were also several families taking craft workshops. Each member signed up for a different course.

Glass art work

We met Curt, a glass workshop instructor, who started at the Appalachian Craft Center as a student, twelve years previously. We watched the accomplished craftsman fashion beautiful works of art from glass.

Curt dipped a rod into an oven and removed a glob of glowing molten glass. "Some of the tools we use haven't changed since the 15th and 16th centuries," he explained. "The only thing that has changed is what we do with them — making artistic pieces, rather than just functional objects."

Green wood bowl
Green wood bowl
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

In another studio, we saw an artist-in-residence remove pottery from a wood-fired kiln. The craftsman teaches courses in ceramics, from hand-building and wheel-throwing the clay to glazing and firing the finished pieces.

Green wood turning

Sometimes, a workshop at the Appalachian Center for Craft can change a person's life. We met Joe, who worked at a factory for more than 20 years, until he was laid off. He then decided to pursue his dream of being a woodworker and enrolled in a craft workshop.

Years later, Joe was still in the Smithville, Tennessee Craft Center. "I cut my salary in half, but these have been the best years of my adult life," he said.

Joe specialized in green wood turning. While a log chunk rotated on a lathe, he held a sharp-tipped instrument against the wood to shape it into a unique bowl. "Green wood bowls dry in an oval shape," he explained, "enhancing the grain of the wood that ripples through each piece."

Fiber arts

Joe's wife also shared his enthusiasm for the Appalachian Center for Craft. "She's pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in fibers," he said.

Shuttlecock and blue yarn on loom
Shuttlecock and blue yarn on loom
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Fiber art is a broad field, ranging from spinning and dyeing of natural fibers to paper marbling. Participants in workshop courses learn quilting, screen printing, fabric collage with digital print and how to weave on a floor loom.

Craft displays

The Appalachian Craft Center Gallery offers exquisite examples of fiber work, including corn husk dolls. They depict women holding brooms, churning butter and playing the dulcimer, a traditional Appalachian musical instrument.

When it comes to Appalachian crafts, one of the most famous is split white oak basketry. Superb examples of split white oak baskets are also found in the Craft Center Gallery, which houses one of the finest craft displays in the Southeast USA.

The gallery not only features the work of faculty and students at the Appalachian Center for Craft, but it also represents regional artists from 13 Appalachian states, including Georgia, West Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee.

Quilts in Appalachian crafts gallery
Quilts in Appalachian crafts gallery
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Many people think Tennessee crafts come from only the Smoky Mountain area, but the gallery demonstrates that the Upper Cumberland has an equally rich crafts heritage.

Craft shopping

Appalachian Center for Craft Gallery buys the best works from juried craft fairs in Appalachia. Staff rotate shelf, table and wall displays throughout the year, because there are so many fine artisans in the Appalachian region.

As we strolled through the crafts gallery, the quality of crafts impressed us. From beautiful turned green wood bowls and hand-made quilts to enameled jewelry and hand-dipped candles, each item was a unique work of art.

Craft exhibitions

Every year, the Appalachian Center for Craft holds at least two dozen craft exhibitions, displaying works by students, instructors, international, national and regional craft artists in three exhibit galleries. Especially popular are the annual spring BFA Exhibitions, with exhibits prepared, designed and created by Bachelor of Fine Arts seniors for their thesis.

Although the Craft Center does not offer public tours, visitors can enjoy craft exhibitions and demonstrations and shop for handmade Christmas ornaments and gifts at the free annual Holiday Festival, held on the weekend after Thanksgiving. The free Celebration of Craft, held on the first Saturday every April, also includes craft demonstrations, as well as kids' crafts and live music.

Colorful hand-dipped candles
Colorful hand-dipped candles
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Driving directions to Appalachian Center for Craft

Appalachian Center for Craft is 75 minutes east of Nashville International Airport, off I-40 in Smithville, Tennessee. From Interstate 40 eastbound, take the Smithville Exit #273 onto Highway 56 South. Drive six miles south, cross Hurricane Bridge, and immediately turn left onto the Crafts Center grounds. Follow the 1.2-mile drive to the parking lot for the Craft Center.


Appalachian Center for Craft: http://www.tntech.edu/craftcenter/

Tennessee Department of Tourism Development: www.tnvacation.com

More things to see and do in Tennessee:

Jack Daniels Distillery, Lynchburg, TN

Miss Bobos Restaurant, Lynchburg, Tennessee